Britain seeking breakthrough at Masters

AUGUSTA, GA. (AP) - There was a time not long ago when Britain’s golfers ruled Augusta National like no other country. Now, the latest group of talented Brits is determined to end the empire’s 17-year drought at the Masters.

England’s Justin Rose ranks third in the world and countryman Luke Donald is No. 4. Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood give Britain four of the world’s top 13 players, second only to the United States’ six. And none of the British stars have broken through at the majors _ something they hope to change when the Masters starts Thursday.

All four have excelled in Europe’s recent Ryder Cup triumphs and all four have contended on Augusta National. So doesn’t it seem surprising none have yet to slip on the green jacket?

“Yes, simple answer,” Poulter said Tuesday.

British golfers were unstoppable for a stretch, winning five Masters between 1988 and 1996. Scotland’s Sandy Lyle got the ball rolling in 1988 before Nick Faldo won consecutive tournaments in 1989 and 1990. Ian Woosnam of Wales made it four in a row in 1991. Faldo won his third and final Masters in 1996, the recipient of Greg Norman’s historic six-shot collapse in the final round.

That’s when the winning stopped for British competitors.

“Nothing surprises me in golf anymore,” said Donald, the former No. 1.

Donald has come close here twice before, tying for third behind Tiger Woods _ remember the hole out from the bunker on No. 16? _ in 2005 and then finishing fourth six years later when champion Charl Schwartzel ended his round with four straight birdies.

Donald believes fields have become stronger over time, meaning more golfers have the chance to rise up on a given week.

Poulter, a Ryder Cup hero at Medinah last September, has had two top 10 finishes here, including a seventh behind champion Bubba Watson last April. Poulter believes they simply haven’t been good enough on this given week.

“I think the guys are disappointed, to be honest, that one of the guys would have expected to have come through by now ” he said. “What’s the reason for that? Don’t know.”

There are a couple of major theories, though.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have won half of the 16 Masters played since Faldo’s final victory. Two South Africans have broken through in Trevor Immelman (2008) and Schwartzel two years ago. A European’s last Masters win was in 1999 when Jose Maria Olazabal took his second championship.

Faldo slipped the green jacket on the shoulders of a young Woods in 1997 and Britain hasn’t gotten it back since.

Rose, the world’s highest-ranked Brit, has three top 11 finishes in seven previous Masters, including the past two years. He rose to eighth a year ago with a final-round 68 and he likes the way he’s playing this year.

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