- Associated Press - Monday, April 4, 2011

AUGUSTA, GA. (AP) - A green jacket defined the golden era of European golf.

For the better part of two decades, Europeans seemed to have part-ownership of Augusta National by winning the Masters six times in a seven-year stretch, and 11 times in the 1980s and 1990s. Seve Ballesteros was the first European in a green jacket. Nick Faldo won three times. Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer and Olazabal each won twice.

Perhaps it was only fitting that when the world ranking made its debut in 1986 at the Masters, the top three were Europeans.

“It would be nice to recreate some of that magic,” Justin Rose said Monday under the large oak tree next to the Augusta National clubhouse. “And I think this is as good a time as any.”

On paper, European golf has never been stronger.

They have won two of the last three majors _ Martin Kaymer in a playoff at the PGA Championship, Graeme McDowell at Pebble Beach in the U.S. Open. Padraig Harrington was the last player to win successive majors, at the end of 2008.

And then there’s the world ranking.

Europe would have had the top five spots except for Phil Mickelson winning the Houston Open to go to No. 3. As it is, Kaymer and Westwood are Nos. 1 and 2, with Luke Donald, McDowell and Paul Casey at Nos. 4-5-6. Tiger Woods is at No. 7.

About the only thing missing from this new era of European dominance is a green jacket.

“It’s been too long,” said Ian Poulter, among those determined to change this trend. “There’s more guys with more chances.”

Olazabal was the last European to win the Masters, holding off Greg Norman in the final round in 1999. A year later, no Europeans were among the top 10 at the Masters, and none came particularly close to winning except for Westwood last year when he was runner-up by three shots to Mickelson.

Europe now seems more poised than ever.

In the middle of that great European run from two decades ago, they had four of the top 10 in the world. Now there are six Europeans in the top 10, and nine of the top 20.

“If you look at the guys who compete week in and week out, we’ve got more now than what we had 15 years ago,” Poulter said. “There’s definitely more of a chance now. But you’ve got a lot of good players to go up again. Tiger and Phil have won quite a few of these jackets over the last few years.”

Woods and Mickelson have combined to win six of the last 10 times at the Masters, although it’s Mickelson who comes into the first major as the biggest favorite. Not only is he the defining champion, Mickelson made 18 birdies on the weekend to win in Houston.

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