Euros look to end 'bad spell'

When Paul Lawrie hoisted the Claret Jug in '99, it marked the beginning of the end for Europeans in majors.

Originally Published: July 14, 2004
By Bob Harig | Special to ESPN.com

TROON, Scotland -- Darkness was setting in, but the party was just beginning. Paul Lawrie had made up the biggest final-round deficit in major championship history, then won a playoff to capture the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie. He was the toast of Scotland.

And Europe has had nothing to celebrate since.

Not in the Open Championship, which begins Thursday at Royal Troon. Not in any major championship.

Where they're playing

This week:
133rd Open Championship
Site:
Troon, Scotand
Course:
Royal Troon (7,175 yards, par 71).
Television:
Thursday: 7 a.m.-7 p.m. ET (TNT)
Friday.: 7 a.m.-7 p.m. ET (TNT)
Saturday: 7-9 a.m. (TNT); 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (ABC)
Sunday: 6-8 a.m. (TNT); 8 a.m.-1:30 p.m. (ABC)
Defending champ:
Ben Curtis


This week:
B.C. Open
Site:
Endicott, N.Y.
Course:
En-Joie GC
(6,974 yards, par 72)
Purse:
$3 million (Winner: $540,000)
Television:
Thursday: 4-6 p.m. ET (USA)
Friday: 4-6 p.m. ET (USA)
Saturday: 3-6 p.m. ET (USA)
Sunday: 3-6 p.m. ET (USA)
Defending champ:
Craig Stadler


This week:
Giant Eagle LPGA Classic
Site:
Vienna, Ohio
Course:
Squaw Creek CC
(6,454 yards, par 72)
Purse:
$1 million (Winner: $150,000)
Television:
None
Defending champ:
Rachel Teske


This week:
Pete Dye West Virginia Classic
Site:
Bridgeport, W.Va.
Course:
Pete Dye Golf Club (7,248 yards, par 72)
Purse:
$600,000 (Winner: $108,500)
Television:
Thursday: 1:30-4 p.m. ET (TGC)
Friday: 1:30-4 p.m. ET (TGC)
Saturday: 5-7:30 p.m. ET (TGC)
Sunday: 5-7:30 p.m. ET (TGC)
Inaugural event

Not a single European has won a major title since Lawrie's triumph. Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal won that year's Masters. Otherwise, you have to go back to the 1996 Masters and Nick Faldo to find a European major winner.

Why?

"We're going through a bad spell," said Scotland's Colin Montgomerie, who was long considered the best bet among Europeans to win a major but had to qualify just to play this week. "People recover and times recover. I think it just so happens that the domination is for the rest of the world right now as opposed to Europe."

"To be honest, we haven't had many guys challenging over the past few years," Faldo said. "There's no real reason why the Europeans shouldn't be challenging. Everybody is talented, but it's the 15th club after that."

Faldo was referring to the mental game, and few had his capacity in that regard. The six-time major winner who captured three Open Championships also had contemporaries who won majors such as Sandy Lyle, Bernhard Langer, Seve Ballesteros and Ian Woosnam.

All of them played most of their golf on the PGA European Tour, which has often been cited as a reason for the malaise. Those players aren't competing against the world's elite week in and week out. Most of the top-ranked players compete on the PGA Tour. Even European tour stalwarts such as Ernie Els and Retief Goosen play full schedules in the United States.

"We had a domination back in the '80s and early '90s, but it seems to have dried up slightly and that will come back," said Montgomerie, who has only one top-10 in 14 Open Championships. "It's just a matter of when and how."

So, who are the contenders? Ireland's Padraig Harrington is the highest-ranked of the European players. Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke has had the most success against top-notch fields, winning two World Golf Championship events. Sergio Garcia, just 24, has contended in a couple of majors and has been expected to be a strong player for years to come. Then there's Paul Casey, Fredrik Jacobson, Ian Poulter, Brian Davis and Justin Rose (who did not qualify for the Open.)

"It's not like we have six in the top 10 at major after major," said Faldo. "Which means if one is up there, he is having to handle an awful lot of pressure. 'Whoa, I'm representing the European Tour here.' If there were five in the top 10, it would be different -- you'd forget about it."

Casey, an Englishman who played college golf at Arizona State, thinks it will take time before Europeans are once again winning majors.

"It's frustrating that there is a bit of a lull just now," said Casey, who tied for sixth in the Masters. "The last European winner of a major was Paul Lawrie. It's sad, really."

Five Things To Watch

1.
Has Tiger Woods ever received so little fanfare heading into a major championship? The 2000 British Open winner has gone eight majors without a victory, and has contended in just two of them.

2.
Ernie Els has seen two great chances to win majors slip away this year. Can he get his fourth major and his second Open Championship?

3.
Phil Mickelson has never contended at a British Open, but his preparation, like at the other majors, has been better than ever.

4.
U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen is flying under the radar again, but he won his first start after the Open and has four British Open top-10s, including '97 at Royal Troon.

5.
At what point does Vijay Singh start to get some heat for not winning majors? He won his second at the 2000 Masters but has struggled to get it done in recent attempts.


THE COURSE: ROYAL TROON
Royal Troon is among the most revered courses in the British Open rotation. The 7,175-yard, par-71 layout that runs alongside the Firth of Clyde has a very basic configuration. The first nine holes (aside from the par-3 eighth, which comes back) run in the same direction, away from the clubhouse, and are downwind. You better do your scoring on those holes. The second nine holes turn around and are played into the prevailing wind. That is where a player must hold on.

"The back nine is just a battle," said Justin Leonard, who won the '97 Open at Troon. "You're just trying to hold the round together, more or less."

For whatever reason, Troon has been good to Americans, who have won the last five Opens played here: Arnold Palmer (1962), Tom Weiskopf (1973), Tom Watson (1982), Mark Calcavecchia (1989) and Leonard (1997). This will be the eighth time that Troon has hosted the Open.

QUICK TAKE
Ben Curtis
Curtis
He won the tournament fair and square, and you must give Ben Curtis his due. But it still remains difficult to view Curtis in any other way than a fluke. Especially when you consider his record before and since last year's British Open.

Curtis barely qualified for the championship at Royal St. George's, then hung around the lead until a birdie binge gave him the advantage that he nearly squandered on the back nine. It wasn't until Thomas Bjorn butchered the par-3 16th that the door opened. And by then, Curtis had completed his round.

And there are more than a few who believe the quirky nature of the course contributed to such an obscure winner.

"This week the best player is going to win,'' Darren Clarke said. "It's a stern test, and chances are it will come from the guys at the top of the world rankings."

Clarke made sure to say that he wasn't bashing Curtis. But you get the idea.

Since the victory, Curtis has just one top-10 finish -- at this year's Memorial. But one thing is certain: they can't take his name off the Claret Jug.

MAILBAG: ASK BOB HARIG
Bob HarigGot a question about the PGA Tour? Ask ESPN.com golf writer Bob Harig, who will answer a few of your inquiries in each installment of This Week in Golf.
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Your comment:

Q. A little disappointed in your article about Tiger. I really agree that Phil's game has taken a turn for the better, but to try to put him on an equal stage as Tiger is, well, reaching to say the least. You had done so well in not following the trend of trying to make a rivalry out of two individuals who are STILL miles apart. Tiger has always said he judges himself by the majors. And granted, although he has not played well in a major in a couple of years, he still has eight. EIGHT!!! And the guy is what? 28? Come on, Bob. Phil has one major and is just now starting to really understand what he has to do to win majors. So at the very least, Tiger and Phil's major championship comparison is two years apart -- if we assume Tiger will not win one in the next two years, and Phil wins them all. Even the other big three (Ernie, Vijay and Retief) would have to go on a "major" tear to equal Tiger's total, and again that's assuming Tiger will not come out of his "major" funk and rip off two or three in that same stretch. Appreciate your articles, but you are off-base trying to stoke a rivalry between two players that are still seven majors apart.
John F. Hicks, Jr.
Atlanta

A. The story in question centered around the fact that, now, Phil is acting more like Tiger used to, while Tiger seems to be acting like Phil used to. It has nothing to do with the fact that Woods has seven more majors. At the moment, Mickelson has come to the conclusion that he once approached the game in the wrong manner. He changed his game. Woods, meanwhile, has acted as if there is nothing wrong with his game, when obviously his results show otherwise.

Q. While it may be true that Tiger is acting more like the old Phil, the fact is Tiger doesn't three-putt from six feet on the 17th hole, tied for the lead of the US Open. Just won't ever happen.
Karl
Norman, Okla.

A. Perhaps not. But he did bogey two of the last four holes at last year's British Open to lose by two strokes.

Q. I think all this talk about Michelle Wie is absurd. She has not even proven herself on the LPGA Tour, yet the media, and Wie herself, is talking about playing in more men's tournaments and even trying to qualify for the men's US Open. In fact, two weeks ago at the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship she got beat by another teenager, proving that not only is she not ready for the LPGA, but that she is not even the best teenager playing right now. Why don't we wait for her to actually be competitive in a women's event and maybe even win something before we start making her out to be the best women golfer ever and leave this total nonsense behind us about her trying to compete on the men's tour? What do you think?
Todd Hartranft
Houston

A. If Michelle Wie is going to compete in men's events, it should be in the future, not now. No doubt, she needs to win more against her peers. But her loss at the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links should not be considered a blow. She made it to the finals of a match play event where anything can happen. She won the tournament last year. As for her inability to compete on the women's tour, facts say otherwise. She finished fourth at the Kraft Nabisco and tied for 13th at the U.S. Women's Open. There are dozens of established LPGA Tour players who would love to have those results. And this is at age 14.


Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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