British invasion at the Masters

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The British are coming.

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Ian Poulter holes out from the bunker on the third green during Monday's practice round for the Masters.  Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Ian Poulter holes out from the bunker on the third green during Monday's practice round for the Masters.

So are the Irish and the Scots.

There have never been so many players from the British Isles crowding the top of the World Golf Rankings entering the Masters Tournament than this year.

Led by World No. 2 Lee Westwood of England (who was No. 1 late last fall and into the early winter), there are 10 players from England, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland who were among the top 50 in the world rankings.

And they're supremely confident, having brushed Americans Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson from the top of the rankings, and ready to break the stranglehold Woods and Mickelson have had on the Masters in the last 10 years. They have won three green jackets each during that span.

While Westwood is still seeking his first victory of the year, No. 3 Luke Donald of England won the World Golf Championship Accenture Match Play. No. 4 Graeme McDowell - the reigning U.S. Open champion - of Northern Ireland tied two course records within a month on the PGA Tour; No. 7 Paul Casey of England won on the European PGA Tour; and No. 21 Martin Laird of Scotland captured the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

Also figuring to be in the Masters mix are No. 8 Rory McIlroy of Ireland, No. 16 Ian Poulter of England, No. 26 Justin Rose of England, No. 36 Padraig Harrington of Ireland and No. 43 Ross Fisher of England.

"They're playing great golf, as a group," said Matt Kuchar, one of four Americans among the top 10 in the world. "There's no question of the impact they're having."

Here's the bad news: None of the 10 U.K. golfers among the world's top 50 has ever won the Masters, and only McDowell and Harrington have won major championships. The group has combined to win 18 PGA Tour events and 117 worldwide titles, but success at Augusta National Golf Club has eluded them.

And they all desperately want a green jacket, mindful of what winning the Masters did for Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam and Sandy Lyle. No player from the British Isles has won the Masters since Faldo in 1996.

Since Faldo's third Masters title, players from the U.S., Spain, Fiji, Canada, South Africa and Argentina have won the Masters. U.K. players also have won at least one of the other three major championships.

Westwood came close last year, leading through 54 holes before Mickelson lapped him on the back nine Sunday. Casey had a chance in 2008 before a final-round 79. Poulter was tied with Westwood through 36 holes last year, and shot 3 over on the weekend.

And Rose was within a shot of the lead on the back nine Sunday in 2007 before finishing three shots behind Zach Johnson.

"You can play pretty well, and somebody plays a little bit better and get particularly great breaks in major championships," Westwood said last week before the Houston Open. "You know, if you keep getting close, then the law of averages ... sooner or later, the door is going to open."

Donald pointed out that Faldo, Woosnam and Lyle combined for four consecutive Masters titles between 1988-1991. The pool of U.K. players was deep then, and it's deep now.

"Hopefully it will only take one to win a Masters for a bunch of them to follow," he said.

The British have certainly given themselves enough chances. The current batch has combined to play in 52 Masters, making 39 cuts and finishing among the top 10 11 times. And there's not only a familiarity with the Augusta National, but a deep, abiding love for the course, the tournament and all it represents.

During a practice round last week, Poulter and McDowell could barely contain their glee over a simple practice round, as they posted Twitter messages, photos and video (which drew a reminder on the no camera policy from the club).

At almost every tournament stop around the world, they've been asked about getting their games ready for the Masters. Usually, their answers have the same tone as children when they're asked what they want for Christmas.

"It's an exciting time of year," Rose said last week at Bay Hill.

And it's here. The question is, will someone from the U.K. break the drought?


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