Europe aims for major follow-up

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It was, as one US golf writer put it in the local vernacular, “an old-fashioned ass-whuppin' ”.

If anybody expected Europe's golfers to record a record nine-point Ryder Cup victory over their more celebrated American opponents, then they were keeping it to themselves.

But many believed that Bernhard Langer, Europe's captain, had greater strength in depth to call upon than any of his predecessors. And according to Colin Montgomerie, who admitted yesterday that he was considering quitting playing Ryder Cup golf with a view to becoming a future captain, that was the key to the victory.

“We had strength at the top, in the middle and at the end and that's the first time I could ever say that,” Montgomerie said.

The European Tour often suffers in comparison to its richer, brasher, star-studded brother across the Atlantic, but the fact is it is turning out terrific golfers.

Langer believes that there were at least another eight Europeans that he could have added to the team without weakening it substantially, and his claims are not without foundation. Among those missing out this time were Fredrik Jacobson, Thomas Bjorn, Jesper Parnevik, José Mar´a Olazabal and Justin Rose, alongside a clutch of other players who have won tournaments this year.

This is a significant step forward from 1985 when the European teams who began to win the Cup and transform it into one of the biggest sporting events in the world were being carried by the likes of Nick Faldo, Severiano Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam and Langer himself.

“Twenty years ago we had maybe five good players and struggled at the bottom and so it was always tight and so we lost many,” Langer said.

While not all 20 of the players Langer had in mind play in Europe regularly, most of them do, and the majority of the rest are products of the Tour who have gone on to enjoy success on the US PGA Tour, proof enough that the relative standard of golf on the two is narrowing.

The discrepancy in prize money, however, means that European players are not given their due by the world rankings, which is top-end loaded with American players and those such as Luke Donald and Paul Casey who choose to make their living in the US. But there are factors that have helped them secure an astonishing six outright victories and one tie since 1985 to just three American victories.

One is a selection policy that counts Ryder Cup points over the course of 12 months rather than the two years preferred by the Americans a system that was further corrupted by the delay to the 2001 event following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which meant that US players accumulated over three years for 2004.

The result was that Europe arrived at the Oakland Hills Country Club with a team that was bang in form. Many of the European rookies that qualified for the event had to do so by playing at their peak throughout July and August. And so Paul McGinley, Ian Poulter, Thomas Levet and David Howell, all of whom contributed great wins, were in the team because they were playing well and were confident. Another, Donald, won the Scandinavian Masters while trying to qualify for the Ryder Cup, and Padraig Harrington won the German Masters last week.

Compare that with a US team of whom only Stewart Cink has won since May, while players such as Kenny Perry found their way into Hal Sutton's team during 2003 but has been quiet this year.

Another factor is that the Europeans are more comfortable in each other's company. Every European player asked on Sunday what was the secret of the success had the same, simple answer: teamwork.

“As we have been saying all week, we tend to play for each other. And that's huge. You can see how delighted we are, not individually but as a team,” Montgomerie said.

That spirit is fostered on the Tour that most play on, where they travel, practise and socialise together.

For all the success this week, however, the lack of a recent major championship success remains a serious blot on the European copybook. Past Ryder Cup successes have been notched up without prompting the best Europeans to raise their game on the individual stage, but this team is young, brimming with talent and potential and Langer is certain a breakthrough cannot be far off.

“I believe very strongly that we have major winners in this group. I am convinced several will win, it's just a matter of time. This is a young group. They can all win majors,” he said.

European golf has been given a significant shot in the arm by the Ryder Cup triumph, and victory in a major next year would maintain that all the way to theK Club in Dublin, the venue for the next transatlantic battle in 2006.

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