One down, three to go, is the rallying cry for The European Tour contingent as the focus of the second of four World Golf Championships in 2011 turns to the Doral Golf Resort and Spa in Florida this week and the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
Unquestionably the omens are good for further European Tour success on the world stage as members filled four of the top five places in last year’s contest – including winner Ernie Els and runner-up Charl Schwartzel – while in the first WGC event of the season a fortnight ago in Arizona Luke Donald beat Martin Kaymer in the final of WGC-Accenture Match Play.
In total, 33 Tour members have assembled in Miami, led by defending champion Els who put an end to his 16 month absence from the winner’s circle in style 12 months ago, a closing round of 66 giving him an 18 under par total of 270 on the Blue Monster course and a four shot winning margin over his good friend Schwartzel.
“I’ve obviously got very fond memories of my win at Doral last year, especially as I played in the final round with Charl,” said Els.
“He actually came and stayed with me at my place in America for a while before the tournament, and we’d joked about how much fun it’d be if we were to go up against one another on the last day – and that’s exactly what happened.”
Schwartzel, currently fourth in The Race to Dubai following his successful defence of the Joburg Open in his native Johannesburg in January, recalled: “I’d already won a few times on The European Tour but never managed to play that well in America, so it was great to show people over there what I could do.
“Hopefully I’ll have another good week in Doral this year. I’m excited about it because it’s always nice to go back to a course where you’ve played well in the past – it brings back good memories.”
Bolstering the European Tour challenge will be the players who currently occupy the top four places on the Official World Golf Ranking: the Accenture Match Play finalists Donald (number three) and Kaymer (number one), alongside second placed Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell who is fourth.
Kaymer finished tied third at Doral last year with McDowell in a share of sixth, while Donald showed his game is still in the rudest of health with a tied tenth place at last week’s Honda Classic on the US PGA Tour.
It followed his stunning victory in the WGC-Accenture Match Play two weeks ago, a masterclass around the Arizona course’s putting surfaces enabling him to claim the title without being behind in any of his six matches throughout the week.
“I'm very diligent about working on my short game,” he said. “I know there is room for improvement in my game off the tee and some of my iron play but I make up for it around the greens, especially in the last few years. I pride myself on having good fundamentals and working on it.
“My goal every year is to win tournaments; it is what I solely focus on. I felt like I hadn't won my fair share for as good a player I was and that was disappointing. But winning in Spain last year took a little bit of pressure off and then to go to the match play and win the trophy as I did was very gratifying. Hopefully I can carry that form forward into Doral.”
Included in The European Tour contingent are three players – Welshman Rhys Davies, Australian Marcus Fraser and Noh Seung-yul of Korea – who are making their first appearance in a championship which is staged this year for the 12th time, although for the first time under the sponsorship of the American car manufacturer Cadillac.
The field – which will compete for a total prize fund of US$8.5 million – comprises the top 50 players from the Official World Golf Ranking, the top 20 from The 2010 Race to Dubai, the top ten from the current season’s Race to Dubai, the top 30 from the 2010 FedExCup points list, the top ten from the current season’s FedEx Cup points list and the top two players from the previous year’s Order of Merits on the Japan Golf Tour, the Australasian Tour, the Sunshine Tour and the Asian Tour.