Ian Poulter one of several Ryder Cup candidates to impress at Augusta

Golf Tee

The US claimed the Masters but for Europe there was decent consolation in defeat.

At the start of a Ryder Cup year, European strength in depth was once again highlighted in Augusta.

Lee Westwood has the small matter of $384,000 (£242,000) to console him for not ending his pursuit of a major. But perhaps more striking than Westwood's challenge was the identity of some of those also featuring prominently over the weekend.

Ian Poulter, Peter Hanson, Padraig Harrington, Justin Rose, Sergio García and Paul Lawrie either led or flirted with the lead over Masters weekend. A closer glance at the final standings also shows Fredrik Jacobson and Francesco Molinari tied for 19th and Graeme McDowell in a share of 12th.

That batch of prominent Europeans marks a useful start to the Ryder Cup run-up, even more so because the event takes place in the US, at Medinah, Illinois. José María Olazábal, Europe's captain, missed the cut at Augusta but hung around for the final 36 holes; the Spaniard will have been heartened by what he witnessed.

"I'm excited to get into the summer of golf," said Poulter, who had struggled with illness before the Masters. "In the last two tournaments I finished in the top three in Bay Hill and now top 10 at the Masters, despite three-putting the last. You know, six weeks ago my priority was just to get healthy again. I feel fine again and now it's a question of getting back in the gym and getting all my energy back. I still feel tired after a round of golf but its getting better every day."

Poulter should be fully fit, and again a threat, when the US Open gets under way at the Olympic club in San Francisco in two months' time. "I'm looking forward to the rest of this year's majors," he added. "It's funny because I haven't played any of the courses. But do you know what? I'm not going on any reconnaissance missions before the majors. I'm going for the full relaxed approach. It's worked in Augusta.

"Funnily enough, people make comments that I don't practise hard enough. I haven't been able to practise anywhere near as much I would because I've been ill, and what happens? I finish third at Bay Hill and top 10 in the Masters. So hey, ho; what do they know?"

Westwood's manager, Chubby Chandler, claimed the Englishman is similarly upbeat despite familiar putting problems undermining his challenge. The world No3 got to within two shots of the play-off between Louis Oosthuizen and Bubba Watson, the eventual winner, despite taking 128 putts over four rounds.

"Lee was as upbeat as I have ever seen him when he finished," said Chandler. "He knows that he played great. He practises to be in that position. When he gets on the plane, he will think it got away from him, but it didn't get away from him at the end. The funny thing was that he putted better the more pressure he was under. At the end of the round, he started making a couple.

"He is all right. He was amazingly upbeat. It is getting easier and easier for him to play in majors. To produce his best is getting easier and I would think this week was more or less his best from tee to green. He has just got to hang in there till he has a good week putting and he will knock one off and he will knock it off like he did in Thailand and win by a few."

The sentiment was echoed by Billy Foster, Westwood's caddie. "He will knock one of these off very soon," Foster said. "He is unstoppable, because he is that good a player right now. All he needs is a little confidence with the putter and that will be that. Just look at the stats from this Masters. He has made the most birdies of everyone, but for the last three rounds has barely made a putt. He'll get there."

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Ewan Murray at Augusta National, for guardian.co.uk on Monday 9th April 2012 23.00 Europe/London

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