Lee Westwood and Luke Donald reached No. 1 in the world. Ian Poulter turned into a rock star in the Ryder Cup. There was a strong supporting cast that included Paul Casey. Always lurking, and finally delivering, was Justin Rose.
After Rose’s victory at the U.S. Open, the question no longer is why the English can’t win a major. It’s who might be next.
“I really hope it does inspire them,” Rose said after his two-shot win over Phil Mickelson and Jason Day. “I think it was always going to be a matter of time before one of us broke through.”
Westwood had given England its best hope for the past five years. A 15-foot birdie putt was all that kept him out of a playoff in the 2008 U.S. Open won by Tiger Woods. He missed another playoff at Turnberry in the 2009 British Open when he three-putted for bogey from long range on the 72nd hole. He had a one-shot lead going into the final round of the Masters in 2010 but couldn’t hold off Mickelson.
Donald became the first player to win the money title on the PGA Tour and European Tour in the same season, and he stayed at No. 1 for 56 weeks. That gave him the distinction of being No. 1 going into the most majors – seven – without ever having won.
Poulter was runner-up in the British Open at Royal Birkdale in 2008, though his best play was when he wore Europe’s colors in the Ryder Cup.
Rose’s win at Merion made him the first Englishman since Tony Jacklin in 1970 at Hazeltine to win the U.S. Open. He became the first from England to win any major in 17 years, dating to Nick Faldo’s six-shot rally to beat Greg Norman in the 1996 Masters for his third green jacket.
England, a proud golfing nation, was in danger of being absorbed into a much broader group. It was part of Europe, which got three majors from Ireland’s Padraig Harrington and one from Germany’s Martin Kaymer. The last British player to win a major was Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie in the 1999 British Open.
That the lot fell to Rose should not have been a surprise. A year ago, he led the PGA Tour in greens hit in regulation. Going into the U.S. Open, he was tops in total driving, which combines the ranking of driving distance and driving accuracy. At some point, it began to dawn on the 32-year-old Rose that this major might be the one he was most likely to win.
“I had always felt good at Augusta, always dreamed about winning The Open Championship,” he said. “But I thought this one actually might have been my best chance. I really targeted Merion. ... So I just love it when a plan comes together.”