Nick Bonfield analyses the field and explains why Europe's Masters-winning hiatus looks set to continue
Why a European won’t win the 2016 Masters…
Remember when Nick Faldo trampled all over a disconsolate Greg Norman to land his third Green Jacket? Of course you do. Clear as day I bet. Which makes it even more amazing to think that episode took place 20 years ago. Yes, 20 years.
During the 1980s and 1990s, European golfers were a dominant force at Augusta National. Between 1980 and 1999, players from east of the Atlantic Ocean landed 11 Masters titles, including six in seven years between 1988 and 1994. Golf is a game of peaks and troughs, though, and that applies as much individually as it does collectively.
Since Jose Maria Olazabal’s triumph in 1999, it’s been a barren spell in Georgia for the Europeans, which is somewhat perplexing. Fear not, I hear you say, for this year will mark the start of the revival. How could it not? We have McIlroy, Stenson, Rose, Garcia and a whole host of others whose games are ideally suited to Augusta National.
Sadly, I just don’t see it. Here’s why a European golfer won’t be donning the Green Jacket come Sunday April 10…
Rory McIlroy – I don’t think there are any lingering scars from McIlroy’s meltdown in 2011, and he’s certainly got the best chance of any European, but his putting has been very inconsistent this season and he’s struggled with the lefts of late. Many will point to the fact that he reached the semi-finals of the WGC-Dell Match Play, but he was fortunate to get out of the group stage. With so many of the world’s best golfers playing so well, it’s going to be a tough task for the Ulsterman. Ask yourself this: on current form, who would you prefer – McIlroy, Day, Scott or Watson?
Henrik Stenson – I’m afraid to say I don’t think Stenson will ever win a Major Championship. I hope I’m wrong, but he started hitting the ball all over the golf course when he found himself in contention on Sunday at the 2014 USPGA Championship. He’ll also be the wrong side of 40 when the action starts. I also think Stenson is too conservative – effective though he is with his trusty 3-wood – and Augusta National is a course that suits aggressive play off the tee.
Sergio Garcia – Much like Stenson, I’m not convinced he’ll ever win a Major. And, if he does, I think it will be at the Open Championship. What’s more, his form is indifferent, he hasn’t won on American soil for almost four years and he’s only recorded one top-five finish at The Masters, which came 12 years ago. He’s also admitted he’s not the biggest fan of Augusta National.
Justin Rose – Behind McIlroy, Rose is the most likely European winner. After all, his 72-hole total last year would have been good enough to win eight of the previous ten Masters tournaments. He’s also turned himself into one of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour. Still, he hasn’t been at his best in the early part of the season and his putting is a definite cause for concern, especially from eight feet and in. As we all know, if you want to win a Major, you have to hole the vast majority of putts from that range. I just don’t see Rose doing that.
Related: Justin Rose v. Sergio Garcia
Martin Kaymer – Not much to say here. His natural shot shape doesn’t suit Augusta National, his form is average at best and his Masters record is poor.
And now some quick one-liners on the others…
Paul Casey – He has the tee-to-green game to feature, but his putting isn’t good enough. The same goes for Lee Westwood.
Graeme McDowell – his shot shape doesn’t suit the course and he’s never had a top-10 finish at Augusta.
Andy Sullivan – As good as he is, only one player has won en debut since 1935 – Fuzzy Zoeller, and that happened 37 years ago.
Danny Willett – A good outside bet, but he’ll surely be distracted by the impending birth of his first child.
Shane Lowry – His form hasn’t been great this season and he missed the cut en debut last year.
I also can’t make a case for the others, the likes of Ian Poulter, Jamie Donaldson and Rafa Cabrera-Bello, but Bernd Wiesberger is a good each-way shout at 200/1. Anyway, I digress.
For what it’s worth, I think Louis Oosthuizen will triumph. Or Jason Day. Or Adam Scott. Or Dustin Johnson. What do they have in common? They aren’t European. The hiatus will continue in 2016.