Top Billing for European Golf


It was the first time in recent memory in this country that I can recall the Euros stealing the show.

Yes, in my opinion, the dunhill links Championship, won Sunday at The Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland by Stephen Gallacher, was more compelling than the Michelin Championship at Las Vegas.

This is not to say that Andre Stolz 21-under par victory in Vegas was not without its moments. Fact is, 21 is rarely a bad number for the players in the gaming capitol of the world.

And it was terrific to see Tom Lehman back in the hunt again late Sunday. The short putt he missed on the 71st hole at the TPC at Summerlin cost him a shot at a playoff with Aussie Stolz. But ever since switching to the long putter in Canada early last month, the 45-year-old Lehman has gone a long way toward exorcising his putting demons.

And how about Tag Ridings? He has been playing on a major medical extension this year after injuring his back early in 2003. All he did Sunday, going off the 10th tee, was card a tidy little 61 to earn a share of second place and guarantee himself PGA Tour status in the top 150 for 2005. If Ridings wins more than $140,000 in his next eight events, he will be fully exempt next year.

But the weekend belonged to the boys on the other side of the pond. Maybe to the victor goes the spoils. Four of the top 10 finishers at the dunhill links--Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and David Howell, were members of the European Ryder Cup team that thrashed the Americans at Oakland Hills last month. Ulsterman Graeme McDowell, who lost in a playoff to Scotlands Gallacher, almost certainly will play on a Ryder Cup team in the future.

The dunhill links has, for the moment, improved on the nice little formula that has been working for a long time at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am: This year it managed to combine A list celebrities like Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Douglas and Dennis Hopper with Ryder Cup heroes and provide them with a killer rotation. The Old Course, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns are, arguably, every bit as good as Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Poppy Hills.

Sadly for Donald, who may quietly be the very best of a suddenly swell crop of English young guns, he shorted a 13-footer on the 72nd hole to miss the playoff with McDowell and Gallacher. It was the second time this year Donald has failed on a makeable putt on the 18th hole Sunday to miss a playoff. At the Buick Invitational in February he and Chris Riley let winner John Daly off the hook on the final hole.

But Donalds rise to stardom has been a steady one. He now weighs in at No. 25 on the Official World Golf Rankings.

And his amateur partner, Eric Gleacher, was just one of the financial eagles that gathered at the dunhill links. Gleacher and Donald both played their college golf at Northwestern University and surely had lots to talk about what with the Wildcats football team winning in overtime Saturday for the second straight week.

But Gleacher is also a heavyweight inside the halls of the power brokers of golf. He is a former Secretary of the USGA. And his firm, Gleacher & Co., recently advised Forstmann Little on the acquisition of the International Management Group that reportedly cost in excess of $700 million.

Wall St. semi-legend Teddy Forstmann, who runs Forstmann Little, partnered with Vijay Singh at the dunhill links.

The point in all of this is that the European Tour appears headed into a period of increased stature. And there was a sense that a large number of the important people in golf at the moment were in Scotland last week.

This is not necessarily at the expense of our PGA Tour. But it is a reminder to all who pay close attention, that the best and most interesting golf on your television set on Sundays can sometimes come in the AM.

Now if somebody can please do something about those six hour rounds in pro-ams, on both sides of the Atlantic. They are tortuously long.
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