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Tuesday, 04 September 2007

Valhalla, as students of Norse mythology will appreciate, is the hallowed last resting place for warriers slain gloriously in battle.  For those steeped in golfing folklore, Valhalla golf course, in the American city of Louisville, is widely recognised as the ultimate destination for every European-born professional.

Next September, the Jack Nicklaus-designed Valhalla Golf Club in the bluegrass state of Kentucky, will host a Ryder Cup which affords one of Europe’s all-time greats, Nick Faldo, the opportunity to captain his continent to a record fourth successive victory.

The European Team will, of course, harbour no intention of being slain in battle – gloriously or otherwise – at Valhalla from September 19-21 next year, but starting this week, a number of players with ambitions of being in Faldo’s side will take the first steps towards achieving that goal.

The Omega European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre, Crans Montana, Switzerland, once again hosts the first qualifying event in a year-long process for the ten automatic places which culminates on the final day of the 2008 Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles.

Once again, the system, introduced for the first time for The 2004 Ryder Cup and which helped to produce record 18 ½ - 9 ½ victories for Europe that year and again at The K Club in 2006, will be in operation over the next 12 months.

The European Team qualification is based on points earned through – in order of precedence – The Ryder Cup World Points List and then The Ryder Cup European Points List, with five players from each list earning places automatically.

Faldo will then select the remaining two players following the conclusion of the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, which becomes the venue for the ‘wild card’ announcement for the first time.

All of which adds additional spice to events in Switzerland this week as every European player present, in what again is a high quality field, will be looking to get off to a fast start in the race to be at Valhalla Golf Club in just over a year’s time.

Headlining that quest will be five players who were part of that memorable week in Co. Kildare last September, namely England’s Paul Casey, David Howell and Lee Westwood, Swede Robert Karlsson and a Northern Irishman who will never forget that experience, Darren Clarke.

Karlsson, who made his Ryder Cup debut in Ireland, and Westwood are among ten winners of the Omega European Masters in the field competing at one of the most picturesque venues on The European Tour International Schedule.

As well as Karlsson and Westwood and defending champion, Bradley Dredge of Wales, other players seeking further success in Switzerland are Argentina’s Ricardo Gonzalez, Mathias Grönberg of Sweden, England’s Barry Lane, Manuel Pinero of Spain, Jamie Spence of England and Germany’s Sven Strüver.

Most notably, the only two-time champion in recent history, Eduardo Romero, returns to make a remarkable 20th appearance in the Omega European Masters at the age of 52. A third success, to add to his wins in 1994 and 2000, would make Romero comfortably the oldest player to win on The European Tour.

Few players in the field know the Crans-sur-Sierre course better than ‘El Gato’ who carded a course record 62 on his way to a ten shot victory in the event in the millennium season.

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