Friday, 19 March 2010
Bernhard Langer is amongst a record 25 European Tour Members at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia this week competing in the 65th staging of the Masters Tournament.

The 43 year old German, who won the Green Jacket in 1985 and 1993, received the perfect fillip for his pursuit of a title hat-trick with the announcement that he has been elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame by the World Golf Foundation.

Langer, who has won 63 tournaments worldwide in a professional career that began in 1972 at the age of 15, polled votes on 66.2% of the ballots received from the Voting Body of 228.

The nine-times Ryder Cup player, who proved his game was in fine fettle two weeks ago with a third place finish in The Players Championship at Sawgrass, admitted the accolade had filled him with a genuine sense of pride.

"Being elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame, and being the first native of my country to become a Hall of Fame member, is a tremendous honour," he said.

"I have tried to achieve a level of consistency throughout my career and to have it culminate with this election means a great deal to me. To be able to join the many outstanding players and great people in the Hall of Fame for whom I have so much respect, is truly a privilege."

Langer is one of six European Tour Members who between them collected 11 Green Jackets in the 21 Masters Tournaments between 1980 and 2000, and the illustrious group all return this week to the legendary course created by Bobby Jones and Dr Alister Mackenzie.

Severiano Ballesteros began the European roll of honour with victories in 1980 and 1983 before Langer's first success in 1985. Sandy Lyle then triumphed in 1988, the memory of the magnificent bunker shot on the 72nd hole often overshadowing the superb golf played by the Scot for the entire four days.

A second consecutive European success came thanks to Nick Faldo in 1989, the Englishman going on to complete his own personal double and a hat-trick for Europe the following year, before Welshman Ian Woosnam made it four in a row for Europe in 1991.

Langer, José Maria Olazábal and Faldo donned the Green Jacket again in 1993, 1994 and 1996 respectively before Olazábal became the 14th multiple winner in Masters history with his emotionally-charged victory in 1999.

Three years earlier the Spaniard, who holds the record as the top money earner in Masters history, had watched from his sick-bed as Faldo overhauled Greg Norman on the final day, seriously doubting whether he would ever compete at the highest level again.

But amongst the azaleas, dogwood and magnolias, Olazábal proved beyond question he was back to the peak of form, dropping just seven shots to par over four rounds, his eight under par total of 280 good enough for a two shot victory over Davis Love III.

The prominence of European Tour Members on a global scale is once again emphasised by the fact they will make up a quarter of the field at Augusta this week, continuing the steady increase in representation which has occurred over the past two decades.

In 1981 only three European Tour players teed up while in 1991 that number had risen to nine. Last year it was 20 and now it is a record 25 including debutants José Coceres, Bob May, Eduardo Romero, and current leader of the Volvo Order of Merit, Pierre Fulke.

Also in the field are more experienced Augusta campaigners such as reigning European Number One Lee Westwood, seven-time Volvo Order of Merit winner Colin Montgomerie, the 2000 WGC - Accenture Match Play champion Darren Clarke, and Thomas Björn, who played with and beat Tiger Woods over four rounds last month to win the Dubai Desert Classic.

Mention of Woods is central to the tournament build-up for the majority of the attention in Augusta will focus on the World Number One as he attempts to become the first golfer in history to hold all four major titles simultaneously.

The 25 year old American won the Open Championship, the US Open and the US PGA Championship in a phenomenal 2000 season, the only major to elude him being the Masters, won by Vijay Singh.

Woods will arrive in search of golf's Holy Grail on the back of two consecutive victories, namely in the Bay Hill Invitational and The Players Championship title at Sawgrass, the latter seeing him pip Singh by a solitary shot at the end of a thrilling four rounds.

"I'm headed in the right direction, no doubt about that," said the World Number One. "Looking at the trophies I have on my mantelpiece, three are lined up. Put another one on there, it looks pretty good."

Not that Singh has been quiet on the trophy trail either mind you, the Fijian recording successive victories on The European Tour in February, firstly in the Carlsberg Malaysian Open at Saujana Golf and Country Club and second in the Caltex Singapore Masters at the Singapore Island Country Club, and comes to Augusta full of confidence.

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