Tuesday, 09 April 2019
Justin Rose at 2018 Masters  (Getty Images)
Justin Rose at 2018 Masters (Getty Images)

With two of its former stars battling it out for the World Number One spot throughout much of 2018, European Challenge Tour alumni are continuously strengthening their grip on world golf by competing for the biggest titles in the game.

As the Masters Tournament – the first Major Championship of the year – edges closer, we take a look at some of the Challenge Tour’s former players who will be hoping to slip into the Green Jacket on Sunday evening.

Justin Rose

Other than 2008 Champion Trevor Immelman, no former Challenge Tour player has come closer to triumphing at Augusta National than Justin Rose.

The Englishman lost out in a play-off to five-time Ryder Cup teammate Sergio Garcia at the 2017 Masters as the Spaniard roared home with a birdie and an eagle at the 14th and 15th, with Rose dropping a shot at the 17th to finish in a tie for first place on nine under par after 72 holes. The duo returned to the 18th tee and Garcia triumphed at the first attempt, going down for birdie while Rose could only muster a bogey.

Temporarily but not permanently defeated, Rose spoke afterwards of his desire to win a Green Jacket.

“It's going to sting for sure but you know, I really feel like this is a tournament that I can still go on to win,” he said. “I'd like to win three or four Green Jackets but one would be enough. I just want to win here.”

This could well be the year for Rose, who has been at the top of the game for a sustained period of time having only finished outside the top 20 twice in 2018 when playing in European Tour events. Furthermore, the 38-year-old has only finished outside the top 15 at Augusta once in his last eight appearances.

 

Brooks Koepka

You could say that Brooks Koepka enjoys the big occasion. The American has four European Tour wins to his name, with three of those being Majors.

Koepka won three times on the Challenge Tour in 2013 as he earned automatic graduation to the European Tour and then won his maiden title on the top tier the following year, triumphing at the Turkish Airlines Open.

Not content, Koepka quickly established himself as one of the leading players in the world with back-to-back U.S. Open Championship titles in 2017 and 2018, as well as a third Major Championship, the US PGA Championship, being added to his trophy cabinet later in 2018.

He knows how to win the U.S. Open Championship. He knows how to win the US PGA Championship. He is not bad at The Open Championship. But he cannot quite crack the Masters.

“I need to figure out Augusta a little bit. I haven’t quite had the results there that I’ve had elsewhere,” Koepka recently told augusta.com.

Koepka was forced to miss last year’s tournament through injury, meaning since his last trip down Magnolia Lane he has won three Major Championships, which will give him great confidence and makes him a real contender this time around.

Tommy Fleetwood

Challenge Tour Number One, European Tour Number One, Ryder Cup star. Tommy Fleetwood has shot to superstardom since his humble beginnings on the Challenge Tour and the next step in his career is adding a Major to his CV.

Fleetwood finished fourth and second in the last two editions of the U.S. Open Championship in 2017 and 2018, respectively, which are his best Major finishes to date.

However, that second place came courtesy of a stunning final round 63 at Shinnecock Hills which placed him among the best in the world prior to his outstanding showing at Le Golf National in his debut Ryder Cup.

The Englishman won four points from five matches as Europe stormed to a 17.5 – 10.5 victory, with Fleetwood joining with teammate and playing partner Francesco Molinari in becoming ‘Moliwood’.

Back to the serious stuff and Fleetwood will be determined to improve his Masters record of a missed cut in 2017 followed by a tied 17th place finish last year.

Can he win it? Of course he can.

Matt Fitzpatrick

Matt Fitzpatrick has won five times on the European Tour, including four consecutive winning years, since his sole season on the Challenge Tour in 2014 and has also made his debut for Team Europe in The Ryder Cup.

Of his 15 Major Championship outings, Fitzpatrick’s best performances have come at Augusta National, namely his tied seventh finish in 2016.

Augusta National suits a strong iron player, something which can certainly be said of the young Englishman.

The 24-year-old became the first man in 40 years to successfully defend the Omega European Masters title when he defeated Lucas Bjerregaard in a play-off last year.

The picturesque Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club offers stunning views but requires strong iron play from anyone with aspirations of lifting the trophy and donning the ‘Red Jacket’ at the end of the week.

If Fitzpatrick flushes his irons, he could be a serious contender to add a Green Jacket to his collection of red ones.

Henrik Stenson

Coming off the back of his best Masters Tournament finish to date, this could be Henrik Stenson’s year.

The Swede won the Challenge Tour Rankings in 2000 as he recorded three victories and twice came second and third before establishing himself in the upper echelons of the game.

He topped the Race to Dubai Rankings presented by Rolex for the first time in 2013 before completing the feat again in 2016, the same year in which his maiden Major Championship arrived.

‘The Ice Man’ as he is known carded a stunning final round of 63 at The Open Championship at Royal Troon to set the lowest winning total in Major Championship history of 264, becoming Sweden’s first male Major winner.

Stenson had not finished inside the top ten in 12 Masters appearances prior to 2018 but rounds of 69-70-70-70 handed him a nine under par total and a share of fifth place.

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