A record 17 European Tour Members have been invited to tee-up for the 62nd Masters at Augusta National this week.
In 1980 Seve Ballesteros became the first of six European winners and the youngest champion at Augusta when, aged only 23, he won the first of his two green jackets. Ballesteros remained the youngest Masters champion until Tiger Woods, at 21 years, three months and 15 days, broke by one shot the 17 under par tournament record set by Jack Nicklaus in 1965 and later equalled by Ray Floyd in 1976. Woods also passed the record nine-shot winning margin set by Nicklaus by three shots, and matched Ray Floyd’s 54-hole record of 201.
Eighteen years ago Ballesteros paved the way for other Europeans to follow and the immaculate fairways and huge, contoured greens have proved very hospitable for European Tour Members. The coveted Green Jacket has been won by a European golfer on no fewer than ten occasions in the past 18 years. This year the European Tour challenge is the strongest ever. Joining the six past European champions - Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam and José Maria Olazábal - are six other members of the European Ryder Cup team victorious at Valderrama last September.
European Tour Members who have already had the pleasure of playing at Augusta include Ernie Els, twice a US Open champion; David Frost; Colin Montgomerie, a record five successive times winner of the Volvo Ranking; Lee Westwood, whose maiden US PGA Tour victory in the Freeport-McDermott Classic provided further evidence of his intention to make a strong challenge to win the Masters; Costantino Rocca, last year’s highest placed European; and Per-Ulrik Johannson, 12th last year.
They will be joined this year by three European Tour Members making their first appearance at Augusta. Darren Clarke and Ignacio Garrido, both part of the winning 1997 European Ryder Cup team, and Retief Goosen will experience the special atmosphere created by the Masters.
The course, the masterpiece of co-founder Bobby Jones and architect Dr. Alister Mackenzie, will once again test the best players in the world. Three greens, at the sixth, eighth and 14th holes, have been rebuilt for agronomy reasons but they will play as true and fast as ever. The 11th tee has been moved 20 feet to the right and trees have been added to the outside of the bend in the 13th fairway.
Glenn Greenspan, Augusta National’s Director of Communications, said: “We rebuilt the greens for agronomic reasons, and in doing so, we restored some areas where Bermuda grass had encroached into the greens over the years. We didn’t create any new pin positions; we just restored some of the areas that haven’t been used in a long time.”
The new trees on the 13th hole will make it more penal for players who fail to draw their tee shots around the corner of the par 5. The tee on the 11th hole was moved to the right after a large pine tree on the right died a couple of years ago, changing the complexion of the hole.
European golfers have made it a habit of blossoming among the azalea, dogwood and magnolia. Will another European master Augusta?