He was chubby and a bit sunburned, his hairline damp from all
the excitement. Every so often he would peek out from under the
famous oak tree behind the Augusta National clubhouse to cast a
nervous glance at the oversized scoreboard fronting the 18th
green. It had been almost an hour since Lee Westwood had
finished a grueling day on the course, but the pull of the
scoreboard kept him on the hill, waiting for the numbers to
change. "I'm here to root for Ollie," he said. As the sun was
setting on the 63rd Masters, Jose Maria Olazabal's birdie at the
16th hole was finally posted, all but clinching his victory.
Westwood, the 25-year-old Englishman who had been tied for the
lead going into Sunday's back nine, responded with a gap-toothed
grin. For a man who had just lost the most important tournament
of his life, he seemed awfully happy. "European pride," Westwood
said by way of explanation, and who could blame him? Indeed,
this was a Masters to set the flags waving, a show of strength
by three generations of European golfers.
The Europeans took low amateur as well as low pro. Sergio
Garcia, the baby-faced 19-year-old from Castellon, Spain, lived
up to his billing as a can't-miss talent in his first Masters.
Westwood wasn't able to survive the crucible of the back nine,
but his tie for sixth was his best showing in a major
championship, and he proclaimed that one day soon he would be
leaving with a green jacket. Olazabal's Scottish contemporary,
35-year-old Colin Montgomerie, was also forecasting future
victory for himself after finishing 11th, his second straight
strong showing at Augusta. In all, the vastly outnumbered
Europeans placed five players in the top 14, including
long-forgotten warriors Bernhard Langer, 41, and Ian Woosnam,
41, both of whom found the form that had once made them terrors
After dominating the Masters in the 1980s and the first half of
the '90s, the Europeans had won only one of the last four. This
wouldn't have been a big deal were it not for the spectacular
demise of their core players--the so-called Big Five of Langer,
Woosnam, 42-year-old Seve Ballesteros, 41-year-old Nick Faldo
and 41-year-old Sandy Lyle, who have won a combined nine green
jackets. Faldo, his swing and personal life a mess, has become
an international joke; Ballesteros has been driven batty by an
acute case of the driving yips; Lyle has suffered from burnout
and lousy mechanics; Langer and Woosnam, meanwhile, appear to
have been softened up by the complacency that comes with a
comfortable middle age. The Masters has always been golf's
ultimate proving ground, and with the Americans' recent
victories and abundance of young talent, the balance of power
was tipping toward the U.S., even with the Yanks' inexplicable
collapses in the last two Ryder Cups. Last week all that changed.
Olazabal, 33, has emerged as one of the game's dominant players
and personalities. Already, Ollie seems comfortable being the
Europeans' keynote player, saying after his victory, "I hope
this will be a boost for the European tour and will give
momentum to our Ryder Cup team." Increasingly, Montgomerie is
looking like an able wingman. He broke through at the Masters
last year with a tie for eighth, and he proved that was no fluke
with his fine finish this year. "I'm contending, and that's what
it's all about," Montgomerie said on Sunday. "I feel I've got
the talent and the guts to go forward. I just need some good
fortune for a change. The more you play here, the more you
realize that you have to be lucky. Patient is a horrible word,
but that's what I've got to be."
The same goes for thirtysomething stalwarts Per-Ulrik Johansson,
who in the last three Masters has finished 12th, 12th and 24th,
and Jesper Parnevik and Darren Clarke, both of whom missed the
cut this year after making noise in '98. But if the Europeans
are to extend their dominance, they will need the continued
development of a diverse group of players in their 20s, of whom
Westwood is the unquestioned leader. He arrived in Augusta
ranked seventh in the world. He had a series of solid showings
in the majors behind him, although in two previous Masters he
had finished no better than 24th. Westwood opened this year with
rounds of 75 and 71 before moving to within five shots of the
lead with a third-round 68. "Where to miss it, and where not to
miss it, that's all there is to this course," Westwood said last
Saturday. "It's tricky out there, and I'm starting to get it.
Today I played very conservatively and was rewarded."
Trying to make up ground on Sunday, Westwood attacked the front
nine relentlessly, making four birdies to move to five under.
When he stepped to the 10th tee he was in a four-way deadlock
for the lead, with Olazabal, Greg Norman and Steve Pate. "They
always say this tournament starts on the back nine on Sunday,
but you don't realize how true that is until you stand on top of
the hill at number 10," Westwood said. "That view makes you feel
sick. My stomach was in knots."
Westwood dropped four shots over the next three holes, without
hitting any terrible shots. He rebounded with two birdies down
the stretch to shoot 71, one of only seven subpar rounds on a
brutal final day. "It was a brilliant experience," Westwood
said. "I enjoyed every minute of it. You're not going to win
this tournament until you've gained the proper knowledge, and
today I got a lot of it. I will win here."
The Masters didn't have a European champion in its first 46
years, until Ballesteros kicked down the door with his
overwhelming wire-to-wire victory in 1980. He won again in '83,
and in '85 Langer broke through. Three years later the Europeans
began a streak that set the golf world on its ear, winning six
of seven Masters from '88 to '94. "It became like the Super
Bowl, and they were the NFC," says Lee Janzen, who finished tied
for 14th this year. "It got to be a mind-set. They expected to
win, so they did. It was pretty embarrassing for us."
Much of this European success can be traced to what amounts to a
home field advantage. The European courses and their wild and
woolly tour encourage a style of play perfectly suited to
Augusta. "This place is like links golf--hard and fast and fun
to play," says Lyle, who tied for 48th this year. "The course
allows you to express your talents in a different way than the
other major championship courses in this country."
Which would explain why Langer and Woosnam have abysmal records
in the U.S. Open and PGA Championship but play well at Augusta.
Langer's 66 on Friday was a career best at the Masters and the
second-lowest round of the week, and it propelled him to an
11th-place tie. Woosnam challenged for the lead on Sunday but
wound up 14th. Still, it was his best Masters finish since he
won the tournament in 1991. Perhaps the relative success of
these erstwhile Fab Fivers can fire up their contemporaries, as
was the case so many years ago. Says Lyle, "Prior to my victory
at Augusta, I saw Seve and Bernhard win there. To that point I
had a similar record, if not better, so their winning gave me
confidence that I could win, too."
It is this kind of team spirit that could spark another stretch
of sustained dominance among the Europeans. "It's great to see a
European name atop the leader board, and I'm proud of Jose
Maria," Montgomerie said. "I think I'll have to get one of those
jackets for myself, so we can match."
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT BECK Confident man The 25-year-old Westwood, who tied for sixth, says he will win at Augusta before his career is done.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Woosnam ran out of steam on the back nine, but this was his best Masters finish since he won the tournament in '91.