Sunday, September 27

Global golf changes face of Masters

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US players domination may be thing of past, Harrington believes

AUGUSTA, Georgia: Golf has gone global and the domination of the Masters by US players may be a thing of the past, Irishman Padraig Harrington believes.The three-time major winner is rated among the favourites for this week’s 73rd edition of the tournament, and if he dons the green jacket on Sunday, it will be a third straight year that a foreign player has won following South African Trevor Immelman in 2008 and Argentina’s Angel Carbera last year.

The signs of change are evident elsewhere with just three US wins in the last eight Majors, two Englishmen contesting the recent final of the World Golf Championships Match-Play and 11 non-US players currently in the world top 20.

It’s all a reflection of what is happening on the US PGA Tour, which has seen a sizeable increase in the number of foreign players competing in recent years, Harrington believes.

“I think close to 50 per cent of the US Tour are international players at this stage,” he said.

“There are more opportunities for European players and worldwide players to play and build their game, and I think we are seeing the benefits of that.

“I think, also, with the likes of the Tournament Players Championship, 10 years ago, there were not that many international players and certainly not that many European players playing in it.

“Now you have a host of them with the top 50 in the world qualifying, a whole host of Europeans getting in, and the more that play obviously increases the chance of winning.

“So we are getting better and we are getting more opportunities.”

It isn’t the first time of course that the Masters has been subject to a foreign invasion.

From the inaugural tournament in 1934 until 1979, only South African Gary Player, on three occasions, managed to break the US stranglehold.

But from 1980, when Spain’s Seve Ballesteros won for the first time, European players won nine times in 15 years — testimony to the exceptional talents of such as Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam and Jose Maria Olazabal.

This time around, the threat is not just in terms of quality but also quantity.

This year’s field sees home players easily outnumbered by foreigners hailing from such diverse locations as Europe, Australia, South Africa and Asia.

It’s all indicative of the global nature of the modern game, European Ryder Cup skipper Colin Montgomerie believes.

“What has happened is that you in America here set the standards and did right through the ’80s and then we caught up. I’m not saying we in Europe, I’m saying we in the world. I’m saying the South Africans, the Australians, the Asians and the Europeans caught up,” he said.

“We now have an Asian winner of a Major. The CA Championship at Doral, there was one American in the top 10 and there was only one American in the top eight of the Accenture Match Play. So there’s a changing of the guard, no question.”

England’s Paul Casey, another of the favourites here this week, believes that the numbers game also helps the cause of foreign players as they create rivalries among players from the same countries.

The World No. 6 has ambitions to become the first Englishman since Nick Faldo in 1996 to win the Masters but he has stern opposition from close friends Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood.

“We’ve got to produce results now,” said Casey, one of eight Englishmen in action at Augusta.

“I want to do it because otherwise (Ian) Poulter and (Lee) Westwood or the others are going to beat me to it.” — AFP