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Friday, 19 March 2010
Ernie Els came within a whisker last year of becoming the eighth European Tour Member to win the Masters Tournament and he and 26 other European Tour Members will tee up at Augusta National this week determined to add to that Roll of Honour in Georgia.

Seve Ballesteros (1980 and 1983), Bernhard Langer (1985 and 1993), Sandy Lyle (1988), Nick Faldo (1989, 1990 and 1996), Ian Woosnam (1991), José Maria Olazábal (1994 and 1999) and Vijay Singh (2000) have ensured that European Tour Members have won the prized Green Jacket no fewer than 12 times since 1980.

Aside from the victories, there have been many other fine performances amongst the azaleas and dogwood. Ballesteros finished joint third in 1982, fourth in 1986 and joint second in 1987; Costantino Rocca was joint fifth in 1997, Darren Clarke and Colin Montgomerie joint eighth in 1998, Lee Westwood was joint sixth in 1999, Els was joint sixth in both 2001 and 2003, with Langer and Singh respectively, before finishing runner-up last year and Retief Goosen finished runner-up in 2002.

Defending Champion Phil Mickelson and the rest of the field are well aware of the massive challenge from European Tour Members this week following inspired performances by them on the gloabl stage this season.

Els, Europe's Number One for the past two years, heads into the event with back to back victories on The European Tour International Schedule having captured the Dubai Desert Classic and the Qatar Masters in successive weeks.

Singh, the winner of the US PGA Tour Money List in 2003 and 2004, bids for a second Green Jacket to set alongside his two US PGA Championship victories.

A number of European Tour players have performed with distinction in the United States this year, including Ireland's Padraig Harrington, now World Number Six, who made his big breakthrough on American soil last month when he beat Singh and American Joe Ogilvie in a play-off for The Honda Classic in Florida.

England's Luke Donald has grown in stature over the past year, earning his Ryder Cup spurs, winning twice on The European Tour and more recently climbing to Number 16 in the world helped by second place finishes in the Buick Invitational and The Players Championship.

Donald is one of five European Tour Members poised to tread the hallowed turf of Augusta National for the first time along with Swede Joakim Haeggman, England's David Howell, Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell and Australian Nick O'Hern whilst British Amateur Champion Stuart Wilson of Scotland also makes his debut.

McDowell is another of the strong European contingent who have challenged in America this year having ascended into the top 40 in the world helped by a brilliant tie for second place in the Bay Hill Invitational following wins on The European Tour International Schedule in both 2003 and 2004.

Donald and Howell, of course, played significant roles in Europe's record breaking Ryder Cup victory over the USA last September, and are now set to enjoy another golfing experience when they join their team-mates from Oakland Hills, Paul Casey of England, Clarke, Spain's Sergio Garcia, Harrington, Miguel Angel Jiménez of Spain, Frenchman Thomas Levet and the English pair of Ian Poulter and Westwood.

Langer, the 2004 winning European Captain and two-time Masters Champion, returns to the scene of his triumphs along with two of his Ryder Cup vice-captains, Thomas Björn of Denmark and Haeggman and the next two incumbents of the Ryder Cup captaincy, Woosnam and Faldo.

Mickelson took the Green Jacket last season after an unforgettable final day at Augusta National saw him play the back nine in 31 shots and pip Els to the title by holing a tremendous 18 foot birdie putt on the 18th green for a nine under par winning total of 279.

Els, who already has two US Open Championships and an Open Championship in his locker, had looked poised to claim the title after making two towering eagles at the eighth and 13th holes to soar into the lead, but it was destined to be Mickelson's day and Els's superb 67 was in vain as he finished one stroke shy of a play-off on eight under par 280.

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