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Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland failed to make the cut at the Masters.
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland failed to make the cut at the Masters.

European golfers stuck in the shadows at Augusta

Potential Ryder Cup players have not performed well at The Masters in Augusta, raising concerns for captain Colin Montgomerie.

Whenever European golfers travel en masse to take on their US counterparts, Ryder Cup psychology always rises to the surface. The Masters provided the perfect platform for Colin Montgomerie's soldiers to demonstrate their firepower in readiness for their attempt to regain their sport's most coveted knockout trophy at Celtic Manor in early October.

With the exception of the admirable Lee Westwood, who carried a precious one-stroke lead into last night's tense final round, and his English compatriot Ian Poulter, Europe's top performer in the crushing 2008 defeat at Valhalla, Monty's army have been overwhelmingly outgunned on the scenic battlefield of the Augusta National. Assuming Montgomerie's European team of 12 comes from the top 15 on the world points list going into to the first of the season's four major tournaments, the captain is seriously short of in-form lieutenants.

While Westwood, who firmly endorsed himself as the European Tour's leading player by winning the year-ending Dubai World Championship and with it the Order of Merit (now called the Race to Dubai), and Poulter have confirmed their standing as top two in the Ryder Cup qualifying table, those closest to challenging them have endured Masters nightmares. Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Martin Kaymer and Paul Casey, who occupy places three to six on that world points list, all embarrassingly failed to make the halfway cut in an elite Augusta field.

Of that quartet, Harrington is causing the greatest concern. The Irishman is a pale shadow of the player who looked like taking the world by storm by winning three major championships in a 15-month purple patch. It is nearly two years since he last triumphed on either of the main tours. Of less concern to Montgomerie but slowly becoming an issue is McIlroy's failure to add to the single European Tour victory in the Dubai Desert Classic last year.

McIlroy, still a month short of 21-year-old maturity, was probably the biggest European disappointment at Augusta. He admitted to thinking long and hard over his decision to devote more time to playing on the US PGA Tour this year. The outstanding Irish talent may now be questioning the wisdom of that crucial career call. Four of the other eight players from that top European 15 who travelled to Georgia in search of a maiden major victory - Edoardo Molinari, Simon Dyson, Alvaro Quiros and Luke Donald - also fell by the wayside before the serious weekend business began.

Sweden's Henrik Stenson, a stalwart of recent Ryder Cup gatherings, was another surprise early casualty in what is his first year of commitment to both main tours, along with two other English contenders for Cup places - Oliver Wilson and Ross Fisher. Montgomerie, who has always led from the front in the biennial clashes with the Americans, would have wanted and expected more representation at the top of the Masters leaderboard in view of the fact that six Europeans occupy places in the world's top 12.

Corey Pavin, the US team captain, had a much more satisfying Masters. Most of his big guns in the Celtic Manor reckoning made the Augusta cut with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson looking like they have never been away from the sharp end of the main events. Only Stewart Cink, the British Open champion, and Jim Furyk were unexpected early departures. Europe remain justifiably confident of recapturing the Ryder Cup on home soil and enhancing their splendid recent record of five wins in the last seven clashes. But the first bragging rights of what should be a fascinating 2010 campaign have undoubtedly gone to the trophy holders.

wjohnson@thenational.ae

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