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The men to end 22 years of hurt

Alex Perry at Royal Liverpool
July 15, 2014
Sir Nick Faldo was England's last Open champion more than two decades ago © PA Photos
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The stats do not lie.

Just two players from the UK - Darren Clarke and Paul Lawrie - have won the Open Championship since Sir Nick Faldo lifted his third and final Claret Jug in 1992.

Dig a little deeper and you will find the last Englishman to win on English soil is Tony Jacklin way back in 1969, when a then 12-year-old Faldo had not even taken up the game. The last player from the UK before that was Max Faulkner in 1951.

And you have to go even further back to find the last time we had back-to-back winners, when Henry Cotton won at Muirfield in 1948 to take golf's most famous piece of silverware from Fred Daly, who had won it 12 months before right here at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in the picturesque Wirral town of Hoylake.

Despite the odds stacked against them, all British players will tell you this is the one they want to win. This is the one they grew up watching on television and in the galleries. This is the oldest, most prestigious of the four majors and - as Ian Poulter tells ESPN - "to have my name on the Claret Jug when I'm old and grey would be quite nice".

Poulter, naturally, is underplaying matters, but he has arrived at Hoylake on the back of a missed cut at last week's Scottish Open. And what's more, he has gone and hurt himself. "I'm over the back injury from Wentworth, but I picked up a new one at Aberdeen when I jarred my wrist playing out of some rough," he says, before revealing scans on Tuesday morning revealed no damage.

Ian Poulter is looking to go one step better than his runner-up finish in 2008 © PA Photos
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Of course, injuries do not always hinder golfers - just ask Tiger Woods.

Last time out at Hoylake in 2006, Poulter partnered Seve Ballesteros in what turned out to be the legendary Spaniard's final ever round at the tournament he held so dear to his heart. "It was Seve of old," Poulter says. "He didn't hit many fairways but his short game was incredible. Simply incredible.

"Any time you have the opportunity to play with someone of Seve's stature you look on and try and take as many notes as you possibly can."

While the note-taking did not work for Poulter that year - he missed the cut - he followed it up with a top-30 and then his best finish yet when he was runner-up to Ireland's Padraig Harrington at Royal Birkdale.

Poulter's omen? Harrington almost withdrew that week with - you guessed it - a wrist injury.

But Poulter doesn't need omens. Anyone who has seen him play any Ryder Cup golf knows this is a man who needs no added motivation. Though he does admit to being a bit jealous of his friends who are lifting major championships - "When you see your mates winning it does give you something extra because you want to emulate them" - Poulter says sometimes it's just down to good old lady luck.

"In the last five years I have had a run at a couple of Opens," says Poulter, who has finished in ninth and third place in the last two years. "So I like my chances.

"I'm tapping on the door without smashing at it - but I am close.

"Things need to align themselves. You have got to perform well, need a little bit of the rub of the green at the right time and it will happen."

One of the friends Poulter talks of is Justin Rose. Already a major champion in the US Open, Rose heads to the British version full of confidence having won both of his last two events at Congressional and Royal Aberdeen.

"I couldn't really have hoped for any better than that," he says, before taking a moment to reflect. "This is the one that, as a kid, I was holing the putt to win. Thousands of time I've won the Open Championship in my mind.

"This is the one I've dreamed about the most. When you're chasing major championships, any of them will do. But if you're lucky enough to win this one, that would be incredibly special."

This is, of course, the tournament in which Rose burst onto the scene as a fresh-faced 18-year-old when he holed out from 50 yards at Birkdale's 18th to finish in a tie for fourth. As exciting as it was for Rose, it remains his best Open finish. A stat he is hoping to change come Sunday.

Justin Rose inspired both Ian Poulter and Luke Donald © Getty Images
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"It's always easy after two wins to get carried away and say you're playing the best golf of your life," he explains.

"But each week I'm more experienced. And I think that begins to swing the pendulum in your favour. Experience plays a huge part in being able to capitalise upon your best golf. In 2010 I was probably playing just as well as I was now, but four years on, I'm a little bit more equipped to deal with the big situation and I have a lot more positives now under my belt - Ryder Cups and major championships.

"I've been at the top end of the game now for a couple of years, I suppose. So that brings a lot of confidence."

Watching Rose's rise to prominence had quite an effect on another man: Luke Donald.

The 36-year-old had the best seat in the house as his compatriot worked his way to maiden major glory at Merion - a performance that made Donald decide his game, in particular his swing, needed a complete overhaul.

His form, understandably, fell by the wayside. But a few top 10s - including last week's Scottish Open - have him dreaming big again.

"It's like coming back from an injury," Donald explains. "You don't quite commit to some of the shots because you don't quite trust it. I need to go out there and be a bit more assertive. I need to think about making birdies and playing great.

"The danger of making changes is that there is going to be that period of time where you don't feel that comfortable over the shot. When I'm playing friendlies at my club it feels very natural, but it takes continued practice and continually putting yourself in those positions to trust it under the gun.

"If I'm feeling in control of my game it doesn't matter which tournament I'm playing, I'm going to have a chance. It's about having that belief again and trusting your swing."

Looking ahead to this week at Hoylake, Donald revealed how his coach, Chuck Cook, helped him take a slightly different look at proceedings that go beyond how well you are swinging the club.

"Chuck said to me that Royal Liverpool isn't too dissimilar to a Hilton Head or a Tampa - places I play well. It's reasonably narrow, you have to get it between the bunkers and play strategic golf. If I can think of it in that way then hopefully I can have some success."

And, like Poulter, Rose and any other golfer born in these islands, Donald struggled to contain just how much Open glory would mean to him.

"For me the Claret Jug is on the top of the pile," Donald said. "My two heroes, Seve and Faldo, were pretty good at winning Open Championships.

"The Masters is hyped up through television and it seems to be the most popular major with the look of it and everything that goes with it, but there is nothing like the great grandstands around 18 at an Open Championship. I would love to win a Claret Jug."

From a familiar over-confidence to quietly confident, with the in-form man in the middle, Poulter, Rose and Donald have every shot at ending England's 22-year Open Championship hoodoo.

Like Justin Rose, Luke Donald comes into Hoylake off the back of a good showing at the Scottish Open © Getty Images
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Follow Alex Perry on Twitter @AlexPerryESPN

Poulter was talking to ESPN on behalf of MasterCard, the Official Patron of The Open Championship which is unveiling a series of Priceless golf experiences for fans to enjoy during the tournament. Visit Priceless.com/golf for more

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