Sixteen years have elapsed since Darren Clarke became the first European player to win a World Golf Championships event at the 2000 WGC – Match Play. Now, in the year he leads Europe in The 2016 Ryder Cup, those players hoping to make his team have another piece of history in their sights.
Should a European player triumph in this week’s WGC – Cadillac Championship it will be the first time that players from the continent will have held all four of the coveted WGC titles at the same time.
After American Dustin Johnson’s triumph at Trump National Doral 12 months ago, Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy began the European streak with his victory in the WGC-Cadillac Match Play in San Francisco last May, before Ireland’s Shane Lowry triumphed in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, in Ohio, in August and Scotland’s Russell Knox then claimed a stunning victory on his WGC debut in the WGC-Champions, in China, in November.
Fast forward to this week in Miami where a total of 19 European players – including McIlroy, Knox and Lowry - will be hoping to become the one to clinch the European clean sweep at the season’s first World Golf Championship, while a further 16 international players will be trying make it a quartet of victories by European Tour Members as a whole.
Knox will also be chasing his own place in the record books, as he attempts to become only the second player after Tiger Woods to claim consecutive WGC titles, and the first player to win in both of his first two WGC appearances.
“I guess I’m the defending WGC Champion,” he joked. “Seriously though, it’s a thrill to be here. It’s my first time a Doral, and this is where everyone wants to be playing, in these top tournaments, so to get another crack at it is great.
“I’m still riding the wave of that win in China a bit. My game feels pretty good and I hope to play well again and see a few putts go in.
"I’ve never played here before, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. I know there are a lot of water holes, but I played last week where there was a lot too, so I’m used to the stress of water.”
The WGC-Cadillac Championship represents the start of an important run of events for Knox, including a maiden Masters appearance at Augusta National next month, as he attempts to earn a place in Clarke’s team for Hazeltine National in September. That is a longer term target, but for now the 30 year old is simply eager to extend the run of European success in the WGCs.
“European golf is so strong, top to bottom now,” said Knox. “There are so many guys doing great, particularly the English guys, so it is nice to chuck a Scot in there too.”
Knox will tee it up for the first two rounds in the company of BMW PGA Champion Byeong Hun An and Australian Jordan Zunic, while Lowry begins his bid for back-to-back WGC titles on American soil alongside Jimmy Walker and Kevin Na. Like Knox, Lowry has taken plenty of confidence from his biggest career win to date.
“I wouldn’t say the win has changed my life, but it has changed my schedule a bit,” said Lowry. “It got me into the Top 50 and it gave me a five year exemption in Europe and three in America. It’s made things easier for me and taken the pressure off a bit. I enjoyed the win in Akron and it's going to be fun having another chance to win a WGC this week."
McIlroy begins his title bid at 11.32am local time on Thursday alongside reigning Major Champions Jordan Spieth and Jason Day, the only two players currently above him on the Official World Golf Ranking.
Meanwhile, another European with strong title credentials is Spaniard Sergio Garcia, who has seven top ten finishes in the WGC-Cadillac Championship – the most of any player aside from Woods.
Garcia will be looking to build on his second place finish in last week’s Honda Classic on the US PGA Tour, and the Ryder Cup star gets underway at 12.49pm on Thursday in the presence of fellow European Tour members Branden Grace, of South Africa, and American Patrick Reed, the 2014 champion.