AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) - Forty years after Seve Ballesteros claimed Spain's first Masters victory, world number two Jon Rahm is eager to add his name to the list of his high-achieving countrymen and clinch his first major title at Augusta this week.
Rahm has enjoyed a blockbuster 2020, claiming the Memorial title in July, and a brief stint at the top of the world rankings, before clinching the BMW Championship with a thrilling playoff victory in August.
He told reporters he wanted to bring home a sixth green jacket for Spain, particularly after 2017 Masters winner and compatriot Sergio Garcia was forced to drop out this week after testing positive for COVID-19.
"There's such (a) Spanish history of champions here, with three great champions (including Jose Maria Olazabal) and three idols of mine, that I would love to be able to add my name to that list," said Rahm, who finished tied for ninth in 2019.
"Especially this year, being a little bit sad that Sergio is not going to be able to be part of this. My heart goes out to him."
Rahm, who turned 26 on Tuesday, was not even born when Ballesteros won the Masters in 1980 and 1983, but cited his countryman's triumph as captain of Team Europe in the 1997 Ryder Cup at Sotogrande, Spain, as a massive influence.
"I owe everything to that week. I'm here because of that week," Rahm told reporters. "I try to always make my part and hopefully still grow the game in Spain and around the world."
In his fourth Masters, Rahm hopes to harness his experience at the tournament to topple rivals including world number one Dustin Johnson and four-time major winner Rory McIlroy.
"You don't need to play perfect golf to win at Augusta National. You just need to stay true to yourself and just play the best you can with what you have at the moment," said Rahm.
"I've erred about being too aggressive in the past, and I've made birdies, but I've also made some big numbers."
(Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Ken Ferris)