NEWLY-crowned FedEx Champion Rory McIlroy has had many incredible highs in his stellar career… but if he could take one tournament back, it would be the Omega European Masters of 11 years ago.
The Northern Irishman was playing his rookie European Tour season and while he had put in some excellent performances, the then 19-year-old had yet to claim that maiden win.
After three days at Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club he held a four-shot lead and while that had been narrowed on Sunday, he stood over a five-foot par putt on the last that would have seen him lift the trophy.
His effort slid by and Frenchman Jeff Lucquin went on to win the play-off and claim his only European Tour title.
The four-time Major winner and Ryder Cup star has gone on to savour some sensational moments over the years, earning €36million in prize money in Europe alone since 2007.
After the high of last week at East Lake in Atlanta when he claimed the $15million prize, his next target is to reclaim the World No. 1 spot, starting with a positive performance in Crans Montana.
McIlroy, the current World No. 2, said: “I had a wonderful opportunity to win my first event on Tour here.
“I was leading going into the last day, had a one-shot lead playing the last and wasn’t able to make par from there.
“I was beaten in the play-off. It’s still to this day the one event I think of that I would like to re-do – get a mulligan.
“The first time I was here I fell in love with the place, the people, the atmosphere. I’m glad that it worked out this year that I could be here.
“I would like to give myself another chance at least,” said McIlroy, who saw-off World No. 1 Brooks Koepka, who had put Rory to the sword in the WGC Fedex St Jude Invitational in Memphis last month, when the two went head-to-head in the last group in Georgia, on Sunday.
“I think Brooks (Koepka) has got about a three-point lead on me. I don’t know if that’s attainable with the tournaments I have left.
“I saw somewhere that there are more world ranking points on offer here than there have been for eight years,” added McIlroy, who was keen to prove a point by beating Koepka to claim his second FedEx Cup after his victory in 2016.
“Wentworth is obviously big for world ranking points. There’s a WGC coming up. There’s still a lot to play for. That’s my focus for the rest of the year, getting closer to that number one spot.”
Matthew Fitzpatrick is driven by two targets of his own as he goes in search of a third consecutive win at the Omega European Masters.
The Englishman is aiming to become the first player to win the title three years in a row and match the great Seve Ballesteros as a three-time winner of the event in the Swiss Alps.
Another victory at the breathtaking Swiss venue would also ensure the five-time European Tour winner has been victorious in every full season he has been on Tour – and in what could be a good omen, he has Ballesteros’ former caddie Billy Foster on his bag.
Fitzpatrick, from Hallamshire GC, in Sheffield, said: “I’m definitely thinking about winning again. Having won here the last two years, it is a big thing for me.
“I absolutely love coming to back this place, I have since I first came here in 2014. I try to win at least once every season. Obviously, winning five seasons in a row would also be a big deal for me.
“There is a stronger field this year. Also, the course has had a few changes to it. But if I can play my own game and play the way I’ve played in this place, there is no reason I can’t get a good result.
“I think he (Billy Foster) is feeling the pressure more than me. He’s interested in seeing how I play and how I see the course.
“We’ve got a good relationship and had a good season so far,” added Fitzpatrick.
The stellar field also includes a man who is hoping home comforts can inspire him to a second victory in the mountains.
Sergio Garcia lifted the trophy in 2005 and has never finished outside of the top 20 in five appearances.
The Spanish Major winner is so taken with the stunning surroundings that he owns a house just 100 yards from the Ballesteros-designed golf course, where he has spent the last week with wife Angela and daughter Azalea.S
Garcia, the 2017 Masters winner, said: “It’s always fun to play here in Crans. We live here some part of the year so it’s nice to sleep in your own bed and be at home.
“We’re excited for it, of course it looks really nice and the views are always unbelievable. We’ve been here for just over the week so we’ve done a little bit of practice and it’s nice to have Angela and Azalea with me.
“I’ve always enjoyed these kind of golf courses – tight, not particularly long but you have to drive the ball well and you have to be accurate. That’s usually the courses that I thrive on.
“There’s no doubt it is the Seve Ballesteros golf course so it’s good to be here and we always remember him.
“It’s a shame that he’s not with us but it’s nice to be playing here at his designed golf course and hopefully we’ll make him proud.”
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