By Mark Lamport-Stokes
AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - European golfers have endured a 17-year title drought at the Masters after dominating the tournament for two decades, a barren run that three-times winner Nick Faldo says can only be explained by "cycles".
The Englishman, along with Spaniards Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal and Germany's Bernhard Langer, spearheaded a formidable European wave at Augusta National that produced 11 victories in a 20-year span.
Since then, however, the continent has repeatedly fallen short at the year's opening major championship, despite frequently having former world number ones Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer and Luke Donald in title contention, among others.
"It has to be cycles," Faldo told Reuters outside the iconic clubhouse at Augusta National when asked about Europe's barren title run since Olazabal's 1999 victory. "I'm sure everybody is motivated and everything.
"We just had a run where European golf was very dominant, led by Seve, and we did have an amazing run because you can't put your finger on how we did it. We've got nothing like this (the slick greens of Augusta National) in Europe.
"For European golfers, on the style of courses we played back then, to come here and play was chalk and cheese. I don't know how we really did that, to be honest," the former world number one said with a chuckle.
Faldo, one of only three players who have claimed back-to-back Masters victories, could not explain why the likes of four-times major winner McIlroy and double major champion Kaymer had not yet tasted success at Augusta.
"Everybody is in there and everybody is trying their best but I guess it's the way the universe has been spinning, that's all I can say, because everybody is good enough (to win the Masters)," Faldo said.
"Mind you, Tiger (Woods) came in there and messed things up for a while and Phil (Mickelson) has won three so there's a bunch of chances that have gone with those two guys."
Woods claimed four Masters titles between 1997 and 2005 while fellow American Mickelson triumphed in 2004, 2006 and 2010.
World number three McIlroy is bidding this week to complete a career grand slam of golf's four majors and Faldo likes the Northern Irishman's prospects.
"Rory is motivated, and he's got a good chance if his distance control is good with his irons," he said. "But he's got to hole putts to keep the momentum going. As soon as you miss a couple too many, you can get really dejected out there."
Another potential European contender this week is Swede Henrik Stenson, the world number six who has triumphed four times on the PGA Tour but is still seeking his first major crown at the age of 40.
"Stenson has been playing great, but he's 40 years old and if he's going to do it, he'd better crack on," said Faldo who won the Masters in 1989, 1990 and 1996.
The Englishman then sounded a note of caution about the weather forecast for Thursday's opening round when thunderstorms have been predicted to follow overnight rain.
"With the rough weather, you could be coming on great and you just do the wrong thing a couple of times out there and your week can be done," Faldo said.
"The greens are already firm, but if it blows a little harder, then your comfort zone on this golf course ... just trying to get the thing on the green in the right place and then you've got to putt in blustery weather, wow! Good luck!"
(Editing by Larry Fine)