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Ryder Cup's return to Belfry dominates chat at British Masters

Associated Press

Sutton Coldfield, England — The Belfry, the venue for four Ryder Cups between 1987 and 2002, is back as a European Tour venue.

The British Masters, which starts Thursday, has moved to The Belfry from Forest of Arden, its home the last three years.

The British golf season starts this week and nine of the 12 winning members from Oakland Hills in 2004 are playing. Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald and Thomas Levet are the exceptions.

Returning to The Belfry, many after several U.S. tour events, has served to trigger some memories, none more so than Paul McGinley, the Irishman who holed the winning putt in 2002.

"It is a great thrill just to come through the gates, especially as it was me who put the cherry on top by holing the last putt then," McGinley said.

"To have that opportunity and hole that putt in a Ryder Cup is like scoring a goal in the World Cup final," said the Dublin native, who also played in Europe's 2004 victory.

But with a summer of qualifying events ahead, no one is taking for granted their place on this year's team at The K Club in Ireland in September.

If the team were named today instead of Sept. 3, McGinley would be on it.

"But I think this is going to be the strongest team ever. No one backs out of the Ryder Cup anymore. Everyone wants to play," McGinley said. "I think there are so many guys capable of making the team who are all good enough."

Defending British Masters champion Thomas Bjorn puts the figure of legitimate contenders at 20.

"No matter what 12 from that 20 it is going to be, we are going to be standing very strong in Ireland," Bjorn said.

After playing on winning Ryder Cup teams in 1997 and 2002, Bjorn wants his place back after serving as one of captain Bernhard Langer's assistants at Oakland Hills when he failed to qualify.

"I want to be part of a Ryder Cup team," the Dane said. "I feel I'm one of the 12 best players in Europe. I feel that with my golf, I give something to the team."

Injuries have held the tall Dane back over the years. He came down with a mystery virus late last year which kept him out of several lucrative events, and a recurrence of neck and shoulder problems put him out of five tournaments this year.

"I am playing catch-up. Now I want to have a good summer. I feel I could do something for the team," Bjorn said.

Lee Westwood, a member of Europe's last four teams, concedes he may struggle to retain his place. He is well down in both qualification standings.

"Somebody is going to miss out and I am not confident it won't be me," Westwood said. "But I have loads of opportunities to qualify for the team, so if I don't qualify, I don't deserve to play.

"But I love playing in the Ryder Cup and it is a proud moment when you tee it up," he added.

Michael Campbell is one in the field unconcerned about the Ryder Cup.

He has had a quiet season, taking a lot of time off after last year's U.S. Open title and winning the World Match Play.

"Now it is time to do some work, grind and work on my game. It is time to go out and play some golf now," said the New Zealander, who cannot play much in the United States this year because he did not play his mandatory 15 events last year.

His U.S. Open win was his first in a major event.

"Now I want more," Campbell said.

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