Euros in need of a major lift
SANDWICH, England -- The facts are not pretty for the European Tour. One British Open winner in the last 10 years. Three players in the top 20 of the World Golf Ranking.

Colin Montgomerie
Colin Montgomerie thinks the young European players will deliver soon -- but they better hurry.

"Well, I'm 21st," Colin Montgomerie said.

Four out of 21, then.

"Thanks," Montgomerie said. "That sounds much better."

The Europeans can win the Ryder Cup, as they demonstrated with emerald-cut brilliance last fall. But no one has seen any of the Europeans since they celebrated their victory at The Belfry. They are winless on the PGA Tour. Padraig Harrington, who, at ninth, is the lone European in the top 10, finished a distant second to Davis Love III at the Players.

Things aren't much better on their own tour. Ernie Els of South Africa, playing the European tour on a part-time basis, is the leading money-winner.

Can't anybody here play this game?

In the 1990s, the top of the rankings included players like Monty, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam. In 2003, Montgomerie has fallen from 10th to 21st. He turned 40 last month. Faldo, who will be 46 on Friday, hasn't won on either tour in five years. Langer, who has finished second, third and third in his previous Opens at Royal St. George's, will be 46 next month and said Wednesday that he is willing to scale back his playing in order to be Ryder Cup captain next year. Woosnam, 45, had to survive a sudden-death playoff Monday in order to make this Open field.

"You can't stay at the top forever," Monty said Wednesday. "If we did, Muhammad Ali would still be champion, wouldn't he?"

Behind Ali, there was Larry Holmes, who earned the respect, if not the love, of the boxing public. Behind the forty-something Euros, the next generation has fallen.

Darren Clarke, who made a big splash by beating Tiger Woods in the final of the Match Play, has made only sporadic appearances on the world stage since. He opened this year's Masters with a 66, and followed with a 76. Lee Westwood, who won five times on the European tour in 2000, hasn't won since. Paul Lawrie, the lone European player to win the Open in the last decade, quickly returned to anonymity. His 1999 victory at Carnoustie remains remembered more for Jean Van de Velde's spectacular collapse on the 72nd hole than any shots that Lawrie hit on that Sunday.

"It goes in cycles," said 45-year-old Sandy Lyle, of Scotland, who won the 1985 Open at Royal St. George's and the 1988 Masters. "For quite some time, the Europeans dominated The Masters, and then Tiger (Woods) comes along and he dominates it. At the moment, the British Open has been dominated by a lot of Americans, and that can change very quickly. We've got some young players now in Europe ready to break through."

No pressure on those 20somethings -- just shoulder the reputation of their golfing continent. While they have great promise, none of them has capitalized. Sergio Garcia, still only 23, is in the midst of reconstructing his swing. Justin Rose of England appears to be the closest. Rose, who finished fourth as an amateur at the 1998 British Open, won four times in Europe and elsewhere last year. He finished a quiet fifth at the U.S. Open last month at Olympia Fields.

Rose, 22, is part of a foursome known as the Brit Pack. Paul Casey, 25, and Ian Poulter, 27, have both won on the European tour this year. Luke Donald, 25, won the Southern Farm Bureau Classic last year on the PGA Tour and comes into the British Open off of a 13th-place finish at the Western Open.

"If you see a couple of the young guys play really well, you feel like you want to keep pace," Rose said. "You don't want to get left behind in the group. It's nice to be involved in that rivalry, too."

Royal St. George's seems to reward experienced shot-makers, which would rule out the Brit Pack, none of whom have played a British Open on the course. Rose reached the round of 16 in the 1997 British Amateur here. The others did not enter (Poulter had already turned pro). Rose has finished in the top 30 in the Open in each of the last two years. None of the other three have finished better than 50th.

"I think you'll find in the next few years," Montgomerie said, "that the young British players that we've spoken so much about will come through. I'm sure they will. They're practicing harder, they're fitter, and there's no reason why they shouldn't."

They better hurry. Their country and their tour needs them.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.