Continental Europe will attempt to turn the tide of history this week when they play host to Great Britain and Ireland at St-Nom-La-Bretèche in the seventh staging of the Vivendi Seve Trophy.
The Continentals claimed the inaugural contest at Sunningdale Golf Club in England in 2000 when Seve Ballesteros memorably led his charges to a 13 ½ - 12 ½ victory against Colin Montgomerie’s GB&I, a triumph crowned by the Spaniard’s own singles triumph over the Scot on the final day.
However, since then, GB&I have held the whip hand with five successive wins, incredibly the last three – at The Wynyard Club (2005), The Heritage Golf and Spa Resort (2007) and St-Nom-La-Bretèche (2009) – all by the same 16 ½ - 11 ½ scoreline.
The captains no longer play in the contest so encouraging from the sidelines this year will be Ireland’s Paul McGinley, who led GB&I to victory two years ago, and Frenchman Jean Van de Velde who will make his debut in the role.
The biennial contest was instigated by the late Seve Ballesteros as a team competition to be contested in non-Ryder Cup years and so, with the Spaniard’s sad passing in May, this year’s event will undoubtedly have added poignancy.
As Ballesteros’s closest friend and compatriot, Europe’s 2012 Ryder Cup Captain, José Maria Olazábal undertook the task of selecting the captains and both were, understandably, delighted to accept.
McGinley said: “It’s a great honour to be invited and it’s something that I’m really looking forward to. I enjoyed it enormously last time, so I was delighted to be asked again. I’m looking forward to going up against Jean, and it’s good to have a Frenchman involved on French soil. With the excitement of France being awarded The Ryder Cup, I’m sure the event will be well supported.”
Van de Velde commented: “I was privileged to take part at Sunningdale and to be part of the winning team captained by Seve. Captaining the Continental Europe side will be a completely new experience for me and I am honoured to be nominated for the role at a venue I know so well and one where I am certain we will receive great support from the French public.”
Continental Europe boasts five players in the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking, one of whom is Thomas Björn, who completed recent back-to-back European Tour victories in the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles and the Omega European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre. The 40 year old Dane, who captained Continental Europe in 2009, has risen to World Number 27 and will be pivotal for the hosts this week.
Italian teenager Matteo Manassero will make his Vivendi Seve Trophy debut, as will Alex Noren of Sweden, Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts and Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal. Manassero, at 18 years and 152 days, is the youngest player in the history of the competition, beating the record held by Sergio Garcia, who was 20 years and 96 days in 2000.
Italy’s Francesco Molinari and Dane Anders Hansen were debutants two years ago and return to the team, while 47 year old Miguel Angel Jiménez will make his seventh appearance in the competition, hoping to add to his success in 2000. Sweden’s Peter Hanson and Frenchman Raphaël Jacquelin complete the line-up, both will be making their fourth appearance.
World Number Two Lee Westwood will spearhead the GB&I challenge with McGinley’s team further strengthened by the presence of Open Champion Darren Clarke, World Number 18 Ian Poulter and Simon Dyson, who won his second tournament of the season last week in the KLM Open.
English duo Ross Fisher and Robert Rock, who were part of the victory in 2009, return to the team, while Welshman Jamie Donaldson, Scotland’s Scott Jamieson and English pair David Horsey and Mark Foster will make their debuts.
The teams play fourballs, greensomes, foursomes and singles over the four days. Qualification for the teams began at the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December 2010 and finished after the Omega European Masters two weeks ago.