Europeans Well-Represented in 2009 Masters - Part 2

By: Tony Dear


by Tony Dear

Yesterday, I evaluated 12 Europeans - Paul Casey, Luke Donald, Ross Fisher, Sergio Garcia, Soren Hansen, Padraig Harrington, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Robert Karlsson, Martin Kaymer, Soren Kjeldsen, Bernhard Langer and Sandy Lyle - and their chances for winning this year's Masters (see the story at http://www.cybergolf.com/golf_news/europeans_wellrepresented_in_2009_masters_part_1). Let's take a look at the other 12 players in the field from across the Atlantic.

Graeme McDowell

After a scintillating 2008 in which he won twice and represented Europe at the Ryder Cup for the first time, McDowell is off to a slow start in the '09 season, failing to register a top-10 in his first seven starts. This will be the 29-year-old Irishman's second time at the Masters, having played in 2005 where he missed the cut by a stroke. A much wiser, more confident and more rounded player now than he was four years ago, McDowell admits to having felt helpless on the greens four years ago and watching in disbelief as he observed playing partner Ben Crenshaw craftily work around the glassy surfaces. He visited the course last week with his father and was pleasantly surprised that he didn't find it as daunting the second time around.

World Ranking: 45; Masters Record: One appearance, one MC; Best Finish: N/A; Prediction: Showed some form at the Tavistock Cup but his game does not arrive in the best health. Top 20 is perhaps the best he can hope for.

Rory McIlroy

A few years after losing the 1976 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale to Johnny Miller, Seve Ballesteros said it was probably a good thing he hadn't won as he was probably too young at the time and the resulting attention would have been too much for him to handle. Rory McIlroy comes to Augusta just a few months older than Ballesteros was at Birkdale, but with two and a half years' of top-class performances in world-class fields already behind him. Winning the Masters would obviously be a very big deal for the lad from just outside Belfast, but one suspects he would handle it with poise and aplomb - just the first rung on what should be a lengthy career ladder.

World Ranking: 17; Masters Record: Debut; Best Finish: N/A; Prediction: Dare we talk about McIlroy winning when he's not even 20, has never played the Masters and Tiger Woods is in the field? Sure, why not?

Jose-Maria Olazabal

Europe's sixth Masters' champion and Spain's second, Olazabal is still far from injury-free following a repeat last year of the rheumatism that he first experienced in the late 1990s and from which he emerged to memorably win his second green jacket in 1999. One of the game's great artists on and around the greens, Olly has long been able to overcome occasionally wayward driving with a chipping and putting touch that only a few players in history could match. A winner of 27 professional events around the world, Olazabal has played only three times in Europe this year and missed the cut two weekends ago in Andalucía. Still, the sight of Augusta's lush green turf and colorful azaleas does something to this man's soul. The Basque is often at his best here and with his record, who's to say he can't pull off something special again?

World Ranking: 626; Masters Record: 21 appearances, eight top-10s, five MCs; Best Finish: 1st (1994, '99); Prediction: T3 in '06 but no right to expect anything from Olazabal this year. Augusta often works its magic on him, however, and he should make the weekend cut.

Carl Pettersson

Petterson's best performance so far this year was probably his minor role at the end of the Nike commercial in which staff players suddenly stop celebrating their success as Tiger Woods walks into the locker room, ready for his comeback. The 31-year-old Swede, who attended North Carolina State University, has done nothing of note this season. A 17th place finish at the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship is his best finish in nine events. Pettersson, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour, has made the cut in each of the two Masters he's played, but has not finished higher than T27 (2006). Judging from his recent form (MC at Transitions Championship, MC at Bay Hill) there's little reason to expect anything better from him this year.

World Ranking: 78; Masters Record: Two appearances, no top-10s, no MCs; Best Finish: T27 (2006); Prediction: Will quietly make the cut, but unlikely to threaten the lead at any point.

Ian Poulter

With January's corrective eye surgery and the arrival in March of his third child, Poulter has found time for only four golf tournaments so far this season, one in Australia on the European Tour, and three in the U.S. Not surprisingly, the ultra-confident 33-year-old Englishman doesn't see that as a problem and says that with his "new eyes" he's ready for a fantastic year. He played decently in the WGC CA Championship at Doral three weeks ago, finishing tied for 13th, but missed the cut at Bay Hill. He's made the cut in each of his four Masters appearances without ever really putting heat on the leaders. But then he hasn't really applied much heat since the end of 2007 when he won the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament in Japan, the ninth and most recent win of his professional career. Did play superbly at last year's Ryder Cup but needs to contend regularly in major championships to be regarded as a world-class player.

World Ranking: 38; Masters Record: Four appearances, no top-10s, no MCs; Best Finish: T13 (2007); Prediction: Very little to go on having played so infrequently this year. Didn't show any form at Bay Hill, so he will do well to make the cut.

Alvaro Quiros

The least familiar of the Europeans, Quiros got into the Masters by virtue of his splendid win at the Qatar Masters in January when he beat Louis Oosthuizen and Henrik Stenson by three shots. It was the 26-year-old Spaniard's third win in Europe and propelled him from 74th in the world rankings to 28th. Now ranked 27th, Quiros will not only be making his Masters debut this week but also his debut in a major championship. He did play in both WGC events earlier this season, tying Poulter for 13th at Doral where he shot a second-round 64, but his experience in big time golf is limited to say the least. Never mind, the boy can belt it a mile off the tee (averaging over 314 yards this season) so Augusta's length won't scare him. But the greens might.

World Ranking: 27; Masters Record: Debut; Best Finish: N/A; Prediction: Can overpower some very long golf courses. But of course, Augusta is about so much more than just length. If he can handle the greens, Quiros can finish in the top 20.

Justin Rose

Since winning the European Order of Merit and rising to sixth in the world rankings at the end of 2007, Rose has gone off the boil slightly, enduring a fairly lackluster 2008 when he recorded just two top-10s in 15 events on the PGA Tour and dropping to 81st on the European money list. This year hasn't started particularly brightly either (zero top-10s in five American starts) so Rose, having started the year 19th in the world, is now down to 25th. Augusta brings out the best and worst in him - he led after two rounds in 2004 but shot 81 in the third round; was tied for third after 36 holes in 2007 before finishing tied for fifth, and tied the lead after the opening round last year before falling away into a tie for 36th - and nothing has happened since last year to convince fans he has what it takes to shoot four good rounds at the home of the Masters.

World Ranking: 25; Masters Record: Four appearances, one top-10s, no MCs; Best Finish: T5 (2007); Prediction: Hasn't done nearly enough yet this year to suggest he is capable of claiming the green jacket. Outside chance of another top-10.

Reinier Saxton The 2008 British Amateur champion and 2009 Spanish Amateur winner will tee it up in the first two rounds with Ray Floyd and Justin Leonard. For a first-timer, it could have been a lot worse - he could have been out with Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson and had the eyes of the world bearing down. But still, it's very unlikely the 21-year-old from Amsterdam will feel sufficiently at ease to play his normal game at any point this week. If Saxton, who missed the cut by eight at last year's Open Championship, makes it to the weekend he will become the first British Amateur champion to do so since Sergio Garcia in 1999 and only the second in the last 30 years. But he won't . . . probably.

World Ranking: Eighth in the R&A World Amateur Golf Rankings and fifth in Golfweek's World Amateur Rankings; Masters Record: Debut; Best Finish: N/A; Prediction: One-in-10 chance of making the cut.

Henrik Stenson

The Swede turned 33 on Sunday and is ready to break his major duck. A WGC event winner ('07 Matchplay) with six European Tour titles to his credit, Stenson came in third at last year's Open Championship at Royal Birkdale and has finished in the top 20 the past two years at Augusta. A tie for third in Houston last week, which included a superb final round of 70 in very challenging conditions, means he is sharp and bringing the necessary form to Augusta. Definitely has the firepower to excel here and ever-improving putting stats indicate he now has the game necessary to win a major. However, despite 10 trips around Augusta National, Stenson is yet to break 70.

World Ranking: 8; Masters Record: Three appearances, no top-10s, one MC; Best Finish: T17 (2007, 2008); Prediction: Likely contender.

Lee Westwood

It comes as something of a surprise to learn that Westwood is still only 35 (he turns 36 in two weeks). A stalwart of six Ryder Cups and a winner of 18 titles in Europe, six of them in 2000 when he won the European Order of Merit, Westwood has been one of Europe's top four or five players for a very long time. During his record-breaking season in 2000 he rose to fourth in the world, but suffered a setback over the next few years when he tried altering his technique to hit the ball higher. He dropped outside the top 200 for a time, re-entering with a victory at the BMW International Open in August 2003. At the end of 2007 and start of '08, he recorded nine top-10 finishes in 10 tournaments and, later in '08, finished third in the U.S. Open, a shot out of the Tiger Woods/Rocco Mediate play-off. It was his highest finish at a major. Westwood's record at Augusta is less than stellar. But after a decent finish last week in Houston where he tied for 11th, a Westwood victory is by no means outside the realms of possibility.

World Ranking: 13; Masters Record: Nine appearances, one top-10, three MCs; Best Finish: T6 (1999); Prediction: Possible contender.

Oliver Wilson

A good performance at last year's Ryder Cup (1-1-0) and two top-10 finishes in the two WGC events last month suggest this 28-year-old Englishman is beginning to feel genuinely comfortable on the big stage. But, despite these good showings and eight runners-up finishes in his first four years on the European Tour, Wilson remains winless. Augusta is unlikely to be the scene of his maiden victory - even Fuzzy Zoeller, the last man to win on his Masters debut (1979), had won a tournament a few weeks before. But Wilson will have one advantage over other first-timers this week, having attended Augusta State University from 2000-03. He'll feel right at home and will certainly be motivated to perform well in front of Jags Coach Josh Gregory.

World Ranking: 39; Masters Record: Debut; Best Finish: N/A; Prediction: Will he hoping to improve upon his best finish at a major - T36 at last year's U.S. Open, but it's unrealistic to expect him to contend.

Ian Woosnam

The 1991 champion returns for his 22nd appearance; Woosnam has made the cut at Augusta National only once since 2001. Last year he came in 44th, posting 300 on the nose. The 51-year-old Welshman, who knocked in a 6-foot putt on the final green to beat Olazabal by a shot 18 years ago, now mixes his time between the Champions Tour and European Seniors Tour on which he has two victories - the Russian Seniors Open and Polish Seniors Championship, both in 2008. He still knocks it over 280 yards off the tee but, like many seniors, his putting has more or less deserted him in recent years. Like Sandy Lyle, has no top-10 finishes besides his victory.

World Ranking: 982; Masters Record: 21 appearances, one top-10, eight MCs; Best Finish: 1st (1991); Prediction: Can hang with players half his age, until they get to the green, where he's too shaky to assure himself of a spot on the weekend.

Tony Dear is an Englishman living in Bellingham, Wash. In the early 1990s he was a member of the Liverpool University golf team which played its home matches at Royal Liverpool GC. Easy access to Hoylake made it increasingly difficult for him to focus on Politics (his chosen major) and, after dropping out, he ended up teaching golf at a club just south of London where he also made a futile attempt at becoming a "player." He moved into writing when it became abundantly clear he had no business playing the game for a living. A one-time golf correspondent of the New York Sun, Tony is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, the Pacific Northwest Golf Media Association and the Golf Travel Writers Association. In 2009, Tony won first place for Editorial/Opinion in the ING Media Awards for Cybergolf. The article (http://www.cybergolf.com/golf_newsa_euros_take_on_the_2008_ryder_cup_matches) that impressed the judges was the one about Europe's Ryder Cup team and Captain Nick Faldo's decision to pick Paul Casey and Ian Poulter rather than Darren Clarke.


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