Europe poised for another run at green jacket

By Doug FergusonApril 5, 2011, 2:55 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – A green jacket defined the golden era of European golf.

For the better part of two decades, Europeans seemed to have part-ownership of Augusta National by winning the Masters six times in a seven-year stretch, and 11 times in the 1980s and 1990s. Seve Ballesteros was the first European in a green jacket. Nick Faldo won three times. Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer and Olazabal each won twice.

Perhaps it was only fitting that when the world ranking made its debut in 1986 at the Masters, the top three were Europeans.

“It would be nice to recreate some of that magic,” Justin Rose said Monday under the large oak tree next to the Augusta National clubhouse. “And I think this is as good a time as any.”

On paper, European golf has never been stronger.

They have won two of the last three majors – Martin Kaymer in a playoff at the PGA Championship, Graeme McDowell at Pebble Beach in the U.S. Open. Padraig Harrington was the last player to win successive majors, at the end of 2008.

And then there’s the world ranking.

Europe would have had the top five spots except for Phil Mickelson winning the Houston Open to go to No. 3. As it is, Kaymer and Westwood are Nos. 1 and 2, with Luke Donald, McDowell and Paul Casey at Nos. 4-5-6. Tiger Woods is at No. 7.

About the only thing missing from this new era of European dominance is a green jacket.

“It’s been too long,” said Ian Poulter, among those determined to change this trend. “There’s more guys with more chances.”

Olazabal was the last European to win the Masters, holding off Greg Norman in the final round in 1999. A year later, no Europeans were among the top 10 at the Masters, and none came particularly close to winning except for Westwood last year when he was runner-up by three shots to Mickelson.

Europe now seems more poised than ever.

In the middle of that great European run from two decades ago, they had four of the top 10 in the world. Now there are six Europeans in the top 10, and nine of the top 20.

“If you look at the guys who compete week in and week out, we’ve got more now than what we had 15 years ago,” Poulter said. “There’s definitely more of a chance now. But you’ve got a lot of good players to go up again. Tiger and Phil have won quite a few of these jackets over the last few years.”

Woods and Mickelson have combined to win six of the last 10 times at the Masters, although it’s Mickelson who comes into the first major as the biggest favorite. Not only is he the defending champion, Mickelson made 18 birdies on the weekend to win in Houston.

For a tournament that had lacked a clear favorite, it has one now.

“It seems that everyone has pretty much got Mickelson in the green jacket Sunday evening and there’s not much use in turning up at this point,” McDowell said with a grin. “He’s a great player around Augusta, and if you finish ahead of him, you’ve got a decent chance.”

All McDowell wants is a shot on the back nine Sunday.

That would be a good starting point for Europe to win the only major that has eluded him over the last 12 years.

Westwood was just starting to get good as a junior when Faldo won the Masters in back-to-back years. Then came Woosnam in 1991, winning with a par on the 18th hole in a year in which Olazabal and Tom Watson were tied for the lead going to the last hole.

Francesco Molinari remembers Olazabal coming back from a career-threatening injury to win in 1999.

“For every European, it was inspiring,” Molinari said. “It’s been awhile, but I think we’re ready for another run.”

Poulter was folding shirts and selling candy bars in a golf shop in England toward the end of the European run. He remembers Woosnam winning, and Langer and Olazabal in back-to-back years. And no one could forget Faldo winning his last green jacket in 1996 when he rallied from a six-shot deficit against Greg Norman.

“They were just so strong,” Poulter said. “They were on the board every year. They were the best in the game around that era. I guess it’s been a while since you’ve had those guys back in that position. But if you look at Europe in the world ranking now, we’ve filled that back with guys who are definitely going to have a chance.”

Poulter and Westwood shared the 36-hole lead a year ago. Westwood fought to the end, while Poulter faltered.

It would be surprising if Europe didn’t show itself when the Masters begins on Thursday. Donald, Casey and Rose each have flirted with contention over the years, and Harrington appeared to take a step forward last week with his play in Houston.

The best proof is not the names, but the numbers.

Beyond the ranking, Europeans keep showing up at the top of World Golf Championships – Donald, Molinari and Poulter have won three of the last five. And then there was that little exhibition at Celtic Manor last October, with Europe winning the Ryder Cup again.

Now comes the first major of the year. What once were hopes for Europe now are expectations.

“There’s no shortage of great players, especially in Britain and Ireland,” said McDowell, who played a full practice round Monday with Poulter and Rose. This current crop of European players has been compared with Woosie, Ollie, Ballesteros, Lyle, Faldo and Langer. I think if you compared them with this crop, yeah, you’ve got to start suggesting that it’s time to start winning the Masters.

“There’s no doubt we’ve got the talent. We’ve got the players,” he said. “But it’s tough to win.”

Getty Images

Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

Getty Images

Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm