Open Championship 2021 news: Is golf coming home? England's Lee Westwood, Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood chase history
Nick Faldo remains England's last Open champion from way back in 1992, but will that change at the 149th staging of the event around Royal St Georges in Kent this week? Desmond Kane asks if golf is finally coming home for England after a 29-year wait for a home-grown winner of Britain's major tournament.
Lee Westwood of England tees off on the 1st hole during a practice round ahead of The 149th Open at Royal St George’s Golf Club on July 13, 2021 in Sandwich, England.
The grand but sometimes gnarled game of golf is not much further behind England’s football team when it comes to decades of angst in attempting to carry off the Open Championship on home soil.
The last Englishman to claim the Claret Jug remains Sir Nick Faldo, who tearfully lifted his third and final Open title around Muirfield in 1992 while vowing to treat the thousands in attendance to a celebratory drink in celebrated Pringle garb more suited to the V&A than the R&A. Suits you sir.
Faldo won his first Open at the same course in 1987 before emerging victorious at St Andrews three years later, but that glorious treble was all achieved in Scotland, the fabled home of golf across the border. Heady times indeed.
Nick Faldo of England holds the Claret Jug following his victory during The 121st Open Championship held at Muirfield Golf Links from July 16-19 1992 in Gullane, Scotland.
Image credit: Eurosport
Incredibly, the last Englishman to lift the Open on an English course was Tony Jacklin around Lytham St Annes in Lancashire in 1969, three years after Bobby Moore hoisted old Jules Rimet above his head at Wembley in 1966. 52 years of hurt never stopped them dreaming. Is it coming home for England in the 149th Open at Sandwich this year?
With the Open returning to England’s green and pleasant lands at Royal St George's in Kent, the garden of England, this week, delayed a year due to the pandemic, opportunity knocks where the footballers failed.
Lee Westwood, fighting out of Worksop in Nottinghamshire, has looked the most likely Englishman to succeed Faldo as Open champion, but has narrowly failed to translate desire into fulfilment despite being one of the few golfers in history to lift a tournament on every one of the world’s five continents over the past four decades of delectable consistency.
He finished second behind LouisOosthuizen around St Andrews in 2010, seven strokes adrift of the runaway winner's 16 under total, but has arguably had better opportunities when he held the lead after 54 holes at Muirfield in 2013 only for a closing 75 see him wildly tail off, four strokes behind a swashbuckling Phil Mickelson in a share of third.
At Turnberry in 2009, he was clear of Tom Watson on the 14th hole of the final round, but fatefully dropped shots at 15 and 16 to miss out on a play-off by one stroke, enabling Stewart Cink to chase down the Claret Jug in extra holes denying Watson a sixth Open at the age of 59.
Westwood is probably the best player still out there to never a win a major, a reputation that deserves bunting as much as bewilderment.
Westwood will overtake American Jay Haas as the golfer with the most appearances without a major crown if he comes up short on Sunday in his 88th appearance, an astonishing tribute to his consistency of play that has brought him 44 elite titles since he turned professional in 1993.
Westwood has 18 top-10 finishes in majors, but can look to Mickelson’s triumph at the US PGA Championship in May at the age of 51 if he seeks inspiration. At a sprightly 48, he has also finished runner-up at Bay Hill and the Players Championship in March to suggest he is far from finished as a force when the mood takes him.
Indeed, Westwood’s Ryder Cup playing partner Darren Clarke came in from the cold, striking from nowhere at the age of 42 to lift the Open on the par-70 course at Sandwich a decade ago in a huge shock that surprised everyone but the free-wheeling Northern Irishman.
A Westwood win this week would be as comparable and as popular as Clarke’s revival at odds of 125-1 in 2011.
It is perhaps unfair to judge a golfer on how he performs over four weeks of golf every year, but this unfortunately is part of the sport’s rich tapestry.
It is also fair to say poorer golfers than Westwood have careered to majors, but the acid test will always be the big four and there are few disputes that the greatest of all time have all dominated these blue-chip tournaments.
Perhaps this is best explained by the four-times major winner Rory McIlroy’s visit to see Tiger Woods in Florida as he recovered from February’s car crash.
"I went over to Tiger's house a few weeks ago and in his family room he's got his 15 major trophies and I said, 'That's really cool, where are all the others?’” said McIlroy.
"And he was like, 'I don't know. My mum has some, a few are in the office, a few are wherever'.
That's all he cared about (winning majors), so how easy must that have felt for him to win all the others? He talked about these are the four weeks that matter, so the weeks that didn't matter he racked them up at a pretty fast clip.
Tyrrell Hatton is the best priced Englishman at 30/1 to excite the galleries with Tommy Fleetwood and Matthew Fitzpatrick available at 40/1.
Westwood starts the tournament as a 60/1 long shot with Paul Casey (45), Justin Rose (66) and Ian Poulter (75) other regal candidates hoping to defy Father Time in their 40s at England's oldest Open venue which first staged the tournament in 1894.
The Open Championship can throw up all sorts of weird and wonderful winners when you recall Clarke's cigar-smoking stroll to the old jug by three strokes on minus five in 2011, but a victory for Westwood would be one for the ages after so many years of refusal.
For English golfers at their most coveted, but oddly elusive tournament, it would be long overdue.
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