Tom Lewis will bid to become the first player to successfully defend the Portugal Masters title this week, when Ryder Cup Captain José María Olazábal will make his maiden competitive outing since guiding Europe to a famous victory alongside two of his triumphant team members, Martin Kaymer and Francesco Molinari.
Kaymer and Molinari anchored the European Team in the Sunday Singles at Medinah Country Club, and the pair duly repaid the faith Olazábal had placed in them by closing out a memorable victory.
Molinari, whose halved match against World Number Two Tiger Woods ensured Europe won The Ryder Cup outright, boasts an impressive record at Oceânico Victoria Golf Course, finishing runner-up in 2009 and tied second in 2010.
Equally Kaymer, the man at the epicentre of the final day drama in Illinois, has finished outside the top ten just once in three appearances at the star-studded €2.25million event, which is now in its sixth season.
Lewis provided one of the most memorable moments in the history of the Portugal Masters last year, winning on only his third appearance as a professional to realise the extraordinary potential he had shown during The 2011 Open Championship, which the then amateur co-led after the first day.
In a display of astonishing maturity on the final day in Vilamoura, the 20 year old closed with a stunning round of 65 to overhaul the overnight leader Rafael Cabrera-Bello and win by two shots from the Spaniard – a performance which helped earn him the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year award.
Since securing his debut victory Lewis has found life rather tougher on The European Tour, but a return to the Algarve should serve to inspire the former Walker Cup star.
He said: “I’m sure it’ll be a lot of fun to go back. The weather’s usually great in Portugal, so I always enjoy playing there and the course at Oceânico really suits my game. I struck the ball really well that week, and if I can do the same again this year, hopefully I can put myself in position to successfully defend my title. There will obviously be a bit more focus and attention on me as the defending champion this year, but I’m confident I’ll be able to handle the pressure and hopefully even thrive on it.”
Lewis is one of four former winners in this week’s field, with his fellow Englishman Steve Webster (2007), Spain’s Alvaro Quiros (2008) and Australian Richard Green (2010) also in the line-up.
The home challenge will be headlined by Madeira Islands Open – Portugal winner Ricardo Santos, who knows every inch of the Oceânico Victoria Golf Course having been born and raised in Vilamoura.
Santos said: “It’s my home course, so I know it better than any other player in the field. The course will obviously be set up differently for the tournament to how it normally plays, but I will still have an advantage over most of the guys. My wife, Rita, works at the club and my daughter, Victoria, will be coming along with my parents to watch me play, so it will be a great week for all the family.”
Other notable names in the field include three-time Major Champion Padraig Harrington of Ireland, who finished third in the Portugal Masters in 2009, and the four Vice Captains who helped inspire Europe to victory two weeks ago: Thomas Björn, Darren Clarke, Miguel Angel Jiménez and Paul McGinley.