Graeme McDowell punctuated Europe’s dominant year with an exclamation point.
He beat Tiger Woods in that terrific duel at the Chevron World Challenge earlier this month.
It was one last reminder of who owned 2010.
No matter what lies ahead, there’s no mistaking this year belonged to the European Tour.
“Possibly the greatest year in European Tour history,” European Tour executive director George O’Grady said.
If not for Phil Mickelson’s victory at the Masters, European Tour members would have made a clean sweep of the most important international prizes in golf. McDowell held off Woods, Mickelson and Ernie Els in the final round to win the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Louis Oosthuizen won the British Open in a rout at St. Andrews. Martin Kaymer outplayed Americans Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson down the stretch to win the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
At Celtic Manor in Wales, the Euros sent a collective message, beating the Americans in the Ryder Cup for the sixth time in their last eight tries.
The most significant European move of all might have been Lee Westwood’s toppling of Tiger Woods as the new No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Ranking. When Westwood ascended on Nov. 1, he became the first European to hold the top ranking in 16 years, since Nick Faldo held it. The ascension ended Woods’ record run of 281 consecutive weeks at the top.
“Growing up, when people ask what you want to achieve, you turn around say, 'I want to be the best in the world,’” Westwood said. “Right at this very moment, I can show people the world ranking and say, 'Look, I'm the best in the world. I'm the best on the planet for golf at the moment.’”
European Tour supporters were making the same claim about their tour as a whole.
“There is a dominance, and there is a changing of the guard,” eight-time European Tour Order of Merit winner Colin Montgomerie said.
In a poignant photo shoot before the Dubai World Championships last month, the Euros did everything but flex their muscles showing off all the hardware and honors they won in 2010. McDowell, Oosthuizen, Kaymer and Westwood posed with the prized trophies European Tour members claimed. There was immense pride about what they achieved this year and confidence over what lies ahead.
“The balance of power is fast shifting towards Europe,” Mark Roe, a Sky Television commentator and former European Tour pro told Golf World. “We have always had the most important championship in the Open, and now we have the best players to back that up.”
Those sentiments were emboldened with Westwood and Kaymer turning down PGA Tour membership and McIlroy giving up his. Back at the start of 2008, there were just two Europeans among the top 10 in the world rankings (Padraig Harrington and Justin Rose). This year will end with six of the top 10 from Europe.
It creates a debate over which tour is better right now.
“The European Tour definitely has gotten stronger the last few years,” says Ben Curtis, the 2003 British Open champ who played the European Tour as a member for two seasons. “The players have definitely gotten better. The European Tour fields have gotten stronger. But, our tour, top to bottom, it’s a little bit deeper. Their top echelon of players is just as good, if not better, than ours right now. The top 125 on our tour are probably better than theirs.”
The PGA Tour still towers over the European Tour when money and world-ranking points are compared.
The PGA Tour played for purses totaling $270 million this season. The European Tour played for $170 million.
PGA Tour pros played for 17,000 world ranking points this year. The European Tour played for 12,000.
There were 32 PGA Tour and European Tour events that went head-to-head this year. The PGA Tour had more world ranking points in 23 of them.
“The European Tour is probably stronger than it’s ever been, but it’s still not like the PGA Tour,” said five-time PGA Tour winner Scott Verplank. “It’s just not as deep. There are 60 guys who can win on the PGA Tour any week, and I would venture to say there are 30 to 40 over there who can win any week, maybe not that many.
“We play for more money. We have most of the bigger tournaments. It’s an interesting deal, but the European Tour is good. Their top players are every bit as good as anybody else’s.”
And aiming to get better.
Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell