Late last night Phil Mickelson won his third Masters trophy. Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood had topped the leader-board at the half-way stage and Lee Westwood was still in pole position as the final day's action got under-way. Neither Poulter nor Westwood, however, were able to capitalise on their strong starts and rather than becoming the first Brit to win the Masters since 1996, Westwood could only add his name to long list of Brits to have 'bottled it' on the biggest stage.
Westwood has finished 3rd, 3rd and 2nd in his last three Majors and seems unable to cross the finishing line and claim that elusive Major trophy. He joins the likes of Tim Henman who get labelled as 'bottlers' or 'chokers' because of their inability to capture the biggest prizes.
Is it wrong to say that he 'bottled it'? He finished at an impressive -13 but his final round was a timid 71. Mickelson cruised past the Brit as he carded a fourth round score of 67 to finish comfortable winner at -16. Westwood played himself into the driving seat but let the trophy slip through his hands. As good as Mickelson played, it was Westwood's title to lose and, when the pressure was on, he did just that.
Unlike Henman, Lee still has many many years left to play and if he continues on the form he has been showing the last couple of years he is sure to have another chance to secure a Major. Mickelson broke his duck at the age of 33 back in 2004 and has gone on to four Majors so there is till plenty of time for Lee, 36, to get his hands on one.
Tiger Tim played in six Grand-slam semi-finals but never reached a final and therefore, obviously, never won a Grand-slam. The question is whether or not Tim was ever good enough to win one of the big four tournaments? I don't think he was. He may have bottled it when he lost in the semi-finals of Wimbledon to Goran Ivanisevic in five sets despite being in a dominant position. Ultimately, he was not as good as Sampras, Hewitt or Federer all of whom beat he regularly. To win a Grand-slam you have to be the best in the world, on that surface or at that time, as you will have to beat the best and Henman did not have the quality to beat the elite.
This is not dissimilar to the situation that Murray finds himself in. He has gone one step further than Henman and has reached two Grand-slam finals but has lost both to Roger Federer. Murray cannot be said have 'bottled it'. He lost to the greatest player to ever pick up a racquet. So high are the expectations that we readily place upon our sports stars that when they fail to reach the heights we expect they are labelled as 'bottlers'.
The England football team has exited both of the last two tournaments on penalties. This was repeated in 1996 and 1998 as well. This has been a classic example of the British vulnerability to 'choking' under pressure. When Gareth Southgate stepped up against Germany in '96 he knew that the hopes and dreams of a nation lay on his shoulders. It is hard not have sympathy for these people who have come so close but been unsuccessful.
As a nation we seem to have a habit of 'bottling it' on the big occasions, but why? My explanation would be that we are generally, as a nation, quite reserved. We see arrogance as such a negative trait in society today and yet is so important in sports. Just look at our cricketing rivalry with Australia. We hate their arrogance and yet that is why they go into the ashes, and other cricket tournaments, with the edge both technically and, more importantly, mentally.
Contrast us with America. They instil clichés such as 'you can do whatever you put your mind to' into their society. They are far more confident and outspoken than ourselves, you only have to look at the characters in the NBA or NFL to see how different they are to our football or in rugby stars. This self-belief could be the difference at the 'crunch moments'. Such assurance, which we some commonly mistake for arrogance, could be why other nations so often enjoy sporting success over us or maybe it is just because we simply don't produce the same level of talent.
If you look at characters like Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Cristiano Ronaldo, Floyd Mayweather Jr, Randy Moss, Tiger Woods (perhaps) even our own David Haye, you can see how their 'arrogance' has been so important to their success. It allows them to perform at the highest level and on the biggest stages with unerring confidence. Talent in, of course, integral but as the old saying goes; 'winning is 10% physical, 90% mental.' It is this mental strength that our sports stars may lack and is why they seem to fall at the final hurdle.
This, in my opinion, is why Sampras could beat Henman, why Germans beat us on penalties, and why Westwood was left watching Mickelson sink a the winning put on the green of 18th hole at Augusta.
I would be very interested to hear what you all think about this matter. Did Westwood 'bottle it' last night? Is it something that is unique to Britain, and if so, why do you think that is?