Europe has won four of the last six U.S. Opens, four of the last nine Open Championships and four of the last eight PGA Championships.
But their collective drought at The Masters extends to 16 long years.
It’s about time.
Justin Rose tied for second last year but no-one was ever going to catch Jordan Spieth and that means Jose Maria Olazabal’s win in 1999 remains the last time a European was handed the winner’s green jacket.
That was the 11th European success at Augusta National in a golden 20-year period and, given how many of the Euros now base themselves on American soil, it makes little sense that the victories have dried up since.
This year there are 26 Europeans trying to snap the 16-year streak and below we’ll assess the chances of each.
But, first, some numbers to chew on……
Winning Scores, Winners and Stats
2015 -18 Jordan Spieth (DD: 52, DA: 21, GIR: 2, Scr: 10, PA: 1)
2014 -8 Bubba Watson (DD: 1, DA: 14, GIR: 6, Scr: 5, PA: 12)
2013 -9 Adam Scott (DD: 18, DA: 49, GIR: 1, Scr: 3, PA: 28)
2012 -10 Bubba Watson (DD: 4, DA: 48, GIR: 4, Scr: 15, PA: 11)
2011 -14 Charl Schwartzel (DD: 40, DA: 31, GIR: 19, Scr: 1, PA: 8)
2010 -16 Phil Mickelson (DD: 2, DA: 45, GIR: 3, Scr: 3, PA: 10)
2009 -12 Angel Cabrera (DD: 11, DA: 48, GIR: 15, Scr: 6, PA: 7)
2008 -8 Trevor Immelman (DD: 4, DA: 1, GIR: 3, Scr: 1, PA: 7)
2007 +1 Zach Johnson (DD: 57, DA: 3, GIR: 4, Scr: 27, PA: 6)
2006 -7 Phil Mickelson (DD: 1, DA: 36, GIR: 5, Scr: 24, PA: 7)
Driving Distance matters but Driving Accuracy does not. Seven of the last 10 winners ranked in the top 20 for DD while the only occasions when DA was a factor were those strange, war-of-attrition, lifeless Masters in 2007/8. But, without doubt, the stats really do back up the idea that Augusta National is a second-shot golf course where a razor-sharp short game is key. Eight of the last 10 winners ranked in the top six for Greens In Regulation, seven of the last eight were in the top 10 for Scrambling and nine of the last 10 were in the top 12 for Putting Average.
The Course – Augusta National
From the very first hole, the 7,435-yard, par 72 Augusta National takes the breath away and I was lucky enough to attend four Masters between 2011 and 2014. Seeing the course in real life rather than through the prism of TV made it obvious why bombers do so well. Yes, there are plenty of trees but they’re enormous and the branches start high. The pine straw underneath is also very even so even if players do find tree trouble they’ll often have a shot from a decent lie. The lack of rough promotes creativity (severely reducing taking-your-medicine chip outs) and the dramatic undulations and slopes around the lightening greens also explain why some magic in the wrists is another vital tool. Hitting fairways and greens almost got Kenny Perry over the line in 2009 but Angel Cabrera’s short-game wizardry eventually won the day.
Most golf fans know the Fuzzy Zoeller stat (he was the last man to win on debut back in 1979) but here’s another twist. No first-timer has won the Masters since the greens were switched from Bermuda grass to Bentgrass in 1981. Bentgrass grows thinner and upright and can be mown shorter - hence faster, truer and scarier greens for newcomers. In an article for the official 2013 Masters magazine, Tom Watson told journalist Dave Shedloski, “You ever see the old films of Palmer? You remember seeing him putt? He’s just whacking it, and the ball kind of stops. Now it’s going this fast and it keeps rolling, keeps rolling, keeps rolling.” Phil Mickelson adds, “I don’t think you’re able to really read the greens at Augusta because you look at a putt and see such wildly different lines. I think the best way is just to experience it and try to use memory.”
Strongest Masters Trends
Last 10 winners were all under 40
Last 10 winners were not the defending champion
Last 10 winners were not the World No. 1
Last 10 winners had made the cut at Augusta the previous year
Last 10 winners had finished T32 or better at Augusta
The Leading Europeans
Had Rory closed out his 54-hole four-shot lead in 2011, he might well already have a couple of green jackets. As it is, he’s had to fight a mental battle with the course and restore his confidence in stages (improved finishes of 40-25-8-4 since then). Last year he cracked the top five for the first time so maybe he’s now ready to take the final step. It hasn’t been vintage McIlroy so far in 2016 but a run to the semi-finals of the WGC-Dell Match Play was a welcome boost and, if he’s got everything working, he’s the man most likely to end Europe’s barren run.
If McIlroy represents Europe’s biggest chance of victory, Rose isn’t too far behind. Three times he’s held a share of the first-round lead (also halfway leader in 2007) while he’s made all 10 cuts and finished outside the top 25 just twice. Last year he posted his best finish of T2 (67-70-67-70) and, having already won a major, he knows he can beat the best. He’s been a little under the radar this year although 9-17-16-6 in his last four strokeplay starts suggests he’s close, as does his second place in the All-Around Ranking this season.
Stenson let another winning chance slip by when runner-up in the Shell Houston Open on Sunday and that means he’s without a PGA TOUR victory since 2013. The Swede’s stock performance at Augusta is solid but no sparkle. He’s had 10 cracks at Augusta National now and still hasn’t finished better than T14 (2014). Five of those have been between 14th and 19th, including each of the last three so you pretty much know what you’re getting.
If a lack of a razor-sharp short game holds back Stenson at Augusta National, the same can’t be said of Willett. He topped the Strokes Gained: Putting stats when third in the WGC-Cadillac Championship last month and he has a great touch around the greens. That helped him shoot three under-par rounds on his Masters debut last year (a 76 on Saturday costing him) when he posted T38. He’ll also arrive in Georgia as a new Dad after wife Nicole gave birth last week (originally the due date had been Masters Sunday).
Augusta National got in Sergio’s head some years ago and, as we know, that’s never a good thing with him. Does he truly believe he can win there? He has the raw materials (power and a wonderful touch) but mentally he’s never got to grips with it for 72 holes. A total of 17 starts have yielded just a single top five (fourth in 2004) and two other top 10s although he’s made the top 20 in three of the last four. A runner-up at the Honda Classic is another plus but sitting 199th in Strokes Gained: Putting isn’t.
Casey has always felt the Masters is the major best suited to his game and he has a decent body of work at Augusta National with sixth places on debut in 2004 and again last year along with a run of 10-11-20 from 2007-2009. He’s also delivered top 10s in his last two strokeplay starts (WGC-Cadillac and Arnold Palmer) so, if fully recovered from the stomach problems that led to his early WGC-Dell Match Play exit, he’s definitely one of the Europeans to watch.
The Ryder Cup star may lack power but his brilliant short game has allowed him to be a contender at Augusta National. Poulter has made 10 of 11 cuts, finishing 33rd or better in all of those and has three top 10s in his last six tries, that run peaking last year with a T6 thanks to a pair of weekend 67s. He’ll make his annual visit on the back of a third place in Puerto Rico (second in Scrambling) so he looks a sound investment.
A hybrid of Westwood and Poulter could easily have won a Masters. Westwood’s long game is a great fit for Augusta National but the putts just haven’t dropped when he’s needed them to. The Englishman has made his last nine cuts and his second place to Mickelson in 2010 sparked a run of 2-11-3-8-7 until he posted a rather flat T46 last year. To be honest, that sums up much of his play over the last year and a second-round 78 to miss the cut in Houston suggests current form could trump course form this year.
The happy-go-lucky Sullivan will be pinching himself that he’s finally made it to the Masters but a first start at Augusta National is fully deserved after some great golf over the last 18 months. A three-time winner on the European Tour last year, he was runner-up in Dubai in January and has cashed in all four strokeplay starts (including T17 at Doral) on the PGA TOUR this season. It wouldn’t be the biggest surprise if he takes to it like a duck to water, Sullivan saying recently, “I think I’ve got the game that can play well around there.”
Europe’s in-form player so he deserves to be bumped up onto page one. The Spaniard had shown his usual strong play in the desert with a pair of second places in Qatar and Dubai but nobody really expected him to shine so brightly on the PGA TOUR. RCB has done just that with a T11 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, a third place in the WGC-Dell Match Play (he beat Rory in the consolation match) and fourth (68-65 on the weekend) in last week’s Shell Houston Open. It all adds up to a Masters debut, special temporary membership on the PGA TOUR and the 31-year-old admitting, “I’ve been playing the best golf of my life throughout this year.” Second for GIR and Scrambling (despite it being a perceived weakness) in Houston.
A wonderful chipper of the ball, Lowry should have the skills to perform well at Augusta National although it didn’t work out on debut last year when he shot 75-72 and missed the cut. He’ll know more this time and, of course, since then he’s pocketed the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational to show he can beat the game’s elite. Current form is a worry though and since a top six in Phoenix, his five starts on the PGA TOUR since haven’t yielded anything better than T35.
The Next Rung
It’s the course that caused Kaymer to try and change his swing and one that continues to torment him. After missed cuts on his first four starts, Kaymer felt he needed to be able to hit the Augusta National-friendly draw better but the tinkering messed up his game and the plan was abandoned. He’s had great success since then, adding a second major title in 2014, but his form has nosedived in recent times (three missed cuts in last four starts) and overall at the Masters he’s cashed just three times in eight visits and never even made the top 30. Avoid.
Winning at Muirfield Village bodes well for the Swede as Jack Nicklaus took some of Augusta National’s key elements (room off the tee, emphasis on second shots, fast greens) when building the course for his Memorial Tournament. Lingmerth’s win at Memorial came last June and he almost added a second title when losing a playoff at the Career Builder Challenge in January. A loss of form since (nothing better than T49 in six starts since) isn’t ideal for his first start at the Masters.
The flamboyant Frenchman has the raw materials to shine at Augusta (hits it long, magical short game) but he’s missed the cut in both starts, shooting 74-75 both times. It’s hard to work up much enthusiasm for him this time after results this year of MC-MC-52 and a group-stage WGC-Dell Match Play exit. Dubuisson said last year that he struggles when under-golfed so having made just four starts this year he looks set for another difficult week.
Fitzpatrick’s lack of power suggests the Masters won’t represent his best chance to win a major although he does have plenty of flair the nearer he gets to the green. The young Englishman shot 76-73 to miss the cut on his first start at Augusta National last year so playing all four rounds would be considered a success this time. He was one of Europe’s best players in the final few months of 2015 but hasn’t found the same spark since the turn of the year although T35 at the WGC-Cadillac and T27 at Bay Hill offered some encouraging signs.
With a hole-in-one at the 6th on debut (missed cut), T14 in 2014 and a closing 67 for T33 last year, Donaldson has always taken something positive away from his starts at the Masters. Those experiences will give him an edge over some of the other Europeans and the Welshman also appears to be rounding into some decent form after following T26 at the Honda and T35 at Doral with a T19 in last week’s Shell Houston Open.
Another European making his Masters debut this week, Knox received his invite in the post after winning last year’s WGC-HSBC Champions in China. Apart from a second place in Mexico the very next week, the Scot hasn’t managed a top 20 in nine starts since so expectations are tempered a little ahead of his first look at Augusta National.
Wiesberger’s T22 was the best finish by a first-timer in last year’s field and came after he’d struggled with an opening 75. Shooting 5-under for his final three rounds was a fine effort and will give him the belief he can climb into the top 20 this time. His last two starts on American soil show T14 at the WGC-Cadillac and T27 in Houston so it’s a realistic aim for the Austrian.
G-Mac has had a couple of decent Masters (T12 in 2012 and T17 in 2009) but overall he’s come out a loser in his battles with Augusta National. In his other six visits, he’s missed the cut in five and managed a low-key T52 last year. McDowell admits the tee shots trouble him and the greens are a puzzle he struggles to solve so add that to missed cuts on his last two strokeplay starts (Valspar, Arnold Palmer) and he isn’t bringing much to the table.
It’s been six long years but Wood finally has a second trip to the Masters to look forward to after some strong play at the end of last year got him into the world’s top 50 and triggered an invite. He admitted in 2010 that he felt like he was “making up the numbers” and rounds of 78-76 said so too. A T20 at Bay Hill will bring some confidence although there’s a fair amount of guesswork involved this week given his lack of Augusta National experience.
Like Wood, Kjeldsen hasn’t played in the Masters since 2010 although at least he’ll have better memories having posted T30. He missed the cut on his only other start in 2009. The very short-hitting Dane will have it all on to cope with Augusta National although a tidy short game will help. In two recent strokeplay starts in America he finished T28 at the WGC-Cadillac and missed the cut at Bay Hill.
Langer has shown in recent Masters that he isn’t just here to wave and have a nice meal at the Champions Dinner. Having beaten the yips to win two green jackets (1986 and 1993), the German posted T8 as a 55-year-old in 2014 and also made the top 25 the year before. He’s still a total stud at Champions Tour level and has two wins from his last eight starts and recent form figures in 2016 of 6-3-1-10-8.
The 20-year-old Frenchman punched his ticket to Augusta National after a 4-and-2 victory over Scotland’s Grant Forrest in the final of the 2015 British Amateur. That also got him into the Open Championship where he played all four rounds and finished T65. Making the cut here would be a superb achievement.
Clarke’s time and thoughts are very much taken up by the Ryder Cup captaincy and a pair of 77s at the Valspar led to a fourth straight missed cut. At least he’s made the weekend on his last two starts at Augusta National (T52 last year and T44 in 2014) although the 2011 Open champ hasn’t shot a round in the 60s at the Masters since 2005.
We all remember his fist-pump celebration in 1991 but he’s made just one cut (2008) in the last 14 Masters.
It would be easy to strike a line straight through Lyle as well but he made the weekend in both 2013 and 2014 so he can still flicker back into life. Finishes of T61 and T53 on his only two Champions Tour starts this season add some realism though.
Who’s On The Team?
I always think positive experiences at Augusta National promote further positive experiences and, equally, negatives lead to more negatives.
So, on this unique and beautiful course, I’m always going to side with players who have impressive course form rather than anticipate that previous strugglers will turn it around or newcomers will flourish out of the gate.
That quartet all made the top six last year and all four have a top 10 in one of their last two starts so have current form too.
Yes, Rory does have mental demons to overcome after his collapse in 2011 but finishes of T8 and T4 the last two years suggests it’s a battle he’s winning.
Danny Willett (three rounds of 71 for T38 and Bernd Wiesberger, T22) had nice starts to their Augusta careers last year and the former will feel like it’s a bonus to be playing here after his baby arrived early rather than Masters week.
Willett’s star is rising fast and a third place in the WGC-Cadillac was another sign of excellence.
Henrik Stenson? He’ll probably finish T15!
One To Fade
Easy. Martin Kaymer has missed five of eight cuts at Augusta National and is completely out of form.