The time is now for European Masters winner

Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer are all ranked inside the top four in the Official World Golf Rankings.

It must surely be a European Masters.

Has to be. Europe is due.

You have to go back to 1999 to find a European donning the green jacket. Jose Maria Olazabal was the unlikely winner that year.

Not unlikely because of his talent – Ollie won the 1994 Masters. Unlikely given the Spaniard spent nearly two years in the mid-90s having a hard time walking, let along playing golf.

Let me remind you that Europeans have won two of the past three majors, with a European Tour member winning the other. First Graeme McDowell in the U.S. Open, then Louis Oosthuizen in the Open Championship before Martin Kaymer rounded off the season nicely by lifting the Wanamaker Trophy after surviving a playoff in the PGA Championship.

Throw in a victory in the Ryder Cup and Europe enters the 2011 majors looking to emulate the success of McDowell, et al. “There are so many young players coming through, even beyond the likes of Rory (McIlroy),” said George O’Grady, chief executive of the European Tour. “When you see a guy like Matteo Manassero coming through and winning at 17, that gives you enormous confidence. He and other young players want to emulate what Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen have done.”

It can be argued that Europe did so well in the Masters for so many years because of Seve Ballesteros. The Spaniard won in 1980 and again in 1983. That opened the floodgates, and Bernhard Langer (1985), Sandy Lyle (1988), Nick Faldo (1989, 1990, 1996) and Olazabal followed in Seve’s footsteps.

The cynic would say that if that theory holds true, then more Europeans would have followed Ollie’s 1999 win. Problem was, Europe didn’t have the same strength in depth then.

It does now. Four Europeans occupy the first four spots on the world ranking: Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and McDowell, respectively. Another two – Paul Casey and McIlroy - are in the top 10, and three more – Francesco Molinari, Ian Poulter and Robert Karlsson – are in the top 20. That points to arguably the best crop of Europeans ever.

Problem is, with the exception of McDowell and Kaymer, these players haven’t really backed up their world status with major championships.

Westwood is playing the best golf of his life. He took over from Tiger Woods as World No. 1 before Kaymer dislodged him from the top of the world order. It’s been a great career so far, but he needs a major to validate his status as one of the best players in the world.

The Englishman has done everything but win one of golf’s marquee events over the past three years, with five top-5s in the tournaments that count. He might have won last year’s Master if not for Phil Mickelson’s stellar final round, and brilliant recovery shot on the par-5 13th.

Westwood’s time is now. The same can be said for most of the European contingent when the gun sounds at Augusta National next Thursday.

It has to be a European Masters.

Five Europeans to watch

  • Lee Westwood: He’s due. Finished second last year and can go one better this year.
  • Martin Kaymer: Augusta hasn’t suited his game in the past, and he’s missed three cuts, but surely he’s too good not to contend.
  • Justin Rose: Never missed a cut. Finished fifth in 2007 and running into form nicely.
  • Paul Casey: Has three top 10s and feels ready to win a major after third in last year’s Open Championship.
  • Ian Poulter: Never missed a cut in six appearances and finished 10th last year. Joined McDowell for a practice round this week and wants it more than any player in the field.
  • And two whom you shouldn’t ignore
  • Miguel Angel Jimenez: The affable Spaniard has three top 10s at Augusta and has the experience to join Ballesteros and Olazabal in the champions’ locker room.
  • Martin Laird: The Scot has never played in the Masters, which first timers usually don’t win. However, the Arnold Palmer Invitational champion has the power and the trajectory to do well.
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