While much of the pre-tournament interest has centred around the new World Number One, Rory McIlroy, and his three European rivals at the pinnacle of global golf, six European Tour Members will this week make their debuts in the WGC-Cadillac Championship hoping to pen their own captivating narrative in Florida.
Stepping onto the tee for the first time at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa are Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Nicolas Colsaerts, Branden Grace, Jbe Kruger, Alexander Noren and Robert Rock, while the two South Africans, Grace and Kruger, will be making their inaugural appearance in any World Golf Championship.
Ahead of the main event later this week, europeantour.com takes a closer look at the debutants taking to the imposing Blue Monster course and the routes by which they gained their place in the second WGC of 2012.
Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello made his first appearance in a World Golf Championship at the Accenture Match Play Championship two weeks ago in Arizona, and will swiftly double his count in Doral.
It has been a whirlwind start to the year for Cabrera-Bello, who qualified for the Cadillac Championship after placing in the top ten of the 2012 Race to Dubai following the conclusion of the Match Play, largely thanks to a superb win in the final event of this year’s Desert Swing, the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
The 27 year old held off World Number Three Lee Westwood to triumph by one shot and with it claim the biggest prize of his career and a place in the field at such high-profile events as this week’s WGC.
At his WGC debut in Tucson, the two-time European Tour winner was unlucky to be ousted in the first round by Australian Jason Day after leading by three holes with three to play, before going on to fall at the first play-off hole.
“I’ve played this course as an amateur quite a few times at the Doral Junior Publix, and I always looked forward to coming here,” he said. “It’s definitely an advantage if you’re a little longer off the tee, and that’s probably one of my strengths so I feel comfortable out here.”
Big-hitting Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts qualified for this week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship with a 20th place finish in The 2011 Race to Dubai after a breakthrough season for the 29 year old.
Colsaerts captured his maiden European Tour title at the 2011 Volvo China Open to supplement 18 other cuts made in 23 events in what was a highly consistent season last year, finishing in the top ten on five occasions – including two tied third finishes at the Scottish Open and Volvo World Match Play Championship – and making team appearances at the Vivendi Seve Trophy and Omega Mission Hills World Cup.
The Challenge Tour graduate has maintained his consistency in the early stages of the 2012 season, having already posted three top ten finishes – including a fourth place finish at the Volvo Golf Champions – while placing in the money in all five events he has played so far this year.
After gaining the 11th European Tour card at the 2011 Qualifying School Final Stage, Branden Grace could scarcely have dreamt how quickly his impact in top-level golf would come, but he enjoyed a formidable first few weeks of the 2012 season.An impressive maiden victory in January’s Joburg Open on home soil was followed by further success at the following week’s Volvo Golf Champions, where the 23 year old held off his boyhood heroes Ernie Els and Retief Goosen in a play-off to become the first player since Fred Couples in 1995 to follow his first European Tour win with another the following week.
These early-season successes propelled Grace into the top ten of The 2012 Race to Dubai following the Accenture Match Play, thus granting the former Challenge Tour player a place in his first World Golf Championship..
Grace’s compatriot Jbe’ Kruger continued South Africa’s rich vein of success by winning the 2012 Avantha Masters in India in February – his maiden victory on The European Tour – to complete the sixth success in the ten previous European Tour events for the country.
The 25 year old survived a late wobble at the DLF Golf and Country Club to capture the €300,000 first prize and climb into the top ten of The Race to Dubai and also seize a place in this week’s Cadillac Championship.
Kruger, a two-time winner on the Sunshine Tour, and Grace will both be looking to become the second South African to win the WGC – Cadillac Championship after Els’ triumphs in the 2004 and 2010 stagings.
“To make my debut in America at a World Golf Championship is a privilege and a dream come true,” said Kruger. “I feel like I belong in this company now, because the win in India has given me so much confidence.”
Sweden’s Alexander Noren compiled the most impressive season of his career to date after winning twice in 2011, at the Saab Wales Open and the Nordea Masters, while making 20 other cuts and accruing five further top ten finishes over the course of the year – including tied third at the Castelló Masters and tied fourth at the Maybank Malaysian Open.
Noren, also a Challenge Tour victor and graduate, went on to finish the season 14th in The Race to Dubai, claiming a coveted spot at the second WGC of the year this week in Florida, and will be looking to kick-start his season after a moderately quiet opening – his best finish of the year in three outings coming in the form of a 16th place finish in January’s Volvo Golf Champions.
“It’s a big tournament, and a big week for me,” he said. “I came here two weeks ago to practise, and I really like the course so I can’t wait to get out there for real.”
In what was arguably one of the most enthralling Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championships to date in January, England’s Robert Rock held off former World Number One and 14-time Major Champion Tiger Woods down the stretch to complete a dramatic second European Tour victory.
Rock, a former club professional, consolidated a solid run of form during which the 34 year old finished eighth at the season-ending Dubai World Championship, ninth at the Joburg Open and 12th at the following week’s Volvo Golf Championship, but it was the €347,024 first prize in the United Arab Emirates that took Rock into the top ten of The Race to Dubai and handed him a first start at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
In the Accenture Match Play Championship – his second WGC appearance after the WGC-HSBC Championship last November – Rock dispensed with Australia’s Adam Scott in the first round before falling to Mark Wilson – who would go on to finish third at the event – 3 and 2 in the following match.