The next golden era for Europe

By Doug FergusonOctober 5, 2010, 10:26 pm

Ryder Cup

NEWPORT, Wales – The Ryder Cup used to be the crowning achievement for European golf.

Now it’s gravy.

From the balcony of the clubhouse at Celtic Manor, the Europeans sprayed champagne onto a delirious crowd Monday afternoon, stopping every now and then to chug some of the bubbly in a raucous celebration.

All they cared about was winning the gold trophy that apparently had only been on loan to the Americans. Considering how the year has gone – and what the future holds – they might as well have been celebrating a banner year.

Europeans won three consecutive weeks on the PGA Tour, the first time that has happened. They had more major champions than any other continent, with Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland winning the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and Martin Kaymer of Germany taking the PGA Championship in a playoff.

Coincidence? Maybe. The world ranking, however, suggests otherwise.

Europe has five players in the top 10 – and 11 players in the top 25 – which is more than the Americans. Lee Westwood moved up to No. 2 in the world, and he won’t have to do much at the Dunhill Championship this week or the Portugal Masters to replace Tiger Woods when they meet in Shanghai next month.

For years, there was a perception that the Americans had the best players and Europe had the best team. Now, it seems as though everything is going Europe’s way.

This could be the next golden era for European golf.

“I think it’s been a golden era for a couple of years now,” Westwood said.

Westwood quickly pointed out what made this European team look stronger than ever: It wasn’t so much who was on the team at Celtic Manor, rather who was left off.

It was the first time Europe had a top 10 player who couldn’t make the team, either on points or through a pick. That would be Paul Casey of England, who is No. 7 in the world and spent the Ryder Cup riding his bike through western Canada.

Six years ago, Europe didn’t have a player ranked that high on its team.

Also left off the team were Justin Rose, who won two times on the PGA Tour in the span of a month, first at the Memorial, then at the AT&T National; Henrik Stenson and Robert Karlsson, two Swedes who played on the previous two teams and are coping with a slump; and Sergio Garcia, who had played in five Ryder Cups before turning 30. He was a vice captain at Celtic Manor.

Five of the players in this Ryder Cup were under 30. One of them is Kaymer, who already has a major. Another is Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who tied for third in two majors and shot 62 to win on one of the PGA Tour’s toughest tracks at Quail Hollow.

“I think the last four or five years have been a good time for European golf,” Westwood.

Still to be determined is whether this crop can dominate golf the way its “Fab Five” – Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam – did in the 1980s and 90s.

Langer and Lyle won majors in 1985, the same year Europe ended 28 years of U.S. dominance in these matches. For most of the last decade, the U.S. team showed up at the Ryder Cup boasting the most major champions, and Europe proved its worth in the Ryder Cup.

Now it gets the trophy and the majors.

“I think it was clear that this Ryder Cup team was one of the hardest teams to get on,” Luke Donald said. “We’ve won nine of the last 13. We’re starting to get close to that word ‘dominance.”’

The next step is to win more majors.

Westwood could become only the third player to reach No. 1 without having won a major. He was runner-up in two majors this year, the Masters and the British Open, and he finished one shot out of a playoff in each of the previous two years. Even though he had not played in nearly two months because of a calf injury, Westwood looked as though he had never been away.

“If you look back 10 years ago, I was the only English player in the top 100,” he said.

Now there are six among the top 30, although none has won a major. The last Englishman to win a major was Nick Faldo in 1996.

“We need to start winning majors,” Westwood said, speaking more of his country than all of Europe.

As more Europeans take up membership in the PGA Tour, Westwood is content to stay home. He has tried the U.S. tour, winning this year at the St. Jude Classic. He just doesn’t see the need to travel across the Atlantic to make sure he plays his minimum tournament. He recalls showing up at some tournaments wondering what he was doing there.

“I’m not going to be taking up my tour card,” he said before leaving Celtic Manor. “I think I got it right this year.”

So did Europe. Seven of its players won in America. Two won majors.

It took 12 to win a Ryder Cup.

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Els eyeing potential Prez Cup players at CJ Cup

By Will GrayOctober 16, 2018, 6:55 pm

Ernie Els is teeing it up this week in South Korea as a player, but he's also retaining the perspective of a captain.

While the 2019 Presidents Cup in Australia is still more than a year away, Els has already begun the process of keeping tabs on potential players who could factor on his International squad that will face an American contingent captained by Tiger Woods. Els played in last week's CIMB Classic in Malaysia, and this week received one of eight sponsor exemptions into the limited-field CJ Cup on Jeju Island.

Els played a Tuesday practice round with Presidents Cup veteran and Branden Grace and India's Shubankhar Sharma, who held a share of the 54-hole lead last week in Malaysia.

"It's going to be a very diverse team the way things are shaping up already," Els told reporters. "We've got another year to go, so we're going to have an interesting new group of players that's going to probably make the team."

In addition to keeping tabs on Grace and Sharma, Els will play the first two rounds with Australia's Marc Leishman and South Korea's Si Woo Kim. Then there's Sungjae Im, a native of Jeju Island who led the Web.com Tour money list wire-to-wire last season.

"There's so many Korean youngsters here this week, so I'm going to really see how they perform," Els said. "Still a long way to go, but these guys, the young guys are going to be really the core of our team."

Els, who will turn 49 on Wednesday, made only five cuts in 15 PGA Tour starts last season, with his best result a T-30 finish at the Valero Texas Open. While it's increasingly likely that his unexpected triumph at the 2012 Open will end up being his final worldwide victory, he's eager to tackle a new challenge in the coming months by putting together the squad that he hopes can end the International losing skid in the biennial matches.

"The U.S. team is a well-oiled team. They play Ryder Cups together, they obviously play very well in the Presidents Cups against us, so they're a very mature team," Els said. "We are going to be a young team, inexperienced. But that doesn't scare me because I know the course very well down in Melbourne, I've played it many, many times. I feel I have a very good game plan to play the golf course strategy-wise and I'm going to share that with my players."

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CIMB champ Leishman hopes to improve on CJ runner-up

By Will GrayOctober 16, 2018, 6:29 pm

Marc Leishman is back in Korea with momentum on his side, hoping to fare a little better than a year ago.

Leishman nearly took home the trophy in the inaugural CJ Cup, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Justin Thomas. But the Aussie put his approach into the water on the second extra hole, allowing Thomas to wrap up the win a few minutes later.

"Excited to be back in Korea. I have a lot of good memories here at this golf course," Leishman told reporters. "Hopefully I can play well again and go one better than last year."

Leishman's playoff loss kick-started a strong opening stretch to his wraparound season, but he closed it without a victory. That drought ended in emphatic fashion last week, as he cruised to a five-shot win at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia for his fourth career PGA Tour win and his third since March 2017.


CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos


Leishman told reporters last week in Malaysia that before the week started, his driving was so crooked that he feared his equipment reps might need to add a few golf balls to his locker. Instead, he found his groove en route to shooting 26 under par at TPC Kuala Lumpur and leaving the field in his wake.

"Golf's a funny game. It can change very quickly from bad to good or from good to bad," Leishman said. "It was certainly a goal of mine to win this season, and to win my first event of the season is great. Also to be going back to Maui puts me in a different frame of mind for the whole year. For a lot of reasons, I'm really happy with what last week brought."

Leishman played on the Korean PGA Tour in 2006 while getting his pro career off the ground, but even with that experience he expects a learning curve while going from the steamy conditions of Malaysia to the cool and wet climate that has greeted players this week on Jeju Island.

"It's a big adjustment going from so hot and humid last week to fairly cold and hopefully not wet, but it was wet this morning," Leishman said. "The ball goes different distances, your body's not quite as loose as what it is when it's hot. Just little things like that that you have to adjust to."

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Bowditch eyes same fusion surgery as Tiger

By Will GrayOctober 16, 2018, 6:03 pm

After struggling through a couple lean years on the course, Steven Bowditch is ready to go under the knife.

Bowditch has won twice on the PGA Tour, and the Aussie was a member of the International Team at the 2015 Presidents Cup in South Korea. But his game fell apart shortly thereafter, as Bowditch has made just two cuts in his last 40 starts dating back to July 2016 while putting up some eye-popping scores.

Bowditch's exemption for his win at the 2015 AT&T Byron Nelson expired in August 2017, and he spent last season without full-time status on Tour for the first time since 2010. He made eight starts, notably finding a caddie via Twitter search before missing the cut at the John Deere Classic in July.

But the 35-year-old revealed Tuesday that his on-course struggles have been tied to some health concerns that have been difficult to pinpoint. Having finally received the appropriate diagnosis, he is preparing for a spinal fusion surgery next month between the L5 and S1 vertebrae - the same two that Tiger Woods successfully fused last year:

Bowditch's estimate of a "late 2019" return likely means he'll miss the entire 2018-19 season. When he returns he would do so with past champion status based on his wins, which also included the 2014 Valero Texas Open.

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Thomas, Koepka grouped as both vie for No. 1 in Korea

By Will GrayOctober 16, 2018, 1:44 pm

The PGA Tour remains in Asia this week, where another star-studded field is gathered for a no-cut event. Here's a look at some of the marquee, early-round groupings at the CJ Cup in South Korea, where Justin Thomas will look to retain his title as the tournament's lone champion with the action getting started Wednesday night for American viewers (all times ET):

7:15 p.m. Wednesday, 8:15 p.m. Thursday: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Sungjae Im

Thomas won the inaugural edition of this event last year in a playoff, and he returns to defend his title with hopes of supplanting idle Dustin Johnson as world No. 1. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Koepka, who is making his first start since being named PGA Tour Player of the Year and, like Thomas, could move to world No. 1. Rounding out the group is Im, a Korean native who went wire-to-wire leading the Web.com Tour money list in 2018 and nearly won his first event as a PGA Tour member in Napa.


CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos


8:15 p.m. Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. Thursday: Marc Leishman, Si Woo Kim, Ernie Els

Leishman lost to Thomas in overtime at this event last year, but he returns to Jeju Island with plenty of momentum after dusting the field last week en route to a five-shot win at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia. Joining him will be Kim, who won the 2017 Players Championship and will have plenty of support from the Korean fans, and Els, playing this week on a sponsor invite as he continues to keep an eye on potential stars for the Presidents Cup team he will captain next year.


8:25 p.m. Wednesday, 7:15 p.m. Thursday: Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama

They're two Aussies who teamed on plenty of Presidents Cup squads and have both reached the top of the world rankings, and now they'll play together for the first two rounds in Korea. Day is making his first start since East Lake, while Scott made a rare appearance at the Japan Open last week where he tied for 50th. Rounding out the trio will be Matsuyama, another Presidents Cup fixture who tied for fourth at the Tour Championship to end last season.


8:35 p.m. Wednesday, 7:25 p.m. Thursday: Kevin Tway, Austin Cook, Xander Schauffele

Tway finished T-27 last week in Malaysia in his first start as a PGA Tour winner, having taken the trophy two weeks ago in Napa. He'll be joined in Korea by Cook, who contended throughout last week en route to a T-13 finish, and Schauffele, the former Rookie of the Year who shot 65-68 over the weekend in Kuala Lumpur.