Never has a generation of English sportsman promised so much and delivered as little as the golden generation of 90’s footballers.
Unless you count the so-called golden generation of English golfers. For Steven Gerard, David Beckham (below) and Michael Owen – read Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Paul Casey.
Three sensational young golfers for whom the once-predicted greatness proved naggingly elusive as their careers progressed. Sure, all three have made their fortunes.
The first two even climbed to the top of the world rankings (Casey reached No. 3 back in 2009). But measured by the most important metric of modern professional golf – Major championships won – all three have come up short. Failure is too daunting a verdict on their efforts over the years. Let’s be kind and describe the three Englishmen as unfulfilled.
The same is often said of Ian Poulter, another world-class player who is yet to climb the summit. Ryder Cup glory is one thing, major championship triumph is another. Even the self-styled, former “Mars Bar salesman” (he turned professional as a five-handicapper with little nothing to sustain him but titanium self-belief) would admit that.
But to describe Poulter as “unfulfilled’ would provoke a serious argument, not least with Poulter himself.
There is no such debate about Justin Rose (above). He was a garlanded amateur player and turned pro amid great expectations. His victory at last year’s US Open at Merion was a long time coming and elevated Rose.
But like any other one-time major champion he remains in pursuit of the validation that comes with a second major championship victory. He will get his chance when the 2014 Open Championship begins at Royal Liverpool this week.
Rose’s Scottish Open victory at Royal Aberdeen on Sunday was his second win in successive appearances (the first coming two weeks ago in the Quicken Loans National on the PGA Tour) and saw him installed as favourite to become the first Englishman to win the Claret Jug since Nick Faldo parred his way to victory at Muirfield in 1992.
It’s hard to argue the logic of the marketplace, especially in sport as capricious as professional golf. The margins at this exalted level are so tiny that the temptation to place all our trust – and most of our money – on the form book is impossible to resist.
Rose in the man in form and therefore deserves our support. Right? Perhaps.
But only for those who possess the shortest of short-term memory.
Those who care to look a little further back than a few weeks might be a little more cautious when it comes to Mr Rose and the Claret Jug. After all, we have been here before, back in 2010, when Rose arrived at St Andrews off the back of three stunning victories on the PGA Tour.
In the end, he left the Home of Golf on Friday evening having missed the cut. Mine the record books a little deeper you will find Rose’s Open Championship is less than impressive. Since his fourth place as an amateur at Birkdale in 1998, his best finish a 12th place at Carnoustie in 2007.
This isn’t to say he is unworthy favourite this week, merely that those looking for a player to end England’s losing streak at the Open ( as well as some serious value) might care to look at the other members of that golden generation.
In contrast to Rose, Lee Westwood’s (below) recent form has been largely undistinguished.
Yet the pride of Worksop has developed a habit of contenting at the Open – three top fives in the last five championships speaks to a player who knows how to play links golf.
If this history suggests Westwood cannot be relied on to win then it all but guarantees he will be in contention come Sunday afternoon. Luke Donald hasn’t been quite so prominent on the final-round leaderboard.
But two top fives in the Open Championship since 2009, suggests he too might be worth some support this week – at least for the bronze or silver positions – and got his eye in at Aberdeen when finishing T16 on Sunday.
But for those in search of the gold medal winner at Royal Liverpool, there might be no better bet than the forgotten man of England’s golden generation. Those most intimately involved with professional golf – the hangers-on and range rats of the European Tour – have long argued that Paul Casey (below) has more raw talent than any of his contemporaries.
For a while it seemed like Casey was destined to prove them right but then injury and a distracting divorce saw him disappear off the scene for the best part of two years.
But now he is back competing at the very highest level and looking like the player he once promised to be.
A strong finish behind Rose in Scotland on Sunday (a closing day 65 saw him T14 with Rory McIlroy) provided yet more confirmation of this revival. But does it offer enough proof he is capable of following in Faldo’s footsteps and winning an Open for England?
Perhaps not. But his form (and his record in past Opens – seventh in 2007, followed third in 2010) suggests Paul Casey (50/1) might offer the best value for those who are intent on backing England’s golden generation to finally come good on home soil.
For added value the likes of Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher (80/1), or Americans Keegan Bradley (70/1) and Brandt Snedeker (50/1) – who recently came under the guidance of swing coach Butch Harmon – can give each-way punters a run for their money.
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