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DEREK LAWRENSON: This is the perfect chance to end the English USPGA Championship curse

No golfer born in mainland Britain ever stood over a three-foot putt growing up and imagined it was for the USPGA Championship — but if you want to achieve golf history, this is the major where a fresh page is begging to be written.

No Englishman has won the event since Jim Barnes claimed the first two editions in 1916 and 1919 and no Scot since Tommy Armour won in 1930. No successes, then, since the event became established in its current strokeplay form in 1958.

You would be wrong, therefore, if you thought after more than 450 majors, there was no longer any unchartered territory for players from the two longest established golfing nations.

What a year this would be to reach the final frontier. For so long the fourth of the fourth majors, this week’s edition in San Francisco is not just the first to be played this year, but the first in almost 400 days.

A trawl through the record books certainly makes for depressing reading. Since 1958, there has actually only been a couple of times when an Englishman finished so much as runner-up — and neither looked like winning on the final day. 

Sir Nick Faldo started the final round in 1992 eight shots off the lead and made up five of them with a 67, while full marks if you remembered that David Lynn was the man who finished a distant second behind runaway winner Rory McIlroy in 2012.

The last time the event was held in California — almost 25 years ago to the day, in fact — was actually the only time there was a real opportunity for breaking new ground. 

That was when Scot Colin Montgomerie became a good quiz question, tying the lowest 72-hole total in majors history and yet still not winning. 

It just so happened that Steve Elkington had set the new record 15 minutes earlier, and then the Australian won the sudden death play-off by holing his umpteenth long putt of the tournament.   

Is this the week when history is finally made? San Francisco is certainly an inviting host city for the Brits, with its cool temperatures more helpful than the brutal steam bath conditions prevalent at so many PGA sites in the past.

The Harding Park venue also has some flavours of British course design about it, and proved conducive to players from these isles when it hosted the WGC-Match Play Championship five years ago.

The event was won by McIlroy, while Danny Willett finished third and Tommy Fleetwood and Paul Casey both reached the last eight.

Unusually for a PGA, the rough is supposedly juicy this week, and that will favour a straight shooter like in-form Matt Fitzpatrick, who is overdue a victory of some kind.

Then there is Tyrrell Hatton, who is increasingly looking like a major winner in waiting, and what about the latest fortysomething Justin Rose — he celebrated his landmark birthday last Thursday — who came so close at the last major in California at the US Open at Pebble Beach last year?

Every reason for hope, therefore. If it happens, you can be sure there will suddenly be plenty of young British wannabes, standing over a short putt and dreaming it is for the Wanamaker Trophy.

It will be interesting to see if the final 36 holes of the WGC-FedEx Invitational last week proves the making of Tom Lewis in America. 

At 14 shots off the lead at halfway, it was looking like another underwhelming show in the US for the Welwyn man, who stood a rather modest 191st in the season-long standings. 

Stunning rounds of 61 and 66 changed all that as he finished in a four-way tie for second and sounded afterwards like a man who will move on to the USPGA Championship this week with a necessary injection of belief.

‘I couldn’t see how the guys were shooting such low scores over the first two rounds, but it’s amazing what the mind can do,’ said the 29-year-old. ‘Over the weekend, suddenly every hole felt birdieable. When I’m good, I’m good but my bad needs to get a little better if I want to compete consistently.’

‘I feel like a much more complete golfer than the last time I was world No 1, and more equipped to hold on to the position for a far longer period than back in 2018.’

Jon Rahm had hoped to hold on to the world No 1 spot for 20 years but it turned out to be just two weeks, as Justin Thomas displaced him at the top with his win in the WGC-FedEx Invitational in Memphis on Sunday. 

The American proved a short-term occupant himself two years ago and certainly shouldn’t get too comfortable just yet, with joint runner-up Brooks Koepka showing signs of life at the WGC, and Rory McIlroy and the smarting Rahm both in position to reclaim top spot at the PGA this week.

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