The European Tour’s leading players will aim to continue their domination on the world stage so far in 2010 when they head to Augusta National next week for the first Major Championship of the season, the Masters Tournament.
While the return of World Number One Tiger Woods will undoubtedly attract much attention, The European Tour’s challenge is set to be the strongest since the 1980s when Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Sir Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam all donned the famous Green Jacket.
With Ian Poulter and Ernie Els having triumphed in each of the World Golf Championship events so far this season, the success of The European Tour’s Members has been firmly at the fore on American soil already in 2010, while Charl Schwartzel, Martin Kaymer and Miguel Angel Jimenez and Luis Oosthuizen will also drive up Magnolia Lane with victories under their belt during the current campaign.
Such is the strength of The European Tour contingent at this year’s Masters Tournament that eighteen of the top 30 players on the Official World Golf Ranking are European Tour Members, while the man in 31st position, Angel Cabrera, returns to Augusta National to defend the Green Jacket he won 12 months ago, defeating Americans Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry in a play-off.
That was Cabrera’s second Major Championship crown, following his victory in the 2007 US Open Championship, and he will hope to match Padraig Harrington’s record as the last European Tour Member to successfully defend a Major Championship.
Harrington achieved that feat when he retained the Claret Jug at The 2008 Open Championship and his subsequent victory in that year’s US PGA Championship means he will tee it up at Augusta National targeting a fourth Major Championship in 11 appearances – a record that Woods will also be aiming for.
It is South African Els, however, who is the hottest man in golf at the moment, following his victory in the WGC-CA Championship with back-to-back success in the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week.
Els finished second in the Masters Tournament in 2004 and will hope to add the Green Jacket to the two US Opens and 2002 Open Championship titles he has already amassed in his distinguished career.
Also buoyed by his performance at Bay Hill last week, where he finished joint runner up behind Els, is Italian Edoardo Molinari, who will be joined at Augusta National by his younger brother Franceso.
The pair, who together won the Omega Mission Hills World Cup last November, have driven up Magnolia Lane before, in 2006 when Franceso caddied for Edoardo, who secured his place in the field by becoming the first European since 1911 to win the US Amateur Championship.
Edoardo’s rise up the World Ranking has been rapid following his domination of the European Challenge Tour last year and he will be joined in the field by The Race to Dubai winner Lee Westwood, who is chasing his first Major Championship, and runner-up Rory McIlroy who made a fine Masters debut last year, finishing tied 20th.
Keeping a close eye on all the action, of course, will be European Ryder Cup Captain Colin Montgomerie. The Scot predicted before the last Major Championship – the US PGA Championship at Hazeltine won by YE Yang - that four or five Europeans would finish in the top ten.
In the end it was five Europeans in the top nine and given the magnificent achievements of European Tour Members in the lead up to Augusta, it is not an unrealistic target that the 2010 Masters Tournament could see that feat equalled or even surpassed.