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European Challenge Looks Strong To End US Masters Drought In 2012

Posted on January 25, 2012 by Rod Crowley

Jose Maria Olazabal - The last European to win the "Green Jacket" in 1999.

Despite the fact that the US Masters is still a couple of months away, the start of the new season in Golf means that players will be looking to fine tune their games ahead of the first “major” of the year, the US Masters, and with European players occupying the top four places in the World rankings currently, the question is whether a European can finally win the “Green Jacket”, some 13 years after the last!

It seems an eternity since Jose Maria Olazabal last won what is arguably the sport’s most prestigious tournament. His win in 1999 added to his first win at Augusta in 1994 and came after Sir Nick Faldo’s third triumph in the event in 1996. Other European winners of the Masters in a golden era for players from across the Atlantic included the late, Seve Ballesteros, who won it twice in 1980 & 1983. German, Bernard Langer, also won two “Green Jacket’s” in 1985 and then eight years later in 1993. Sandy Lyle became the first ever British winner in 1987 and while Faldo followed him with back to back wins in 1989 & 1990, it was Welshman, Ian Woosnam who took the title in 1991. However, despite recent European winners of the other three “Majors”, the Masters has seemingly become elusive for Europe’s top players.

Of course, Rory McIlroy had the 2011 Masters when he took a four shot lead into the final round but the young Ulsterman imploded early on the Sunday and his chance was very quickly gone. As we know, he made some amends a few weeks later when winning the US Open but losing the “Green Jacket” will still sit heavy on his shoulders and McIlroy will be out to avenge that final round performance in April and he is arguably Europe’s best chance of ending the 13 year wait.

There are many who believe that this year will be an even bigger year for world number one, Luke Donald, who was the top money winner on both the US and European Tours in 2011. The Englishman who plays mostly in the USA certainly has the game for Augusta and was the only European to make the top ten in the 2011 US Masters. His tie for fourth place last year added to his tie for tenth place in 2007 and his tie for third place in 2004.

Then of course there is Lee Westwood, current world number two, who was tied 11th last year and finished runner up to Phil Mickelson in 2010. The burly Englishman is said to be just about the best tee to green player in the world right now which surely will give him a head start over the rest in April. However, Westwood’s putting at the very highest level is not quite as it should be and is often the reason why he has been so close in so many ‘Majors’ over the years.

The 2010 PGA Champion and world number four, Martin Kaymer appears to have no idea of how to play Augusta. Four appearances and four missed cuts is all that he has to show for his efforts despite having the game that most experts think should be good enough to win The Masters.

Other European challengers this year will be 2010 US Open Champion, Graeme McDowell, but he will need to play with far more consistency than he showed in 2011. Justin Rose finished alongside Westwood last year and was tied fifth place in 2007. The resurgent Sergio Garcia is now back in the top twenty in the world rankings, but even when he was ranked in the top three or four he never really got to grips with Augusta. His putting has never been the best and possibly explains why he has only ever finished in the top ten in the ‘Masters’ twice before. Ian Poulter has always believed that he was a ‘Major’ winner ‘waiting to happen’ and whilst that may be true, he has yet to convince anyone that his first win will come at Augusta. In fairness he has never missed the cut here but has only a best place finish of tied tenth which came in two years ago.

There is no doubt that the European challenge will be a strong one this year, it simply has to be due to the high quality of its players. But with ‘Tiger’ back on the prowl, Mickelson threatening a return to form, plus a host of other American’s making their mark on world golf, the European quest will take some achieving. Add to the mix that the defending champion, Charl Schwartzel is a South African, who added to the title that compatriot, Trevor Immelman won in 2008, while the only other non-European success at Augusta since that Olazabal victory have been achieved by Angel Cabrera of Argentina and Mike Weir of Canada.

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