x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Europe's new golden age

The Desert Swing highlights the continent's strength and with young players emerging, the future looks brighter than ever.

If Martin Kaymer stays fit he could surpass the achievements of Bernhard Langer.
If Martin Kaymer stays fit he could surpass the achievements of Bernhard Langer.

There was a lot to take out of the Desert Swing which came to a sudden death conclusion in the Dubai Desert Classic, and the most encouraging news for the PGA European Tour is that it may be entering an exciting new era. It is hard to imagine a more prosperous period for European golf than the years which delivered Seve Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer, and saw all five emerge as major winners, and the end of the USA's Ryder Cup dominance.

But after a three-week burst of activity which began in Abu Dhabi, continued in Doha and ended at the Emirates Golf Club on Sunday, the immediate future for the Tour looks brighter than ever. European golf is on the verge of being able to claim that it has more top-quality players than ever before. The Tour has tremendous strength in depth, and with so many young players rising towards the top the future is bright for years to come.

Martin Kaymer is one of Europe's brightest hopes, following his great win in Abu Dhabi with fourth place in the Desert Classic, and if he stays fit he could match or even surpass the achievements of his great inspiration, his fellow German Langer. Kaymer has a very solid all round game and is one of the best long putters in golf, a fact which will boost his chances of winning one of the four majors in a year when the Open Championship returns to St Andrews, and the largest greens in the world.

Alvaro Quiros showed glimpses of his enormous potential in finishing 11th, second and fourth over the past three weeks. With better management of his game he could have won in Doha, and in Dubai where he had a 20-foot putt on the 13th green in Sunday's final round for a three-stroke lead. Europe currently boasts seven of the world's top 11 golfers, and the picture should improve as Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald set about climbing from No 15 and No 23 in the rankings.

After finishing runner-up to new world No 2 Steve Stricker in the PGA Tour's Northern Trust Open last weekend, it will not take long for Donald to get back into the world's top 10 now that he is free of pain in his left wrist for the first time in 18 months. Rory McIlroy, meanwhile, continues to do what has taken him to No 7 in the world rankings by getting into contention virtually every time he plays.

But the fact that a player with so much talent has won just once as a professional suggests he needs at times to think a little more about what type of shot to play. Playing carefree golf can take a naturally gifted golfer a long way. But he continues to lose out to less talented players who play smart golf, know their strengths and, more importantly, know their weaknesses. McIlroy has to learn from that.

Ian Poulter, meanwhile, aims to make 2010 a big year in more ways than one, and as he showed with his second place finish in Abu Dhabi he has the game and the confidence to make it happen. After his climb to No 3 in the world last year was knocked back by a chest muscle injury, Paul Casey finished joint fifth in Doha and 11th in Dubai and could soon be reproducing the form which brought him wins in Abu Dhabi, Houston and at Wentworth in 2009.

Beaten on the third extra hole in the Desert Classic by Miguel Angel Jimenez, Lee Westwood stays at No 4 in the world rankings but is closing the points gap to the No 2 spot which Stricker has snatched from Phil Mickelson. Westwood could climb above them both in the next month, particularly as there are a lot of points up for grabs next week at the WGC Accenture World Matchplay tournament outside Tucson, Arizona.

Even so, Westwood will look back over the 2010 Desert Swing with regret. The new irons he used in Abu Dhabi had been fitted with the wrong shafts, a big problem considering this is the most important thing to get right in terms of equipment. At the Qatar Masters he was tied for the lead in the last round but had been forced to use a new driver after cracking his chosen club the previous day, and this clearly affected his renowned accuracy off the tee.

His biggest upset came in Dubai where he was 13 under par at one point before finishing 11 under and losing the play-off to Jimenez. On each of the first two extra holes Westwood had good opportunities to win but dribbled his putts to the hole and came up short. You never stop learning in golf, even if you are Europe's No 1, and expect him to give the ball a better run at the hole should he find himself in a similar position in the weeks ahead, as he is likely to do.

On Sunday I noticed how much difference the new V grooves made as many players struggled from the rough to stop their ball on the greens as they firmed up. There were also many examples of players coming up short with approach shots from the deep rough on the Majlis course, as we saw with McIlroy and Westwood on the fifth hole. Facing delicate 25 to 30-foot chip shots and having little green to work with - a situation made much more straightforward by square grooves - both left their first attempts short of the putting surface, then failed to get up and down and suffered costly double bogeys.

Both Jimenez, one of the Tour's senior members, and 60-year-old Tom Watson, made it look a good deal easier, having learned their craft with the same grooves earlier in their careers. Former European and US Tour player Philip Parkin (www.philparkin.com) is a member of the TV golf commentary team for the BBC in the UK and Golf Channel in the US. @Email:sports@thenational.ae