Tuesday 23 January 2018

Olazabal tipping European victory

Bernie McGuire

European golfers are ranked one to four in the world, hold the Ryder Cup and have won two of the last three Majors - yet when it comes to Augusta National, they appear to be affected by travel sickness.

It's been 12 years since Jose Maria Olazabal defeated Davis Love III by two strokes to win a second Green Jacket and even those involved in trying to end the drought next week were surprised that it had been that long.

"Did Jose Maria win in '99?" said Padraig Harrington yesterday as he contested the Pro-Am on the Redstone Golf Club course ahead of this week's Shell Houston Open.

"So, he's the last European to win at Augusta? I didn't know that, but then there haven't been that many Europeans winning Majors in that intervening period."

In fact, six Major titles have gone to Europe in the 47 Majors staged since the 1999 Masters, with Harrington collecting three and Paul Lawrie (1999 British Open), Graeme McDowell (2010 US Open) and Martin Kaymer (2010 US PGA Championship) the others.


However, Olazabal, who continues to wear a special Seve Ballesteros bracelet, predicts next week -- with two reigning European Major winners in the field -- that this could easily be the time to end the drought.

"For it to be so long since a European won the Masters is surprising, but overall Europeans have been winning since I won at Augusta," he said.

"You have Padraig who has won three Majors, there's Paul Lawrie who won at Carnoustie and then you have Martin and G-Mac, who won Majors last year.

"So, that's six Major winners since I won in 1999 and six in 12 years is not too bad.

"G-Mac and Martin are both young and fit and their chances are pretty much the same as before.

"Last year Lee (Westwood) was close to winning, so there is a bunch of players that can win and have the game to win at Augusta.

"It's going to be a big lift for Martin and G-Mac to be going there as Major winners. Look at what happened in the late '80s and early '90s when Sandy Lyle won, and Seve won and Woosie (Ian Woosnam) won. Everyone that was competing against them (in Europe) was going to Augusta feeling very confident. We thought to ourselves, if they could win at Augusta, why couldn't we."

Harrington is the only Irish player contesting the $5.9m Houston Open. He has played in every one since the PGA Tour moved the event to the week before Augusta.

And for a first time since he's been coming to Houston, Harrington appears not to have 'mission control' on standby as has been the scenario in recent years.

"I would like to have a strong week here in Houston going into the Masters, but then I don't feel like I have to have one," he said. "There's really nothing that I need to work on this week. My preparation heading to Augusta has been good."

Harrington will tee-off at 12.50 local time (6.50 Irish) in the company of Ernie Els and Gary Woodland, winner of the recent Transitions Championship that was also Harrington's last event in the States.

Olazabal, meanwhile, is grouped with Love III and the pair should have plenty to chat about given their status as Ryder Cup captains for the 2012 even at Medinah.

Shell Houston Open,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 8.0

Irish Independent

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