For a tournament that had lacked a clear favorite, it has one now.
“It seems that everyone has pretty much got Mickelson in the green jacket Sunday evening, and there’s not much use in turning up at this point,” McDowell said with a grin. “He’s a great player around Augusta, and if you finish ahead of him, you’ve got a decent chance.”
All McDowell wants is a shot on the back nine Sunday.
That would be a good starting point for Europe to win the only major that has eluded it over the last 11 years.
Westwood was just starting to get good as a junior when Faldo won the Masters in back-to-back years. Then came Ian Woosnam in 1991, winning with a par on the 18th hole in a year in which Olazabal and Tom Watson were tied for the lead going to the last hole.
Francesco Molinari remembers Olazabal coming back from a career-threatening injury to win in 1999.
“For every European, it was inspiring,” Molinari said. “It’s been awhile, but I think we’re ready for another run.”
Poulter was folding shirts and selling candy bars in a golf shop in England toward the end of the European run. He remembers Woosnam winning, and Langer and Olazabal in back-to-back years. And no one could forget Faldo winning his last green jacket in 1996 when he rallied from a six-shot deficit against Norman.
“They were just so strong,” Poulter said. “They were on the board every year. They were the best in the game around that era. I guess it’s been awhile since you’ve had those guys back in that position. But if you look at Europe in the world ranking now, we’ve filled that back with guys who are definitely going to have a chance.”
It would be surprising if Europe didn’t show itself when the Masters begins Thursday. Donald, Casey and Rose each have flirted with contention over the years, and Harrington appeared to take a step forward last week with his play in Houston.
The best proof is not the names, but the numbers.
Beyond the ranking, Europeans keep showing up at the top of World Golf Championships - Donald, Molinari and Poulter have won three of the last five. And then there was that little exhibition at Celtic Manor in October, with Europe winning the Ryder Cup again.
Now comes the first major of the year. What once were hopes for Europe now are expectations.
“There’s no shortage of great players, especially in Britain and Ireland,” said McDowell, who played a full practice round Monday with Poulter and Rose. This current crop of European players has been compared with Woosie, Ollie, Ballesteros, Lyle, Faldo and Langer. I think if you compared them with this crop, yeah, you’ve got to start suggesting that it’s time to start winning the Masters.