The Faldo Factor

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Hard to believe it's been thirteen years since Nick Faldo overcame Greg Norman in that epic Masters of 1996. That was the last year a player from the United Kingdom pushed their arms through those tailored green sleeves of victory. In fact, us Brits havent had much to celebrate in the way of major champions since, only the forgotten Scottish son, Paul Lawrie in 1999. Lawrie, by the way, is not at Augusta National this year.
 
But back in Blighty they are thinking an English invasion might just be coming soon. If theres been any year where the British charge is going to be strong, it's got to be 2009. And maybe we have Nick Faldo to thank. If we look at the young crop of British, or more specifically in this case, English talent (Paul Casey, Luke Donald, Justin Rose, Ross Fisher, Ian Poulter, Oliver Wilson, Lee Westwood), the ones playing this week, Faldo would have most certainly had an influence on in their developing days.
 
When Faldo was at the height of his popularity in 1990 when he won both the Open Championship and the Masters, those aforementioned names would have been in ' or close to ' their teens. Right at the time when they would head to the course on a Masters Sunday to play, pretending they were Faldo whilst their playing partners were Norman, Fred Couples or Nick Price. Then it would be home for supper and staying-up late watching the BBC with Peter Alliss, Alex Hay and Dave Marr describing the action so eloquently.
 
Those young Brits, like myself, saw a hero in Faldo, a fellow Englishman whod conquered this most hallowed ground. At the time Augusta seemed untouchable, almost unreachable but slowly and surely through their careers these seven players have made their way to the Masters ' and this year theres a legitimate chance one of them could follow in Faldos footsteps.
 
At the forefront are Casey and Westwood. Casey from Surrey, England, won last week and has the game to tame Augusta. So too does Westwood, a missed putt away from the playoff at Torrey Pines last year at the U.S. Open. Nineteen times a European Tour winner, Westwood is knocking on the door for a major victory.
 
Donald, Rose and Poulter would be a little less favoured, but nonetheless a victory for either would not be a surprise. Question marks remain around Donalds fitness and his length if the course plays soft. Rose is unquestionably a great ball-striker but the putter has let him down in the last 12 months and his game, when put under pressure, hasnt always been stellar. Poulter, a runner-up to Harrington at Birkdale, is an overachiever, which is meant in the nicest possible way. He turned professional with a handicap of 4 and made his way to the top with hard-work and determination. A Poulter victory would give inspiration to many young club pros who dream of playing their way out from behind the pro-shop walls. Orlando residents, Rose and Poulter, were also close to Faldo in the run-up to the Ryder Cup. Maybe they can draw on some of the six-time major champions Augusta advice.
 
The outsiders Fisher and Wilson could provide an English surprise. Fisher made a nice run at the WGC Accenture Match Play losing in the semifinal. Wilson, after attending Augusta State, knows the area and the course which will pay large dividends.
 
So 13 years after the Faldo victory, the old Master has moved on to the commentary box, still present but looking down on 18. His young crop is now in the spotlight ready to make that walk in the Sunday afternoon Georgia sun. And somewhere back in England there are several young men watching, waiting in the wings to be the next Lee Westwood.
 
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