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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 March, 2005, 08:53 GMT 09:53 UK
Go west for major rewards
By Matt Slater
Golf editor

Europhiles still searching for proof that we in the Old World are better off together could do a lot worse than looking at the lessons of golf.

Ryder Cup
The major-shy Europeans have won four of the last five Ryder Cups
Never mind arcane arguments about common currencies or standardised plug sockets.

Consider instead Team Europe's ability to punch above its weight on the golf course.

In the six years since a European last won one of golf's four majors, teams playing under the European Union's flag have soundly beaten the more fancied Americans in two Ryder Cups.

But while Team Europe has never ridden so high, its constituent parts have struggled to emulate the boys of 1999 - Masters winner Jose Maria Olazabal and Open champion Paul Lawrie.

Not only have the majors been a primarily American/South African preserve, but even the European Tour's Order of Merit has been out of homegrown hands since Lee Westwood's triumph in 2000.

Nick Faldo, winner of six majors between 1987 and 1996, is one European who feels this isn't good enough.

"It is something that worries me," the 2008 European Ryder Cup captain said.

"We have some great talent coming through, but how many have been up on a major leaderboard when it really matters?

The Ryder Cup is matchplay, you have 11 other guys holding your hand - in a major, you are on your own
Nick Faldo
"Winning majors is about holding your nerve under intense pressure. I know we can point to players for whom it just hasn't happened but I don't believe that's down to luck."

He's right, of course. It hasn't had much to do with luck.

Tiger Woods won four of the next five majors following Lawrie's victory at Carnoustie, and then two more in 2002.

His majors monopoly was broken when his closest rivals, none of whom are European, finally got a bit closer.

Europe's leading lights have been left to fight out the minor placings, while even American journeymen like Ben Curtis, Todd Hamilton and Shaun Micheel have joined the major winners' club.

As Faldo put it: "The Ryder Cup is matchplay. You can make seven on a hole and still win. You have 11 other guys holding your hand.

"In a major, you are on your own."

Paul Lawrie at the 1999 Open
Scotland's Paul Lawrie is the last European to taste major success
So is that it, then? Will we just have to wait for another Lawrie-like bolt from the blue to land a major title for Europe?

Perhaps, but at least European players are giving themselves more of a chance these days.

With three of the four majors played in the US, on American-style courses, it is hardly surprising that the local lads, or those that play those courses regularly, stand a better chance of winning.

When Padraig Harrington, Europe's top-ranked golfer, won his first US title at the Honda Classic in March he was one of 12 Europeans in the field.

The following week at Bay Hill saw 15 players from over here over there.

In fact, many of Europe's brightest stars are now plying their trade almost exclusively on the US Tour.

Luke Donald, England's best-ranked player, played all his pro golf in the US until Ryder Cup rules required him to join the European Tour last summer.

That he then won two tournaments in quick succession should tell you all you need to know about the relative strengths of the two tours.

But Donald is hardly the only player on the US circuit trying to find the "football" results these days.

Luke Donald and Paul Casey with the 2004 World Cup
Donald and Casey won the World Cup, but now want individual glory
Over half of the 2004 Ryder Cup team - Paul Casey, Darren Clarke, Sergio Garcia, Harrington, David Howell, Ian Poulter and Westwood - have hardly been spotted on the European Tour so far this season.

And 2006 hopefuls Alex Cejka, Brian Davis, Graeme McDowell and Justin Rose have also foregone the far-flung delights of the European Tour's winter/spring schedule for the more homogenous charms of the PGA Tour.

Like Donald, who Faldo has tipped as the man most likely to end Europe's drought, they have realised that a steady diet of American golf is as good for their major hopes as it is for their bank balance.

In terms of prize money, the two tours really are an ocean apart.

Seventy-seven players on the US Tour last year earned $1m (526,000) or more. In Europe, the 77th-ranked player earned the equivalent of $360,000.

So while the cash-rich US Tour falls down when it comes to fashioning team spirit, it is very good at producing major winners and millionaires.

And this, perhaps, will cheer the Eurosceptics in galleries.

European unity is all very well for winning biennial team competitions. But the looser, more federal, American model is clearly the way to go for individual happiness.





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