On the 30th anniversary of Seve Ballesteros’ second Green Jacket, the European Tour’s finest head to this week’s Masters Tournament hoping to add their name to the list of golfing greats who have conquered Augusta National.
Memories of the legendary Ballesteros helped to inspire Europe’s dramatic comeback in last year’s Ryder Cup at Medinah, Captained by another two-time Masters Champion José María Olazábal, and now Europe’s heroes will battle for individual glory on American soil in the first Major Championship of the 2013 season.
Led by World Number Two Rory McIlroy, winner of the last Major Championship of 2012, a total of 37 European Tour Members will be in the field, all with an eye on one of golf’s most coveted prizes.
This year also marks the 25th anniversary of Sandy Lyle’s famous victory at Augusta National and 20 years since Bernhard Langer slipped into the Green Jacket for a second time.
Now, another golden generation of European Tour Members will be hoping to follow in their footsteps, with McIlroy joined by English pair Justin Rose and Luke Donald, ranked third and fourth in the world respectively, and World Number Six Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, who finished runner-up to Bubba Watson following a play-off 12 months ago.
Oosthuizen produced one of the unforgettable Masters moments in 2012, holing his second shot from 253 yards for an albatross on the second hole in last year’s final round.
The perfect four iron was celebrated by one of Augusta’s famous roars and was voted the European Tour Shot of the Year for 2012, although the South African eventually missed out on succeeding his close friend, Charl Schwartzel, as Masters Champion after Watson produced his own moment of magic.
The left-hander’s miraculous hooked shot out of the trees on the second extra hole set up a winning par to Oosthuizen’s bogey, and defending champion Watson will again be part of a strong American contingent, along with World Number One Tiger Woods, who is chasing his fifth Green Jacket and first victory at Augusta since 2005.
Woods and McIlroy both finished in a share of 40th position last year, but the pair will be setting their sights considerably higher this week, with US PGA Champion McIlroy showing signs of a return to form after finishing runner up in the Valero Texas Open on the US PGA Tour at the weekend.
Last year, six European Tour Members finished in the top ten, with Ryder Cup teammates Lee Westwood and Peter Hanson finishing in a share of third place, after the latter led by one stroke going into the final round.
Swelling the European Tour challenge this time round will be seven players experiencing the majesty of Magnolia Lane for the first time: George Coetzee, Nicolas Colsaerts, Jamie Donaldson, Branden Grace, David Lynn, Thorbjørn Olesen and Thaworn Wirtachant.
Meanwhile Guan Tian-lang of China, the youngest player to play in a European Tour event at last year’s Volvo China Open, will create Masters Tournament history by becoming the youngest player to compete, aged 14 years and 168 days.
The previous youngest, Matteo Manassero, who was 16 years and 354 days when he teed it up in 2010, returns to Augusta National for the first time as a professional, a week before the three-time European Tour winner celebrates his 20th birthday.