European Success at the Masters

Following two European successes in a row at the Masters, looks back on the continent’s big victors among the azaleas.

When Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose entered a play-off at the 2017 Masters Tournament, it became a certainty that a European would triumph at Augusta National for the second consecutive year.

Garcia ultimately prevailed, holing his birdie putt on the first play-off hole to seal a long awaited first Major Championship and become the eighth European golfer – including four multiple winners— to wear the Green Jacket.

The first

In 1980, Spanish golfing legend Seve Ballesteros solidified his place in history when, at the age of 23, he became the first European player to win the Masters— shooting 13 under par to finish four shots ahead of American Gibby Gilbert and Jack Newton of Australia.

Three years later Ballesteros once again entered the record books as the first two-time European Masters Champion.

Red-hot Europe

Germany’s Bernhard Langer became the second European to beat the world’s best at Augusta National when he shot six under par to win in 1985. That victory was the first in a decade of dominance, with European players winning eight times between 1985 and 1996— including a four in a row streak for players from the United Kingdom from 1988 to 1991.

Scotland’s Sandy Lyle became the third European to  wear the Green Jacket when he birdied the final hole to beat American Mark Calcavecchia by one shot in 1988. Lyle, who celebrates the 30th anniversary of his win this year, kicked off a four year run of consecutive European champions.

Following Lyle’s lead, Sir Nick Faldo won his first Masters title in 1989. Faldo overcame a third round 77, shooting 65 on the final day before birdieing the second play-off hole to defeat American Scott Hoch.

The next year, Faldo became the first—and still only— European to win the Masters in back-to-back years, once again defeating an American, Ray Floyd, on the second hole of a sudden-death play-off.

The European dominance continued with Welshman Ian Woosnam in 1991. Playing in the final pairing with Tom Watson, Woosnam came to the 72nd hole tied with both the American and José Maria Olazábal, who was in the group ahead. Woosnam holed an eight foot putt for par, and the win, as both of his challengers failed to make four at the 18th on Sunday.

American Fred Couples ended the European streak by winning in 1992, but Bernhard Langer took the Green Jacket back across the Atlantic one year later, becoming the third European after Ballesteros and Faldo to win multiple Masters tournaments.

The following year Olazábal made it six European wins in seven years when he claimed his first of two Masters titles, outlasting American Tom Lehman by shooting nine under par to win by two shots.

Norman’s loss, Europe’s gain

The 60th edition of the Masters is perhaps better known for the man who failed to win the tournament than the man who did.

Taking a six-shot lead into the final round in 1996, Greg Norman appeared to have one arm in the Green Jacket. It was not meant to be as Norman collapsed in historic fashion, relinquishing the lead to a surging Faldo, who shot the low round of the day—a five under par 67. In doing so, Faldo became the first, and still only, European to win three Masters titles.

In 1999 Norman was once again in great position to become the first Australian to win the Masters. Paired in the final twosome with Olazábal, Norman eagled the par five 13th, inching closer to the title. A determined Olazábal responded with a birdie of his own and when Norman made bogey at the 15th, the Spaniard took charge—not dropping a shot the rest of the way to join Ballesteros, Faldo and Langer as a multiple Masters Champion.

Willett ends the drought

In the two decades following Ballesteros’ 1980 victory, European professionals won over half of the titles at Augusta National. The years that followed were not as kind to the continent

By 2016 it had been 17 years since Olazabal slipped on the Green Jacket for the second time, and it appeared the European drought would continue. Defending champion Jordan Spieth was in top form through the first 65 holes of the tournament. However, as it is often stated, “the Masters does not begin until the back nine on Sunday.”

The American hit two balls into Rae’s Creek at the 12th and Danny Willett, who was several groups ahead, rode the momentum of a bogey-free round all the way to Butler Cabin, where he received his Green Jacket from the heartbroken Spieth.

Appropriately a new streak began on what would have been the 60th birthday of the late Ballesteros—the first European to win the Masters. Sergio Garcia ended his frustration at Major Championships to become the third Spaniard to wear the Green Jacket, with an emotional victory inspired by his countrymen and heroes Ballesteros and Olazábal.

This year, there are 22 Europeans in the field at Augusta and they are all aiming to be the third consecutive Masters Champion from the continent.


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