By John Huggan
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- As a group, they've achieved almost everything else in this century. Five Ryder Cup wins over the Americans. Eight major championship victories. And countless tournament triumphs across the globe. But so far in this century, no European golfer has donned a green jacket.
It's an oddity, as even a glance at the Official World Golf Ranking over the past 12 and-a-bit years shows only too clearly. Even more so when one considers that not so very long ago, the Old World came close to dominating the youngest of the four most important titles in the game. Between 1980 and 1999, six European stars (Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam and Jose Maria Olazabal) pulled on golf's most famous garment. But, since then: nothing.
So what's the deal? What's going on here? Why has this clearly gifted and talented generation of Euros failed so miserably on a course where their immediate predecessors flourished so memorably?
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"The crop of really good European players that has emerged over the last decade or so have all -- apart from Luke Donald -- been marginal putters," contends leading coach and CBS commentator Peter Kostis. "Except during the Ryder Cup. Ian Poulter has certainly displayed some great skill on the greens in that environment, but I'm not sure he has the ball striking to win the Masters. Then again, he is now better in that area than he has ever been. So you never know.
"Back in the days when Faldo, Ballesteros, Olazabal and Langer were winning the Masters, what they all had in common was great putting. The last line of defense at Augusta National is the fiercely sloping greens. So if you can't putt, you can't score well there.
"I think Rory McIlroy would have won a couple of years ago if he had been a better putter. The putts he missed early on in the final round seemed to rattle him. Had he made those, I think he would have calmed down and the back-nine debacle that did ensue would not have happened."
Still, Kostis is not one who feels that the dearth of European victories since Olazabal's second in 1999 is going to last much longer.
"Rory is a better putter than he was two years ago," he says. "So is Lee Westwood. Which will improve their chances of victory. I think Rory has the best opportunity though. He went to see (former USPGA champion and renowned putting coach) Dave Stockton right after the disappointment of 2011 and made himself a better putter. He knew that had let him down."
While the Kostis theory makes sense, Donald wasn't reading too much into the last 14 years of futility.
"Does it surprise me?" asks the former world No. 1. "Nothing surprises me in golf anymore. But the fields are a lot deeper and anyone can win on a given week. But there's a bunch of great European players right now. So we certainly have as good a chance as anyone else."
Englishman Paul Casey, absent this year from Augusta for the first time since 2006, is another who sees hope for the immediate future.
"What may make a difference is that so many of our guys are playing more golf in the U.S.," he says. "That will better prepare them for the majors and Augusta in particular. But the bottom line is that I have no idea why a European hasn't won at Augusta in so long. Sometimes weird stuff just happens. Look at this year on the PGA Tour; an American won every event until last week in San Antonio. That's impossible to explain. It's like ten reds in succession coming up on the roulette wheel.
"It's strange, but it does happen."