The alarms have been set, the popcorn is ready and the British public are ready to bask in the sunshine glowing out their HD television sets, but despite the thrills of The Masters there is one fact that boldly stands out this side of the Atlantic. No European has won the competition for the past thirteen years.
On this occasion it was 1999 and Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal that claimed the coveted Green Jacket with a score of -8 after four rounds at Augusta. The result saw him finish two shots clear of Davis Love and claim his second Masters title, and the current Ryder Cup captain’s achievement has not been equalled by any European colleague since.
The key to Augusta is to hit big. The course is long and tough, but many of the holes allow for a slightly off target strike, and the chances are that even if you land on the fairways you won’t have an even lie. Winning players have to strike the ball consistently far and be able to control shorter shots to put themselves near the pins of the infamously tricky greens.
Surely though with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and world number one Luke Donald, this is the year for the Europeans? Yes, it its possible, but somehow I don’t think it’s going to happen.
Let’s have a look at our top European contenders, who incidentally, are all from the United Kingdom. Before we do this however, I think we need to address the tiger… sorry, elephant in the room. Tiger Woods is on good form just now and you can never rule him out of any tournament. Despite Tiger’s form though, his putting average for the year ranks at 67th on the PGA Tour, and unless he can rediscover his magic putter it is unlikely the golfing talisman can win at Augusta.
Back to our Europeans then; and first up is world number one Luke Donald. Although Donald has never won a major, he finished fourth in last year’s competition and has been at the peak of the golf rankings for an impressive amount of time. However, the Englishman’s style may be too traditional and casual to win the tournament, and it is likely big hitters will push him out of contention and into a top 10 finish. Oddly enough, it’d be a shock if the world number one won on Sunday.
Lee Westwood is another man on the conquest to bring the Masters title to Great Britain. The player has been on fine form recently, recording a fourth place finish at the Accenture World Match Play, and the world number three has shown consistent form that has often seen him come close in majors. Although also a majorless man, Westwood has recorded five top three finishes in the last twelve majors, but it is uncertain whether he will have that extra spark which is essential to win The Masters.
World number two and golfing wonder kid Rory McIlroy seems to be Europe’s best chance of winning the Green Jacket. After blowing the chance to win the major in disastrous fashion last year, the Northern Irishman will be eager to correct his past errors, and McIlroy has shown he can win on the big stage after claiming last year’s US Open. The young athlete hits the ball big, but his main challenge will be consistency throughout the Championship. If the golfer can keep his tee shots flying well then he has a good chance to compete, as Rory is hard to beat around the greens. McIlroy clearly has the skills, and this is why the curly haired world beater is a hot favourite around the globe.
Outside of Europe though, the field is bursting at the seams with players technically made for Augusta; the players who hit big and putt well. Hunter Mahan is coming down Magnolia Lane top of the 2012 Money List, and with his combination of accuracy and strength, it’s likely the in-form American will be near the top of the leaderboard.
Bo Van Pelt is another one to watch. Bo is a massive off the tee and after finishing 8th last year he has shown he knows how to play the course. If the man from Indiana can keep his putting to the remarkable standards it has been at recently then there’s no reason why he can’t challenge for the jacket.
One final tip from Brig Sport is Bubba Watson. The American drives further than Jeremy Clarkson does in a series of Top Gear and if he continues the form he’s shown of late he should be deep in the red come Sunday afternoon. Watson is ranked number one on the PGA Tour for driving distance and amount of greens hit in regulation, but the 6ft 3” golfer’s main downfall is his putting. Should Bubba find a cure for his putting blues though, he’s a huge contender for the title.