Britain eyes another sporting triumph at Muirfield

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GULLANE, Scotland (AP)

English golfers Ian Poulter and Chris Wood were working on their putting strokes on the practice green at Muirfield as news emerged Wednesday of yet another triumph in this summer of success for British sport.

More than 1,000 miles away from the east coast of Scotland, compatriot Chris Froome had just won the 17th stage of the Tour de France in a time trial, tightening his grip on the yellow jersey.

''Every day there seems to be something,'' Wood said. ''It's all over the news now - sport, sport, sport.''

Looking for a legacy from last year's London Olympics? How about the sporting fever that has gripped Britain over the past 12 months?

Take this summer.

Justin Rose won the U.S Open in golf. The British and Irish Lions won their rugby test series against Australia. Andy Murray won Wimbledon, ending a 77-year wait for a British men's singles champion. Froome has all but sealed a second straight Tour victory by an Englishman, after Bradley Wiggins won cycling's most famous race last year. And England has already gone 1-0 ahead in the five-test Ashes cricket series against Australia.

Next challenge: A Briton lifting the claret jug at his home major, which starts Thursday.

''It's been a fantastic summer already, hasn't it?'' Poulter told The Associated Press as he signed autographs just off the practice green under a sunny sky. ''Rosey winning U.S. Open, the cricket, the Lions, everything, it's great.

''It would be lovely to continue that success. Us guys are trying as hard as we ever are.''

Poulter was the heartbeat of Europe's improbable Ryder Cup victory at Medinah last year. British golf has been on a high ever since 2010 when Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland became the first Briton to win the U.S. Open in 40 years and then holed the winning putt in the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor, Wales, a few months later.

In the intervening three years, Northern Irishmen Darren Clarke (British Open) and Rory McIlroy (U.S. Open and U.S. PGA Championship) have won majors, and McIlroy, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood have been ranked No. 1 in the world. Then came Rose's win at Merion last month.

The ripple effect is clear to see.

''I don't think it means that players now think they can win majors, but probably it just needed one or two people to break through, like Graeme did, Clarkey and Rory,'' said Wood, one of 17 Englishmen in the 156-man British Open field.

Scotland (Paul Lawrie in 1999), Ireland (Padraig Harrington in 2007, '08) and Northern Ireland (Clarke in 2011) have all had British Open champions since Nick Faldo won the world's oldest major for England in 1992, here at Muirfield.

Rose might be the inspiration for the likes of Donald, Westwood and Poulter to win their first major.

''I think it probably makes them even more determined, even more hungry to do it,'' Rose said. ''And I think we don't really go into it with a team mentality. Golf is an individual game, but we are friends with one another. We've played a lot of golf with one another.

''When you see one of your friends, and rivals even, go ahead and do it, and you believe in yourself to be capable of achieving what they're achieving, it gives you that incentive and that belief possibly that you can go ahead and do it yourself. I'm sure the boys are looking at it and thinking, `OK, my turn could be around the corner, I've just got to persevere.'''

Poulter's best moments have come in the Ryder Cup, but Donald and Westwood have come very close in the majors. Donald has five top-five finishes and Westwood have five top-three placings.

''I'm always searching for ways to improve and ways to keep giving myself chances,'' Donald said. ''That's a constant battle and a constant thought-process that's going on in my head. I try not to see it as exasperation - I try to see it as a challenge, more than anything.''

After seeing the euphoria that swept much of Britain during last year's Olympics as the host nation finished third in the medals table, Donald and Wood already have their eye on the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

''Everyone has always been working hard, but sometimes it does take that slightly different thing to kick the inspiration in and get you through,'' Wood said. ''I think after watching the Olympics last year, a lot of the players will be a lot keener to represent their country at the Olympics in (2016).''

The way things are going, England will have another major winner by then.

Tagged: Chris Wood, Justin Rose, Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke

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