European golf painting the map blue
Back in 2004, European golfers were circling lost waters: victory at the PGA Championship put Fijian Vijay Singh to within touching distance of dethroning American global superstar Tiger Woods as world number one, with Europe left finishing the year with only four advocates inside the world top 20. Ten years on and the European Tour is the strongest it has been for two decades.
Whistling Straits would prove the last course Singh would toast major success, and while he would end Woods’ five-year run as world number one just two weeks later, the European Tour was desperately looking for the answer to thwarting their continental rivals dominance.
Paul McGinley was the closest European to Singh’s triumph in Wisconsin – but ranked 68th in the world, the Irishman proved only a pawn in the fourth round’s unraveling, as two American’s were left to challenge Singh for the final major of the season.
McGinley’s sixth-place finish remains the nearest the 47-year-old has come to lifting a major title. Ten years on, he still remains an ever-present character on the European Tour and is now thriving in a parental role leading a new wave of talent.
The Irishman captained Europe to a third successive retention of the Ryder Cup, but August’s victory wouldn’t be the only thing Europe would have to celebrate in 2014.
Even during the darkest moments of Europe’s absence from the major scene, America’s vulnerability in team competitiveness ensured Ryder Cup success was always a possibility. In fact, during the first seven years of the 21st century Europe would win all three Ryder Cups – America have only triumphed once since (2008).
The influence of Nick Faldo and José María Olazábal quickly faded upon the turn of the Millennium, but Europe are now finally back to adding major trophies to their American scalping’s.
Bubba Watson’s triumph in the Masters in April made sure no European has earned right to the infamous green jacket since 1999, but that would be America’s only bright spot of the year.
Germany’s Martin Kaymer prevailed champion at the US Open a month later before Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy flourished in the final two majors of the season to leave Europe the holders of three majors in one calendar year for the first time in the sports history.
This weekend saw the conclusion of the European Tour at the DP Tour Championship in Abu Dhabi, with access only warranted for the privileged top 50 golfers on the European circuit.
There may have only been two Americans in attendance – neither inside the world’s top 30 – but it was fitting to see the final exchanges contested between the Europe’s box office quartet of golfers.
Frenchman Victor Dubuisson, England’s Justin Rose and world number one Rory McIlroy would finish in a tie for second, just one shot behind Swede Henrik Stenson.
Stenson’s successful defence saw him move to second in the world, leaving the American’s with the prospect of having just four golfers inside the top 10.
There was a time not so long ago when the likes of Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter were considered Europe’s only realistic prospects, and while they have so far succumbed to the pressure at every turn, a new wave of European hotshots have emerged to leave them mere afterthoughts in the backburner of Europe success.
The days of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson being the hot favourites have long faded. The Europeans are now the names of the lips of every golfer.
Picture Credits: Tour Pro Golf Clubs