It’s a Masters’ mystery and no one it seems has the answer: what is stopping European players from winning at Augusta National?
The last European winner of the fabled tournament was Jose Maria Olazabal, the Spaniard donning his second green jacket in 1999, edging Davis Love and Greg Norman down the back nine on the Sunday.
That emotional victory 16 years ago proved to be the last chapter in two decades of European supremacy at the best-known and loved golf course in the United States.
Fellow Spaniard Seve Ballesteros set the ball rolling with his breakthrough win in 1980 and over the course of 20 years, victory went to European golfers 11 times.
Since then there have been no successors to Olazabal, Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam and Sandy Lyle and that at a time when European golf has continued to thrive at the other majors and in the Ryder Cup.
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No cogent reason has been put forward for such an anomaly other than the rub of the green and the ability to cope with the particular demands thrown up by Augusta National down the back nine on Sunday.
Next week once again European hopes are running high with world No 1 Rory McIlroy a strong favourite to win a third straight major and second ranking Henrik Stenson of Sweden in top form.
Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer and Victor Dubuisson are all in the world top 20 and it would be foolhardy to write off the chances of such Ryder Cup standouts Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood.
McIlroy for one believes that there is no one factor preventing a European player from winning the year’s first major. Asked to account for the winless streak the Northern Irishman, who was nine years old when Olazabal won, replied: “Tiger Woods has been one of the reasons.
“I don’t know if it’s anything necessarily to do with European players. You know, I feel a few of us had a chance, Lee had a chance in ‘10, I think. I had the chance in ‘11. Luke Donald was up there ‘11, ‘12. I don’t know. I don’t think there’s any reason.
“You look at in the early ‘90s you had a lot of Europeans win; Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam.
“Maybe that will change and it will start to happen again. I don’t see any reason that I can think of, of why that is.”
Most droughts come to an end and at Augusta National the case of the long-running Australian jinx provides encouragement.
Years of Aussie heartbreak at the Masters, notably through Greg Norman, finally came to an emotional end in 2013 when Adam Scott edged Angel Cabrera in a rain-soaked play-off.
One authority who does believe that McIlroy is set to end the drought is Colin Montgomerie, a long-time European No 1 one who never quite got to grips with the special demands of Augusta National.
That is not the case for McIlroy, he says.
“Rory didn’t play well last year, and he still tied for eighth. He hits those big high draws, so the course is suited for him,” Montgomerie said.
“I would be, I won’t say ‘shocked’, but if he doesn’t win, I’ll be as disappointed as Rory will be to not win and get the career slam.”
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