Continental Europe will seek to end the domination of Britain & Ireland in the Vivendi Seve Trophy when both teams square off this week on the golf course of Saint-Nom-la-Breteche.
“It’s time to win for Europe,” Raphael Jacquelin of France said Wednesday. “There’s no reason why we can’t gain this trophy this year.”
VIVENDI SEVE TROPHY
At the encouragement of Seve Ballesteros, the European Tour created the Vivendi Seve Trophy in 2000 as a Ryder Cup-style event to be played in non-Ryder Cup years.
Spanish golf legend Seve Ballesteros created the Vivendi Seve Trophy, a biennial competition, to help Europeans get more match-play experience outside the Ryder Cup.
Continental Europe won the inaugural contest in 2000 at Sunningdale in England before Britain & Ireland won it five straight times.
“We are 5-1 down in the series and I hope we can reverse the trend,” said Jean van de Velde, who will captain Continental Europe for the first time.
Van de Velde was a member of the team that won in 2000 and hopes the passionate home crowd will spur Continental Europe to victory.
“I am honored to be nominated for the role at a venue I know so well and one where I am certain we will receive great support from the French public,” Van de Velde said.
Continental Europe will compete without its highest-ranked player, Martin Kaymer of Germany, while Britain & Ireland will miss the top-ranked Luke Donald and the last two U.S. Open champions, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.
Despite those high-profile absentees, both teams remain strong as all their players are in the top 40 of the European Tour.
“I think on paper the European side have got players higher in the world rankings,” Englishman Lee Westwood said. “But I think a lot of the British players have played a lot of match-play golf over the years and might have a few tricks up their sleeves.”
All the players on the Continental Europe team are in the world top 100, while Britain & Ireland have three players ranked outside the top 100: Mark Foster, Robert Rock, and Scott Jamieson.
Britain & Ireland will rely on the second-ranked Westwood, British Open winner Darren Clarke and World Match Play champion Ian Poulter to defend its title.
“It is a huge boost for our team that players of the caliber of Lee, Darren and Ian have opted to play,” said Paul McGinley, who will captain Britain & Ireland. “These are players with big worldwide reputations and impressive Ryder Cup pedigrees.”
McGinley won the event as a player in 2002 and 2005 and captained Britain & Ireland to victory in 2009.
Anders Hansen, Thomas Bjorn and Miguel Angel Jimenez will lead the challenge for Continental Europe. Jimenez has participated in every edition of this event, Bjorn clinched three titles this year and Hansen finished third at the PGA Championship in August.
Play starts with five fourball matches on Thursday, followed by five more fourballs on Friday, four greensomes and four foursomes on Saturday and 10 singles matches on Sunday.
Jimenez will hit the first tee shot on Thursday in honor of fellow Spaniard Ballesteros, who died in May from complications related to a brain tumor.
Rock, Simon Dyson and Ross Fisher are the only returnees from the 10-man side which won two years ago. Continental Europe has just four holdovers -- Hansen, Jimenez, Francesco Molinari and Peter Hanson.
Westwood, Poulter, Fisher, Jimenez, Molinari and Hanson were on the European team that beat the United States in the Ryder Cup last year.
Westwood, making his first appearance in the event since 2003, is a Ryder Cup veteran and looking forward to playing in a team competition again. The 38-year-old is getting back into gear following a much-needed break after August's PGA Championship but does not feel the layoff has affected his consistency.
"I had a couple of weeks off after the PGA and basically just laid on the beach and did some waterskiing," he added. "When I came back my swing felt out of synch and rusty but I've managed to finished sixth and fifth in the last two events. To say I haven't played my best those kind of results show the level of golf I play now and my average is not that average.
"It's eight years since I played the Seve Trophy and obviously there's a tinge of sadness this year with Seve (Ballesteros) passing away early in the year,” he added. "But it's a good lineup and I'm sure in the true Seve tradition it will be as competitive as ever. It’s a chance to honor Seve's name as well."
Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez will have the honor of hitting the first tee shot in the opening fourballs in honor of his late friend Ballesteros after McGinley relinquished the visiting team's right to be first off.
Teammate Matteo Manassero, on his Seve Trophy debut, will surpass another Spaniard Sergio Garcia to become the youngest player in the event.
"Seve was my idol and I never got to know him that well but I met him once and that meant a lot for me," said the 18-year-old Italian, already the youngest British Amateur Champion and youngest player to make the cut at the Masters.
"But it means even more for my first chance in the event to be when we are missing him for the first time,” he added. "We're going to hopefully give him a great honor."
Continental Europe: Francesco Molinari (Italy), Anders Hansen (Denmark), Thomas Bjorn (Denmark), Matteo Manassero (Italy), Raphael Jacquelin (France), Alexander Noren (Sweden), Pablo Larrazabal (Spain), Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spain), Nicolas Colsaerts (Belgium), Peter Hanson (Sweden).
Britain & Ireland: Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Darren Clarke, Simon Dyson, Ross Fisher, Mark Foster, Robert Rock, Jamie Donaldson, David Horsey, Scott Jamieson.