How pleasing it is to see a former British Amateur champion winning on the European Tour. If you look back at the winners of the Amateur since 1980, only five (including Ilonen) have gone on to claim a European Tour title. When you consider how much winning the British Amateur Championship means to a golfer - exemptions to the Open and the Masters - it is difficult to explain the winning drought. Furthermore, only one player in that time period has captured a major title, Jose Maria Olazabal, who won the Amateur in 1984.
Ilonen won at Royal Liverpool in 2000; he was the first Scandinavian player to win since Christian Hardin in 1988, and he was, of course, the first Finnish player to capture the title. There seems to be a growing number of Fins surfacing on the European golfing scene. Ilonen became the first from his country to capture a European Tour crown when he won in Indonesia last week, but fellow countrymen and women have been successful elsewhere. Toni Karjalainen won the Telenet Trophy on the Challenge Tour last season; Rikka Hakkarainen is the reigning Tenerife Ladies Open champion; and Minea Blomqvist, a winner on the LET in 2004, is trying to break through in the United States. So watch out for a Fin near you.
No Moodie Blues
Janice Moodie recorded a tie for fourth last week at the LPGA's SBS Open at Turtle Bay. Moodie is now back on tour having given birth to her son Craig last summer. The American-based Scot is traveling with her new born, wisely employing a nanny and taking full advantage of the crche facilities offered by the tour. Any worries that adapting to the new lifestyle might be difficult have been quickly quashed, which is great news in this Solheim Cup year. Moodie has played on two teams (2000, 2003)
Donaldson Gets Needed Boost
Jamie Donaldson must have been bitterly disappointed to miss his European Tour card in 2006, having finished 79th on the Order of Merit the year before. Full credit to the Welsh golfer, though; he knuckled down this year, taking his medicine and returning to the Challenge Tour where he won twice in 2001. After a couple of average weeks in Columbia and Costa Rica, the 31-year-old opened last weeks Abierto Telefonica da Guatemala with a 63, and despite a charging Emilio Dominguez, he hung-on to take the win. Donaldson has been plagued by back injuries in his time as a professional and we can only hope that he stays healthy this year on the Challenge Tour and uses it to propel himself back into the forefront of European Tour golf.
Howell Ready to Excel in Augusta
David Howell has the distinct disadvantage of always being the second Howell at the Masters, Augustas favorite son, especially of late, is Mr. Charles Howell III, but David doesnt mind. Speaking recently, he told me that of all the majors the Masters gives him his best shot at a title. His results (T11, T19) over the past two years show he likes the course, and with his tidy short game he can handle the tough situations players have to face at every corner. Howell has won only four times in Europe, but all of those wins were in the biggest events; hes got the BMW Championship, Dubai Desert Classic and HSBC Champions replica trophies on his mantle. So this seems like a good time for him to focus on the United States: 'Five or six years ago, I wasnt ready to hold my own on the PGA TOUR, but I took my card for 2006 because of the 2007 FedExCup, he told a press conference last week for the WGC-CA Championship, his title sponsor and an event hell use in his run-up to Augusta. Hell also play this week in the Match Play, then sandwich weeks off with a trip to the Singapore Masters before Doral. The finishing touches to his Augusta preparation will be made in Houston before that bid for a green jacket. Last season, he thought hed played too much, which led to the shoulder injuries that plagued him late in the year. But six weeks away from the game and a better understanding of his schedule have put him right where he needs to be this year. Im not a betting man, but I certainly dont mind advising people of where to put their money and David Howells name wouldnt be a foolish place come Thursday 5th April.
Tom Abbott will host the LPGA Fields Open on The Golf Channel UK (Sky Digital Channel 423) this week. Live coverage begins on Thursday at 11:30 p.m. ET
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