x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Golfers on song for Europe

The just-completed Dubai World Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates boasted a leaderboard so gaudy that it is hard to conjure the American PGA Tour finding one to match.

Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter have enjoyed excellent seasons on the European Tour this year.
Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter have enjoyed excellent seasons on the European Tour this year.

You hear it in the ambitious verve of Rory McIlroy, who at 21 beholds the inarguably impressive season he just had and says without wryness: "It's been OK."

You hear it in the determination of Martin Kaymer, who at 25 beholds a year winning the Race To Dubai as well as other coveted goodies, and speaks of winning the 2011 British Open without perfect rationale and not one trace of arrogance.

You hear it in Lee Westwood, aiming hard at the 2011 majors after all those nibbles and carrying that No 1 ranking into 2011 as a major, major favourite. You hear it in Graeme McDowell, ensconced at No 11 with a US Open championship, finding No 1 realistic and wreaking no giggling.

And you see it the fact that if one of those guys, or Paul Casey, or Luke Donald, or the surging Ian Poulter, could win the Masters that begins a mere 129 days from now, someone either from the European Tour or weaned on the European Tour will hold all four major titles.

Somehow, the energy of golf has fled the country with the biggest noise and the biggest economy and the biggest golf economy.

These days, one could commit pertinence when asking: why does the United States get to hold three of the four major tournaments, anyway? The just-completed Dubai World Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates boasted a leaderboard so gaudy that it is hard to conjure the American PGA Tour finding one to match.

Gawk at it, Kaymer said, and, "You can see the standard of the European Tour is pretty high these days."

These days, the European Tour hoards the buzz and promises Abu Dhabi and Dubai a fine winter with tournaments that, for extra oomph, will infuse Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods from the weary country across the Atlantic (or Pacific).

McIlroy went to play over there and will return to play over this way where he can accomplish just as much. The four Americans in the top 10 include Woods (struggling at almost 35), Mickelson (struggling at 39), Jim Furyk (40) and Steve Stricker (43).

While the 40-somethings there are two of the finer gentlemen one could meet, the whole thing creaks a bit, and connoisseurs of pizzazz might crave an Anthony Kim surge.

In the meantime, this might be one of those cases in which sport mirrors the larger world, much like China's Olympic prowess reflected that country's ascent and the exhilarating German football team of the 2010 World Cup seemed to depart from their predecessors' cold efficiency to embody that country's cosmopolitan moment. In a world drifting from American dominance, here's golf in tow.

Or it could be just cyclic.

Only a few minutes ago, a bunch of us turned up at the 2007 British Open in Carnoustie in Scotland and heard the usual doleful chorus over how Europeans had not won any major tournaments since Paul Lawrie in 1999.

Nick Faldo stepped back into the tent from the golden era of two decades prior and manfully defended his criticism of 21st-century players as too chummy among themselves. The Englishman wanted someone to pull a Severiano Ballesteros and go ice-breaking.

"That's very much what happened with Seve in Augusta for us," Faldo said, referring to Ballesteros at the 1980 Masters.

"He broke the mould there, how difficult it was for a European player to win at Augusta, because it's different - the super-fast fairways, greens, everything ... I'm playing against Seve every week, and occasionally I might beat him, and then I take it to America and we had a fabulous run for, what was it, seven out of nine years" at the Masters.

Asked then whom he might peg as the frigate to ice-break back, Faldo reasonably suggested Justin Rose. It's instructive that sych an excellent player, freshly 30, seems overlooked by late 2010 even after soaring to two PGA Tour titles within four weeks of each other in June and July.

A while since Padraig Harrington quashed the spell at that very Carnoustie, now the favourites for the Masters will tilt heavily to the right of the Atlantic as European Tour types try to sustain the little major binge.

At the root of their hotly competitive level-raising, age-wise, they will have McIlroy, who said: "I'll look back on this year, I think I started the year ninth in the world, currently 10th, so in that way, it has not been spectacular, but I want to try and improve every year."

Not one fibre of his being suggests contentment with ninth or 10th. It fits that for 2011, he will return to the world's most compelling tour.

cculpepper@thenational.ae