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Lewis facing a stern fight
Last updated: 10th October 2012
If Francesco Molinari and Martin Kaymer can produce the kind of golf they did in the Ryder Cup singles then Tom Lewis will have a real fight on his hands when he defends his Portugal Masters title this week.
The 20-year-old English young gun astonished the golfing world last year when, in just his third appearance as a professional on the European Tour, he beat some of the tour's top golfers at Vilamoura with a sparkling final-day performance that earned him his maiden tour title.
Displaying a rare maturity for a player of his age, 20-year-old Lewis closed with a sizzling 65 to reel in and then edge out the Spanish overnight leader, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, by two shots.
It was a performance that not only underlined the great potential he had shown while still playing as an amateur earlier in the year when he had shared the lead after the first round of the 2011 Open Championship, it also helped him earn the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year award for 2011.
His journey since then has been a lot more bumpy and this season he has not been able to add any more titles to his first, but he is hoping that his good memories of his victory last year will provide new momentum when he revisits the Algarve this week.
Said Lewis, who, along with fellow Englishman Steve Webster (2007), Spaniard Alvaro Quiros (2008) and Australian Richard Green (2010), is one of four winners in this week's field: "I'm sure it'll be a lot of fun to go back."
"The weather's usually great in Portugal, so I always enjoy playing there and the course at Oce‚nico really suits my game. I struck the ball really well last year, and if I can do the same again this year, hopefully I can put myself in position to successfully defend my title.
"There will obviously be a bit more focus and attention on me as the defending champion this year, but I'm confident I'll be able to handle the pressure and hopefully even thrive on it."
With Molinari and Kaymer in the field, this kind of positive attitude is going to be vital, but it might not be enough.
The Italian and the German played heroic anchor roles for Jose Maria Olazabal's triumphant European team in the Sunday singles at the Medinah Country Club two weeks ago.
Kaymer's victory in the second last match of the day edged Europe into an astonishing one-point lead after they had started the day four points in the rear and Molinari's tie with Tiger Woods in the final match ensured that Europe remained the outright winners.
Kaymer was unable to repeat these heroics in last week's Dunhill Links Championship which was won by Branden Grace and might not yet be back to his best, but Molinari can lay claim to a sparkling record at Oce‚nico Victoria Golf Course where this year's field will tee off on Thursday. With the Italian in the kind of mood he has been in this season, he could easily be one of the event's leading contenders heading down the closing stretch on Sunday
The Italian star finished as the lone runner-up in 2009 and tied for second in 2010.
With the Race To Dubai only weeks away from its grand finale and the US PGA Tour's FedEx Cup final a thing of the past, the remaining European Tour events this year are likely to draw some of their strongest fields and this week's field is no exception.
World number one Rory McIlroy won't be at the Victoria Club this week though. Along with fellow Brits Lee Westwood and Justin Rose, he'll be in Turkey in the eight-man field playing in the inaugural 'Turkish Airlines World Golf Finals' (what ever that means) which teed off on Tuesday.
But with the exception of Luke Donald (resting) and Nicolas Colsaerts, who is playing in the US this week, almost everyone else who is
anyone on the European Tour will be teeing it up at the Portugal Masters.
And that of course puts a host of other names in the hat, not the least of them seasoned players of the calibre of England's David Lynn and Simon Dyson, Denmark's Thomas BjŲrn, Ireland's Padraig Harrington, the eldest of the Molinari brothers, Edoardo, Welshman Jamie Donaldson and Spain's Alvaro Quiros and Rafa Cabrera-Bello.
Along with Lewis, it also brings a number of Europe's most exciting young guns into the picture including ThorbjÝrn Olesen, the talented young Dane who made a real fight of it in Sunday's final round of the Dunhill Links Championship before he was eventually defeated by Brandon Grace. Austrian Bernd Wiesberger, whose name is starting to become more and more prominent on European Tour leaderboards, is also one to watch as are England's Danny Willet, Swede Alexander Noren and Italy's Matteo Manassero - already a two-time Tour winner before he was 20.
And Grace? This year's only four-time Tour winner has opted to take a break this week so that he can shake off some of the tension and emotion that accompanied his win at St Andrews on Sunday.
And local favourites?
Yes there is one.
He is a Madeira Islands Open winner Ricardo Santos, who as a born and bred Vilamoura resident, and a member of the Oce‚nico Victoria Golf Club, knows the course here like the back of his hand.
He too could be one to watch.
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