2004 ORDER OF MERIT
1 Ernie Els (SA) (1st in 2003)
2 Retief Goosen (SA) (12)
3 Padraig Harrington (Ire) (3)
4 Miguel A Jimenez (Spa) (23)
5 Thomas Levet (Fra) (78)
6 Graeme McDowell (NIre) (96)
7 Lee Westwood (Eng) (7)
8 Darren Clarke (NIre) (2)
9 Ian Poulter (Eng) (5)
10 David Howell (Eng) (16)
Europe's next home-grown Order of Merit winner may well have to become world number one in the process.
Ian Poulter's victory in the Volvo Masters brings down the curtain on another year of South African domination on the European Tour.
World number two Ernie Els wrapped up his second straight Order of Merit title to add to countryman Retief Goosen's back-to-back wins in 2001 and 2002.
The 35-year-old Els won three times in Europe and went close in all four majors for a single season earnings record of £2.8m.
His prize haul, from 15 tournaments, was £1m more than US Open champion Goosen in second, and almost two-and-a half times as much money as sixth-placed Graeme McDowell from half as many events.
Ireland's Padraig Harrington - the highest-placed European on the world rankings at eighth - was £296,000 behind Goosen for his second consecutive third place, with two victories.
Harrington was Europe's highest-placed player on the Order of Merit
Not even four wins from Spain's Mr Consistent Miguel Angel Jimenez was enough to make him the first European Order of Merit winner since Lee Westwood in 2000.
Spain's Sergio Garcia also enjoyed an impressive year, but played mainly in the USA where he won twice.
Westwood was winless but a fourth place at the Open at Royal Troon and a host of top 10s confirmed his dark days are behind him.
Darren Clarke also had a similarly solid season without quite troubling those at golf's top table, and dropped from second last year to eighth.
One of the brightest rising stars was Northern Ireland's McDowell, a former Walker Cup winner and US collegiate golf champion, who underlined his potential with victory at the Italian Open and two second places.
On the collective front, Europe trounced the USA in the Ryder Cup but another year went by without a European major winner - the last was Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie in 1999.
The best European performances in the majors were fourth for Garcia and Bernhard Langer at the Masters, Westwood's fourth at Troon, while Paul McGinley was two shots off a play-off in the USPGA.
Poulter made a bold sartorial statement at Royal Troon in July
But further down the Order of Merit, it was a year of consolidation for some of Europe's exciting young talents.
England's Paul Casey missed out on a victory and slipped from sixth to 14th despite a spectacular tied sixth on his Masters debut.
Poulter was enduring a self-confessed "one-out-of-10" year and his results were in danger of being overshadowed by his flamboyant wardrobe.
But his victory at the season finale in Spain lifted him into the top 10, and he showed his true colours when fighting back from a quadruple bogey in the final round of the BMW International Open - the last Ryder Cup qualifying event - to clinch his place with two eagles and two birdies in the last eight holes.
However players such as England 's Justin Rose and Sweden's Fredrik Jacobson struggled in America, while Denmark's Thomas Bjorn and England's Brian Davis also failed to reach former heights.
The European Tour, which in 2004 visited 23 countries over 11 months, also had eleven first-time winners.
2004 REUTERS STATS
Ernie Els - 69.16
Ricardo Gonzalez - 313 yds av.
Andrew Marshall - 71.9% fairways hit
Greens in regulation:
Ernie Els - 76%
Putts per GIR:
Angel Cabrera - 1.7
Putts per round:
Christian Cevaer, Rob Rashell - 28.3
Most notable of these was Luke Donald, who came to Europe from the US Tour to be eligible for the Ryder Cup team and won his maiden event at the Scandinavian Masters in August.
He quickly added a second title in Switzerland in September to convince captain Langer of his worth as a wildcard.
Other standout performances of the year include McGinley's charge to make the Ryder Cup side.
Facing disappointment, he registered four top-10 finishes in six events from the end of July, including sixth at the USPGA, to take him past the post.
France's Thomas Levet made his mark too.
He won the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond to seal the last qualifying spot for the Open and then went on lead after the first round before finishing joint fifth, en route to a first Ryder Cup cap.
Seven-time European champion Colin Montgomerie also found himself back on top of a leaderboard, after missing out in 2003, with victory in the Singapore Masters.
And after his winning putt at the Ryder Cup, who would bet against the Montgomerie scriptwriters having more up their sleeve for the Scot, who has battled through a difficult year off the course?
The 2005 season sees a new chief executive of the European Tour as George O'Grady replaces Ken Schofield after 30 years at the helm.
But he faces a fight to stave off pressure on Europe's top stars, notably Els, from the PGA Tour in America.
The Surrey-based South African, though, would seem to have a monopoly on the number one berth for as long as he keeps up the pressure on Vijay Singh at the top of the world rankings.