Time for Europe to Show Its Strength

By Associated PressJuly 17, 2007, 4:00 pm
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- European golf has never been stronger.
At least in September.
And as long as the players are wearing matching clothes.
Europeans boast about their talent every other year in the Ryder Cup, and rightly so. They have beaten the Americans five of the last six times, and beaten them by record margins the last two matches. It now has reached the point that most people recognize Europe as having the stronger team.
But the Ryder Cup is only an exhibition, and a highly entertaining one.
Majors are what define greatness in golf.
And until a European wins a major championship, all that bluster about European strength means nothing.
'Now is the time,' Colin Montgomerie said last week at Loch Lomond. 'We spoke about the Ryder Cup team last year in September, about how it was the strongest that it's ever been. And now is the time that I think one of us should come forward. I think we are good enough to come forward now and win.'
They sure had their chances last year.
Montgomerie squandered his opportunity when he missed the green with a 7-iron from the middle of the 18th fairway at Winged Foot. Sergio Garcia started the final round of the British Open one shot out of the lead and finished seven shots behind Tiger Woods. Luke Donald was tied with Woods going into the last round of the PGA Championship and wound up six behind.
And don't forget about Justin Rose. He was one shot out of the lead with two holes to play at the Masters, then promptly took double bogey on the 17th hole.
'You look at the Ryder, that validates that we have a core of very strong players,' Donald said. 'We've really dominated it in the last 10 to 15 years. Somehow, we've got to transition that to individual players.'
He also referred to the world rankings, where Europe has six players among the top 20; the United States has five.
'We obviously are talented enough,' Donald said. 'We just haven't done it yet. But I think it's only a matter of time. When we do, that will definitely validate the Europeans as a bunch of great players.'
Montgomerie writes off the eight-year drought as coincidence, that and Woods hogging the Grand Slam events.
Nick Faldo, known more for his six majors than his incomparable Ryder Cup record for Europe, is starting to wonder if the very thing that helps his comrades in the Ryder Cup is what holds them back in the majors.
Everyone talks about European unity every other September. Faldo sees too much of it the other 23 months of the year. In an interview this week with two British newspapers, Faldo suggested maybe they were too friendly. He noted that a six-pack of major champions from Europe -- himself, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Jose Maria Olazabal and Ian Woosnam -- went their own ways.
'Now the current generation are all having lunch together, and they go off and play for a million dollars,' Faldo told The Times of London and the Daily Mail. 'It is interesting to me that now they are all so much more chummy.
'Is that healthy? I don't know. I'm just posing the question,' he said. 'But the bottom line is the six players I've mentioned won 18 majors, and on the other side you have none.'
That would be to ignore Paul Lawrie, which is easy to do.
Hardly anyone remembers that Lawrie won at Carnoustie because the memories belong to Jean Van de Velde and his unseemly collapse. Lawrie's name only comes up in conversation as the last European to win a major.
Someone asked the Scot if he was shocked it had been eight years since a European won a major.
'I think shock is not the right word. I think it's amazing that it's been that long,' Lawrie said. 'But that's where we are. I don't like being the last European.'
There have been 32 majors since Lawrie won the British Open. That's the longest Europe has gone without since the 34 majors between Tony Jacklin winning the 1970 U.S. Open at Hazeltine and Ballesteros winning his first major in 1979.
The record drought for Europe is 18 years between the 1951 British Open (Max Faulkner) and 1969 British Open (Jacklin).
It's hard to criticize the talent. Europe has had 18 players who have combined to produce 42 finishes in the top five since Lawrie hoisted the claret jug at Carnoustie, with Garcia leading the way.
If only Thomas Bjorn had not taken three shots to get out of the bunker on the 16th hole at Royal St. George's. Or if Monty had not chunked that 7-iron at Winged Foot. Maybe if Garcia had not taken so many waggles at Bethpage.
It's always something.
'We've not had anyone who could finish it off,' Jacklin said Tuesday. 'The '80s will be known as the golden age in European golf. Seve led the way, with Faldo, Woosie, Langer, Lyle. All those guys were fantastic. Up to now, I haven't seen anybody. You don't get that many chances in majors unless you're truly great. It's tough to win majors. But it was always tough.'
The longer the drought continues, the tougher it will get.
'The more any European wins a major, that would help the rest of us,' said Padraig Harrington, who has four top-five finishes in the majors. 'We've proved in the Ryder Cup that there are a lot of good players out there. It's just a question of that little breakthrough.'
Until then, the Ryder Cup is about the only thing Europe can claim as evidence.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - 136th Open Championship
  • Getty Images

    Rahm, with blinders on, within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

    SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

    The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

    Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

    It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

    “It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

    Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

    According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

    “I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

    Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

    Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

    And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

    As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

    He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

    “I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

    If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

    Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

    “I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

    Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

    Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

    “If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

    Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

    Getty Images

    Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

    SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

    After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

    With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.

    Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

    “Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

    “I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

    Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

    Getty Images

    Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

    SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    “I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

    “I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”

    Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

    On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

    Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

    Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

    “We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.” 

    Getty Images

    Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

    SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

    The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

    Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.

    Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

    Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

    Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

    • Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

    • Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

    • Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1