Rose, Casey stand as Europe's best bets after Day 1
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- When Scotland's Paul Lawrie was crowned Open champion at Carnoustie back in 1999, few would have bet on it being eight years before another European golfer would win any of golf's four most important titles.
But that's what happened. Not until Irishman Padraig Harrington won the game's oldest championship on its return to the fearsome Angus links in 2007 did the Old World find new life.
Equally, as Jose Maria Olazabal marched triumphantly up Augusta National's final fairway en route to claiming a second green jacket in '99, perhaps no one would have wagered even a pittance on European fans having to wait at least 16 more years before one of their own would again win the Masters.
But that's what has happened.
It's an odd thing, meaningless in itself -- but strange when one considers that six European players shared 11 Masters victories between 1980 and 1996. And even stranger after even a cursory glance at the quality golfers the perennial Ryder Cup winners have produced since the halcyon days of Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Bernhard Langer and Sandy Lyle.
But even as Harrington, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy have picked off the other three major titles over the last eight years, another green jacket has remained elusive. Perhaps not surprisingly given that recent record of futility -- McIlroy and world number two Henrik Stenson apart - most of the pre-Masters favorites this year were Americans.
This time round, things don't look that much better for Europe in the early going. Of the 28-strong contingent in Augusta this week, only Rose (67) and Casey (69) broke 70 on the opening day.
Both have something to prove. Former US Open champion Rose arrived on the back of three missed cuts in his last five events. And Casey, perhaps the most naturally gifted of the group of Englishmen - Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Rose and Luke Donald - hailed as the next Golden Age of European players, is three years removed from his last Masters appearance.
"I don't think Paul has liked being out of the limelight," said Rose of his compatriot. "It's been a while since he has been talked about in the same breath as myself, Luke and Lee. But I was paired with him last week and he played very well. His driving was especially good. It was good to see."
Now, of course, all they have to do is catch Jordan Spieth. Good luck with that one.