April 12, 2010
For the British sports fan, the setting for the final day at The Masters 2010 in Augusta could not have been more perfect. The beautful, picturesque tree-lined Augusta golf course, adorned with beautiful azalias, rhododendrons and lakes, was also bathed in spring sunshine. Best of all, Nottinghamshire born Lee Westwood went into the final round top of the leader board, one stroke ahead of Californian, Phil Mickelson.
It was picture perfect, and all we needed was for Lee Westwood to be crowned Masters Champion at the end of the day; fourteen years after the last Brit to achieve this, Nick Faldo donned the traditional green jacket in 1996. What could possibly go wrong? Well nothing in that Westwood played a very solid round…………the trouble is that his partner for the final round was so much more than just solid. Phil Mickelson took the eighteen holes by the scruff of the neck, and shook and hustled them until they gave him the result he wanted!! Poor Westwood did nothing wrong, but in the final analysis, although he didn’t choke he was simply too conservative! Fortune favoured the brave, and the brave Mickelson prevailed.
Phil Mickelson took calculated risks and deployed controlled aggression at the right time; Lee Westwood did not. That was simply the difference. Westwood erred on the side of caution, happy to conserve what he had and maintain the status quo; Mickelson upped the ante when it was needed and thoroughly deserved his third victory at Augusta. In essence the American made the victory happen. The trouble is that when it comes to winning the big prize, this is a recurring theme with the solo British sportsman. It seems to be part of a greater malaise within British sport in general.
In the past 18 months we have seen Andy Murray capitulate to Roger Federer in three straight sets, in two Grand Slam finals in New York and Melbourne. Admittedly Murray was playing the universally accepted greatest tennis player of all time, but the meek way that Murray rolled over in both finals was what really disappointed. Sure, we had been there before in six Grand Slam semi finals with Tim Henman, but in truth Henman maximised on his talent and expertise, and it could be argued that he overachieved. Andy Murray regularly beats Federer, Nadal and the rest of the Top 10 – yet when he gets to the threshold of winning a Grand Slam, he’s found wanting. Unlike Henman, Murray has the talent to go all the way; he has the technique, passion and desire, but does he have the conviction, mindset and inner self-belief to win a Major? Time will tell……
In the eighties and nineties, Jimmy White reached an unprecedented six World Snooker Championship Finals, without winning one. The fact that he was beaten in those finals by an Englishman and a Scot, Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry respectively, might on the surface appear to negate my argument! However it merely serves to illustrate my final point, that the British sports fan wallows in the gallant, noble and honourable failure of sporting icons and heros!! Why else were Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry and Nick Faldo much maligned during their peak years of success, whilst winning many majors in their respective fields?!!