Ernie Els, the winner of the 2003 Volvo Order of Merit, will this week attempt to achieve a feat last attained over a quarter of a century ago by Seve Ballesteros, namely successfully defend the title in the Omega European Masters.
The Spaniard, after whom the spectacular course at Crans-sur-Sierre is now named, won back-to-back titles in 1977 and 1978 and now the South African aims to follow in his footsteps after his convincing victory in the Alps 12 months ago.
Then Els came from behind in the final round, a superb closing 65 giving him a six shot victory in the end over New Zealand’s Michael Campbell but another strong field has assembled in Crans Montana, all hoping to stop the South African from writing another chapter in golf’s history books.
Although the race for Ryder Cup qualification is now over, the field still contains a sprinkling of players in Bernhard Langer’s team eager to warm up for Oakland Hills in the best possible fashion, while the remainder of the field will be looking for a victory to move up both the Volvo Order of Merit and the Official World Golf Ranking.
While everyone enjoys the special atmosphere around the Omega European Masters, for one player in particular, the week will have special resonance, for it marks Peter Baker’s 500th appearance on The European Tour International Schedule.
At only 36, the Englishman, who played in the 1993 Ryder Cup, is the youngest player to reach the notable career landmark and is also the quickest to reach the figure in 19 seasons on The European Tour.
During those 19 seasons, Baker has notched three victories on Tour, his first coming in his third season at the 1988 Benson and Hedges International Open where he defeated his fellow countryman Nick Faldo in a sudden-death play-off.
Baker’s other two wins came in 1993 when he recorded his best ever finish on the Volvo Order of Merit. His victories at the Dunhill British Masters and then in another play-off against Sweden’s Anders Forsbrand at the Scandinavian Masters took him to seventh place.
“When I was told about it, the first thing that sprung to mind was that it had all seemed to happen so quickly,” said Baker. “It really doesn’t seem all that long ago since I was competing in my first event in Sweden in 1986 and now here I am on the verge of 500 events.
“It is actually quite ironic that my 500th event is in the Omega European Masters because it is one tournament that I haven’t done all that well in over the years. In fact the one year I made the weekend, there was bad weather and they reduced the number of players who made the cut, so I missed out again!
“So maybe the time is right for me to have a good week at Crans-sur-Sierre and, celebrating my 500th Tour appearance, I cannot think of a better time to do it.”