A pair of Brits seize lead at the Masters
Did a Ryder Cup match just break out at the Masters? How delicious.
While America has focused on Tiger Woods, the rest of the golf world has watched the broad trend of the sport: the British Isles has risen again, especially England. The leader board here at Augusta National reflects it perfectly, setting up a U.S. vs. England showdown this weekend featuring four of the game's top seven players.
Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, symbols of the new British stampede, are tied for the midpoint lead here at 8 under par with America's three most exciting players, Tiger Woods, Anthony Kim and Phil Mickelson, all tied for second just two shots behind.
While U.S. players are still ranked No. 1-2-3 in the world (Woods, Steve Stricker, Mickelson), with Kim No. 14, there are now more players from the British Isles in the top dozen than Americans with England's Paul Casey, Ireland's Padraig Harrington and Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy also among the top 11.
The brash Westwood and the flamboyantly dressed Poulter, who says that "absolutely everything" goes well with a green jacket, aren't shy about saying it's time for the first Englishman to be Masters champion since Sir Nick Faldo in '96.
Once, Faldo, Sandy Lyle (Scotland) and Ian Woosnam (Wales) seemed to turn Georgia into the British Isles with regularity. The imagination needed to invent shots around the Masters' steeply sloped greens has often appealed to links-born stars. Will the old trend return?
Asked if this Masters could be a verification of England's current stature, Westwood instantly showed the tart tongue that has always made him so easy to like or root against.
"Well, yeah, if you needed verification, if you had not bothered to look at the world rankings and seen how many English players were up there -- three in the top 10," said Westwood, even though with Casey at No. 6 and Poulter at No. 7, it's actually even more impressive. "We're not up at the top of the world rankings by mistake, you know. We ought to be contending in these major championships."
Can we arrange for Union Jack shirts and Stars-and-Stripes pants by Sunday?
"There was a lot of talk before this tournament that the English guys were in good form and they certainly are and we are sitting at the top now," Poulter said. "It will be great to go out there and play with Lee [in the last group]. He took a few dollars off me the other day [in a practice round], so I would like to get some back tomorrow."
European stars bring their own tang and texture to major champions and it's welcome indeed, since U.S. players, other than the three on this Masters board, tend toward the bland. Gambling and Guinness never seem far from the Europeans' minds.