Here’s a quick question, no looking at Google or any other internet-based research aid – who was the last European to win the Masters, when did he win it and which perennial Augusta loser (and overwhelming fan favourite) did he deny on the final day?
Full marks if you answered Jose Maria Olazabal and 1999 for parts one and two, but only half marks if you answered Greg Norman for part three (“perennial Augusta loser” made it too easy).
Since the Spaniard’s victory the Tiger Woods era has come and (probably) now gone and Europe has come to equal (or possibly surpass) the United States as the world’s pre-eminent golfing power.
European players have won all three of the other Majors as well as dozens and dozens of top-class events in every corner of the globe. But they haven’t won a Masters. Not since 1999.
There is no good reason for this. None. Not even the old excuse that European golfers were allowed very limited access the the Majors that were held in the States.
This was once true – indeed only 14 European players competed at Augusta National the year Olazabal won – but it is no more. Most of the leading Europeans live in the States year round and play most of their golf over there too. The US is not even a home-from-home for the likes of Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Ian Poulter. It is home.
Flirting amongst the azaleas
They will be among the 28 Europeans in the US Masters field on Thursday – more than a quarter of the field. All flirted with triumph amongst the azaleas in the past and will hope to do so again. Yet it would require a leap of faith to pick any of them to end Europe’s 14-year drought.
They all have a fatal flaw when it comes to conquering Augusta National’s peculiar challenges. In Westwood’s case it is a flakey short game; with Poulter it is his inconsistency with his irons; and with Donald it is his relative lack of accuracy and distance off the tee. But more than anything, it is their lack of consistently good form over recent months that acts against the English trio.
Augusta National is not the place to unlock the mysteries of this befuddling game. You don’t find your form there, you bring it.
Rory McIlroy will bring better form than most. He has impressed mightily in his recent appearances in the States without quite applying every aspect of his formidable talents en route to a victory. But it is only a matter of time. And if this week is that time – if this is the week in which the McIlroy of 2011 at Congressional or 2013 at Whistling Straits shows up – then we can wave goodbye to Europe’s long losing streak at the Masters.
Lawrence Donegan is the Guardian’s former golf correspondent. He is also author of the acclaimed book, Four Iron for the Soul, based on his experiences caddying for tour pro Ross Drummond. In the 1980s he was a bassist for the Bluebells and Lloyd Cole And The Commotions. Follow him on Twitter here.
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