Golf: Masters change hinders Europe

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WHILE SIX former winners of the US Masters from Europe are on the preliminary list of invitees for this year's tournament, the first of the season's four majors remains the least Euro-friendly.

Only 13 of the names on a list of 99 are from this side of the Atlantic, the six former champions, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam and Jose Maria Olazabal. Others are Colin Montgomerie, Darren Clarke and Per-Ulrik Johansson, who all finished in the top 24 last year, plus Lee Westwood, Jesper Parnevik, Thomas Bjorn and the British Amateur champion, Sergio Garcia.

Bjorn was controversially omitted last year when he was the only member of the 1997 Ryder Cup teams not to play at Augusta National. His call- up this time is because of the new system of inviting the leading 50 players from the world rankings at the end of 1998. Greg Norman, who missed most of last season after shoulder surgery, is among those to gain entry from the new exemption category.

Although there are no strict guidelines for invitations to leading players on the European Order of Merit, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Patrik Sjoland, who finished fourth and fifth in Europe last season, would have expected an envelope with an Augusta postmark. But the pair will have to try and qualify by being in the world's top 50 a month before the 8 to 11 April tournament. Sjoland is currently 51st, Jimenez 55th.

This unsatisfactory arrangement will not please Ken Schofield, the executive director of the European Tour, whose campaign for better European representation at the game's biggest showpieces has been better received at the US Open and the USPGA Championship.

Yet it is at Augusta where most success has been found. From Ballesteros's first win in 1980 to Faldo's third in 1996, Europeans claimed the US Masters 10 times.