A Vintage Year on the European Tour


European TourIt certainly was a fine year for the European Tour, with several veterans showing they can still win. But was that really a surprise? After all, it was a Ryder Cup year.
Ernie Els won the Order of Merit, again, and came close to taking home his second British Open title. The South African has received player of the year honors before, but this year's choice is a Spaniard with eccentric hair.
Miguel Angel Jimenez was a stalwart on the European Tour in the last decade, raking in all but one of his career victories from 1992 to 1999. He returned to the winner's circle in 2003 at the Mallorca Classic, ending a lengthy drought.
With the Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills on the horizon, Jimenez was determined in 2004 and picked up his first win of the season at the Johnnie Walker Classic. He then won the Open de Portugal and the BMW Asian Open.
Jimenez earned his tour-leading fourth victory at the BMW International Open and his spot in the Ryder Cup was secured. Although Jimenez went 1-3 at Oakland Hills, his lone win came Friday morning alongside Darren Clarke with a 5 & 4 drubbing of Davis Love III and Chad Campbell when the Europeans grabbed a 3 1/2 - 1/2 lead en route to the dominating victory.
The 40-year-old had the best season of his career and put himself in the mix with European Tour heavyweights like Els, Retief Goosen and Padraig Harrington.
With several big names heading overseas to compete on the PGA Tour in 2005, the European circuit is wide open for Jimenez to have another big year.
Scott Drummond caught lightning in a bottle in May by winning the Volvo PGA Championship en route to earning Rookie of the Year honors on the European Tour.
Drummond was playing his first full season on the European Tour, badly. He made a pair of cuts at the start of the season, but by the time the tour returned to Europe, Drummond was riding a string of missed weekends.
He tied for 42nd at the Open de Sevilla then missed the cut at his next two events.
Drummond had a spot in the Volvo PGA Championship, the European Tour's flagship event. The entry list for the tournament at the Wentworth Club featured such names as Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Adam Scott.
The Scot became the first player since Arnold Palmer in 1975 to win the Volvo PGA Championship in his first attempt. At least Palmer was considered a favorite when he made his debut, but Drummond came out of absolutely nowhere to win one of the biggest events on the European Tour.
Drummond will be around for a while because a pretty good exemption comes with winning the Volvo PGA Championship.
The European Tour is set up in a way where lesser known players can make a splash. Take the last three winners of the Volvo PGA - Anders Hansen, Ignacio Garrido and now Drummond.
Barry Lane had not won on the European Tour since 1994. He ended that streak at this year's British Masters and celebrated his 500th tournament on the European Tour the following week at the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open TPC of Europe.
Lane was settling into his role as a veteran of over 20 years of service on the European Tour. He had already made his debut in the UBS Cup in 2002 and had played the event every year since.
His victory at the British Masters was well deserved and helped him to the 24th spot on the Order of Merit.
The Europeans came into the 35th Ryder Cup Matches on a roll. Several of the members were already in a winning mood before arriving at Oakland Hills, with Miguel Angel Jimenez, Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington capturing the three events leading up to the Ryder Cup.
Donald was one of the hottest players on the planet at the end of the summer, Jimenez was on fire and even Colin Montgomerie was playing very well. Of course, the Europeans were the underdogs to the Americans, despite having won the Cup two years ago at The Belfry.
It is hard to bet against Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, but put them together against Montgomerie and Harrington and you might have some problems. This was the first match on Friday morning and the Europeans won, 2 & 1.
Jimenez and Darren Clarke trashed Davis Love III and Chad Campbell, while Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood had their way with Jim Furyk and David Toms. Chris Riley and Stewart Cink pulled out a half point against Donald and Paul McGinley to avoid the sweep.
Friday morning was ugly for the U.S. and the afternoon didn't get any better. The Europeans won three more matches in foursomes and at that point the Ryder Cup was all but over.
U.S. captain Hal Sutton couldn't get anything out of his team and European leader Bernhard Langer was blessed with a group of 12 players who gelled perfectly. The Europeans won in dominating fashion and will continue to have success in the Ryder Cup for years to come with players like Donald and Paul Casey emerging and the likely debuts of Fredrik Jacobson and Graeme McDowell in Ireland in 2006.
The Americans meanwhile were left with several questions. New U.S. captain Tom Lehman will certainly have his hands full.
Troon sure looked great compared to Royal St. George's.
For the second year in a row a no-name American captured the British Open in surprising fashion. Last year it was Ben Curtis, ranked 396th in the world before he picked up his first career win. This year it was a 39-year-old rookie.
Todd Hamilton was a journeyman from the Asian tours, winning quite a few times overseas, with three previous appearances at the British Open (where he managed a cumulative score of 24-over par). He made his PGA Tour debut this year and broke through with a win at the Honda Classic before heading to Troon, where the talk was about Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.
Hamilton was meticulous at the British Open and earned a spot in a playoff with Ernie Els. Els, who won in overtime at Muirfield two years ago, could not overcome Hamilton's 'ugly golf' and the American shocked a golf world still trying to make sense of Curtis' 2003 win.
Paul Casey will be heading to the U.S. to give the PGA Tour a shot in 2005, so will Ian Poulter and several other European stars. They will surely be missed, but the European Tour promises to be as competitive as ever in the years to come.
Related Links:
  • The Year in Review