Englishman Ross McGowan will have his first chance to defend a title as a professional when he returns to the Madrid Masters this week, when Sergio Garcia returns to action for the first time on The European Tour since the Masters Tournament.
McGowan won twice on the European Challenge Tour in 2007 but the following season he was playing on The European Tour, having earned his card via a second-place finishing in the Challenge Tour Rankings.
His next victory came at the 2009 Madrid Masters, and he is relishing returning as defending champion – albeit at a different venue as the tournament is being played at the Real Sociedad Hípica Española Club de Campo, rather than last year’s Centro Nacional de Golf.
“Last year I shot 60 on the Saturday which gave me a seven shot lead in the final round,” said McGowan. “So it was very strange going into Sunday knowing that everyone was expecting me to win, and it was mine to lose.
“It was nice to win by three and it seemed to kick-start my season as I prolonged that good form to come second at the Dubai World Championship. It will be great going back as defending champion. I won two titles on the Challenge Tour but never got the chance to go back as defending champion.
“It’s not the same course and this year’s is not one I’m familiar with, but I love Madrid and always enjoy going there. It’s a beautiful city with a lot going on.”
Garcia will be aiming to thwart McGowan and record his fourth European Tour victory on home soil. The Spaniard has made limited appearances this year, but fine performances in the WGC-Accenture Match Play, where he was fourth, and at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship and Commercialbank Qatar Masters presented by Dolphin Energy mean he is currently 19th in The Race to Dubai.
He will be joined by his countrymen Alvaro Quiros and Miguel Angel Jiménez – already winners on the 2010 season at the Open de España and Omega Dubai Desert Classic respectively – plus Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño, whose company GFC Golf & Business are promoting the tournament.
“We are expecting a strong field – I am particularly grateful to all my Spanish colleagues and friends who will come to play at the Madrid Masters,” said Fernandez-Castaño. “Real Sociedad Hípica is surrounded by beautiful countryside, which will look great on TV. The design by Robert Von Hagge is demanding, but the players will love the challenge. You need to keep the ball very straight off the tee and to be a good slope player, as there are few flat lies.”
His compatriot Rafael Cabrera-Bello echoed Fernandez-Castaño’s sentiments, saying: “I’ve played the course a couple of times before, so it’s one that I know quite well. I remember the greens there are always in very good condition. It’s not especially long, but it is quite challenging. You need to be able to shape the ball both ways off the tee, so it requires skill to shoot low there. The last time I played the course was at the Open de Madrid in 2007, when I made the cut but didn’t play that well [he finished tied 48th]. So hopefully I can finish higher this year, and hopefully we can have some of the great weather we had in England last week!
“I had a good finish to the BMW PGA Championship [closing with a round of 68 to finish in a tie for 17th place], so that was pleasing and gave me confidence coming in to the week. I had a bit of a slow start to the season but I’m starting to feel my game slowly coming back together, which is good time for Madrid and also the next few months, because we’ve got some very big tournaments coming up.”
As the season reaches the busy summer period in Europe, the focus will intensify on The Ryder Cup and the battle to qualify for Colin Montgomerie’s European Team at The Celtic Manor Resort in October.
One player with more than a passing interest in the composition of that Team is Englishman Luke Donald, who did his chances of a third Ryder Cup appearance no harm with a sparkling display at last week’s BMW PGA Championship, where he finished tied second behind winner Simon Khan.
This week the players will not be the only ones with The Ryder Cup on their mind, as Madrid is bidding to host the 2018 contest and will want to showcase its ability to host a major golf tournament.
The five contenders – France, Germany, Holland and Portugal as well as Madrid – have all formally submitted their bids, and Fenandez-Castaño added: “There is an added responsibility for us as organisers striving to gain recognition for Madrid as a first-class tournament venue.
“All five countries organise European Tour events, but the Madrid Masters will be the first (since the bids were submitted) which means that all eyes will be on us next week.”