Tuesday, 13 March 2001
Should any competitor in this week's Madeira Island Open require inspiration he need only look around him, for the charming Santo da Serra Golf Club provides one of the most picturesque settings on the current European Tour International Schedule.

Opened in 1991, the steeply undulating course with its challenging greens is perched 2,300 feet above sea level and the beauty of the surroundings, including the pine, mimosa and eucalyptus tress and exotic flowering shrubs, is enhanced by many spectacular views over the Atlantic Ocean.

The tournament too has quickly established itself as one of the favourites thanks largely to the excellence of the layout, redesigned by Robert Trent Jones on the site where the original nine-hole course had existed since 1937, and the propensity for enthralling golf and exciting finishes.

Defending champion in Madeira will be Sweden's Niclas Fasth, who won his maiden European Tour title in the Portugese territory 12 months ago, thanks to a masterclass in leading from the front, to become the fourth Swedish champion in the event in the past eight years.

Fasth, who won The European Tour Qualifying School in 1996, stamped his authority on the event with a first round 66 to give himself a two shot lead over his nearest challengers. It was a margin he maintained going into the final round where a 73 was good enough to win by two from Mark Davis, Ross Drummond and Richard Johnson.

"I am really looking forward to going back," said Fasth. "It is a beautiful place and going back as defending champion gives me a really good feeling. I actually played well there the year before as well - I just seem to like it there.

"The course is tricky. It is not too long but it is very much up and down, across stretches of water and hollows. The key is not to make mistakes due to the wind coming and going, that makes it hard to judge. The greens are also quite sloped with a lot of breaks and can be hard to read."

The tournament has been staged at Santo da Serra since 1997, the years between 1993 and 1996 seeing it take place at Campo de Golf da Madeira. Since the switch, the winners have included England's Peter Mitchell, Spain's Pedro Linhart, and Fasth's countryman Mats Lanner, who holds the distinction of having triumphed at both venues, at Santo da Serra in 1998 and at Campo de Golf da Madeira in 1994.

Lanner, Mitchell and Fasth will all play again this year and will be joined in the chase for the winners cheque of 91,660 euro, by a number of top players including five time major winner Seve Ballesteros.

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