Eurosport - Wed, 07 Apr 15:08:00 2010
Thirteen players from Britain and Ireland will tee up at Augusta - we assess their hopes of slipping on the Green Jacket come Sunday night.
Lee Westwood (world ranking: 4th)
When Worksop's finest professional sportsman three-putted the final green at Turnberry to miss a play-off for The Open by a shot, it set alarm bells ringing: for all his fine golf and near misses in events of all sizes and levels of importance, Westwood had seemingly forgotten how to finish the job.
Victory at the Portugal Masters late last summer slayed that particular dragon, and he followed up with another sublime win to become the inaugural European Tour Race to Dubai champion.
Can he now take the next step? There is no doubt that his golf is good enough, but despite his European heroics last season there is still a huge question mark over his ability to get over the line on the biggest stages. Here's hoping...
Paul Casey (6th)
It's a year this week since Casey won his first tournament on US soil, but after an injury-affected season he never really had the chance to ride the wave last season.
But if he's fit - and that's a very big if, according to the latest report - Casey can certainly win this week. A runner-up spot at the WGC Match Play and a pair of top-10 finishes in the US since then point to his game being in top shape.
Like Westwood, however, Casey has a questionable record when opportunity comes knocking in Majors. He had a wonderful chance to win in 2008, being up around the lead early in the final round, but collapsed appallingly to slip down to 11th. He needs to find a way to turn pressure into birdies - let's hope he gets a chance this year.
Ian Poulter (7th)
For so many years the Anna Kournikova of golf - eye-catching for a long list of non-sporting reasons, but not a top-drawer player - Poulter has truly come of age in the last 12 months. He finally broke a two-year victory drought in Singapore last year, and followed it in February with a career-defining victory at the WGC Match Play.
And there's more: ever since he holed a putt on the final green on the 2008 Open at Royal Birkdale - to possibly make a play-off, given the leaderboard at the time - he knows he can handle any level of pressure that the game has to offer.
He may well not get into the shakedown, but if he does then Poulter is Britain's best hope of producing a first Masters winner since Nick Faldo in 1996.
Padraig Harrington (10th)
After winning three Majors in 13 months in 2007 and 2008 the Irishman looked set to challenge the dominance of even Tiger Woods in golf's greatest tournaments.
But it just didn't happen. Instead, he became a model of inconsistency, with a lukewarm Masters last year being followed by a run of six missed cuts in seven tournaments, a sequence that he followed just a month or so later with an astonishing seven top-10 finishes in eight tournaments.
Yet Padraig is ready to challenge once more, with a third place at Doral showing that his game is approaching top form. He loves Augusta, and has the weapons to cope with the place: distance, a wonderful short game, and one of the best putting strokes in the business. No wonder he has been close several times before: he tied for 5th in 2002 and 2008. If he gets a shot at glory then we all know he has the ability to pull the trigger.
Rory McIlroy (11th)
Golf's next megastar must be bursting at the seams by now: on his Masters debut last year he tied for 20th, then earned a top-10 spot at the US Open and a tied for third at the US PGA Championship. He might be winless since early 2009, he might have flopped in his three US events so far this season, but this is a player who can turn it on overnight: he was in shaky form before that US PGA showing last August.
In fact, his recent lack of form will probably only serve to take the pressure off - and maybe let his undeniable star quality shine through.
Luke Donald (22nd)
Donald is a true conundrum. They call him 'ATM' on the US circuit for his habit of final-round flourishes which send him up the leaderboard and fluff up his bank balance. It's that consistency that has kept his world ranking so high; but for all the promise he showed early in his career it looks certain that he has hit a glass ceiling. Now approaching his mid-thirties and winless for four years, it's time to file Donald under 'good player' rather than 'potential Major champion'.
Ross Fisher (27th)
A couple of slips late in his final round cost him a chance of US Open glory last year, but the way that he handled himself while in contention was fantastically impressive. Fisher looks a gritty competitor, as his excellent record in match play events bears out; but with terrible form so far this season he looks like being a long shot rather than a contender this week.
Oliver Wilson (39th)
This time last year, European golf's nearly-man was ranked 39th in the world, was one of Britain's brightest young talents, and despite a string of near-misses was still yet to win a tournament on either of the main tours.
This year, European golf's nearly-man is ranked 39th in the world, is one of Britain's brightest young talents, and despite several more near misses is still yet to win a tournament on either of the main tours.
Wilson had plenty of insider knowledge on his Masters debut last year - he was a student at Augusta State - but still missed the cut, and Augusta is probably not the place that any golfer will break their victory duck.
Graeme McDowell (50th)
We'd love to see the Ulsterman do well at Augusta, and he could easily spring a surprise by finishing as the top contender from Britain and Ireland. Top-20 finishes in all three US-based Majors last year suggests that the former University of Alabama player enjoys the pressures of top-level golf across the Atlantic; and his T6 finish at Doral a few weeks ago suggests that he is coming into the sort of form where he could be a factor. A win seems unlikely - he hasn't picked up a title of any kind for nearly two years - but he might just get into the mix.
Simon Dyson (56th)
A barnstorming late-season run fired Dyson from journeyman status to European Tour star as he won the KLM Open and Dunhill Links - but the open spaces and firm turf of links golf in northern Europe won't be much good to him on the manicured fairways of Augusta. Expect his Masters debut to last no more than 36 holes. Or 45, if you count the pre-event par-3 tournament.
Chris Wood (77th)
Staggeringly unlucky not to make the play-off for The Open last year - his perfect shot down the final hole nearly knocked the pin out, but took a hard bounce and ran off the back - but at least his third-place finish earned him a first appearance at The Masters. Majors seem to bring out the best in him - he was fifth at The Open the year before while still an amateur - and with his long hitting and silky short game he might just claim best debutant honours.
Sandy Lyle (831st); Ian Woosnam (1348th)
Sandy stunned the world last year when he earned a top-20 finish at Augusta, his best display in the Masters since he won in 1988. Don't expect a repeat performance, though: as nice as it is to watch him and Woosie strolling the fairways once more, it's only a matter of time before two of the great lions of European golf are reducing to the whimpering pussy cat status of ceremonial starters.
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