AUGUSTA, Ga.(AP) Padraig Harrington is a two-time champion at Augusta National.
Of the Par-3 Tournament.
When it comes to Europeans and the major championships, that’s as good as it gets lately.
It’s been almost eight years since a European player won a major title. Granted, that coincides with the rise of Tiger and Phil. But in the time since Paul Lawrie hoisted the claret jug in 1999, a couple of South Africans, some Aussies, a Canadian, even a guy from New Zealand have managed to win majors.
“When you look at the success we’ve had in the Ryder Cup and then our (results) in the majors, it doesn’t really stack up,” England’s Justin Rose said Tuesday. “Our players have the ability, for sure.”
There’s no doubting that. Europe has owned the United States in Ryder Cup play for more than a decade. The Americans can send teams of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and a slew of other guys who’ve won majors, and they can’t compare with the European squads.
But as Spain’s Sergio Garcia shows often enough, there’s a big difference between team golf and medal play.
“It’s like breaking the four-minute mile,” Harrington said. “Once one person does it, everybody will be able to do it.”
The “streak” gets brought up at every major, but there’s a particular sting here at the Masters. Unlike the U.S. Open, where a European hasn’t won since 1970, or the PGA Championship, where Tommy Armour was the last European-born player to win back in 1930, Europeans had a stretch where they dominated the Masters.
From 1980 to 1999, Europeans put on that green jacket 10 times. And from 1989 to 1996, the Europeans basically passed it back and forth. Nick Faldo to Ian Woosnam. Bernhard Langer to Jose Maria Olazabal. And back to Faldo again.
Ben Crenshaw and Fred Couples each got to wear it for a year during that span, but it was pretty clear they were only raiding the closet.
Since Olazabal won his second Masters title in 1999, though, the only jackets the Europeans brought home from Augusta National were the ones they bought in the pro shop.
“It’s not for a lack of opportunities,” Olazabal said. “Europeans haven’t been all that far from winning. We’ve had a few chances the last few majors, it’s just a matter of getting it done on the last day.”
At every major, it seems, a European is in contention the last day.
Kenneth Ferrie of England had the 54-hole lead at the U.S. Open last summer, only to come in with a 76. Long-suffering Colin Montgomerie was poised to win at Winged Foot, going into the 72nd hole tied with Mickelson. But just as Mickelson blew his chance, Montgomerie did the same – though in far less dramatic fashion.
Monty wound up finishing a stroke behind winner Geoff Ogilvy – an Australian.
Garcia went into the final day at Hoylake a single stroke behind Woods. By the time they got through five holes, he was down five. He finished seven strokes behind Woods, in a tie for fifth.
England’s Luke Donald was paired with Woods in the final group at last year’s PGA Championship – in his adopted hometown of Chicago, no less. He staggered home with a 2-over 74 that left him in a three-way tie for third that included Garcia.
“If I’m not going to win, I’m certainly rooting for one of my fellow Europeans to win. This is pure selfish reasons,” said Harrington, whose best finish in any major is fifth.
“Knowing somebody who has won a major, somebody you played practice rounds with, that you have a game with every couple of weeks, if they go on and win a major, that makes it in your head so much easier to do it,” the Irishman added. “It’s a psychological thing that you just need to see.”
Though dominating in the Ryder Cup is different than winning a major, the lessons from one might eventually carry over to the other. The up-and-comers who have been the staple of Europe’s recent Ryder Cup teams – Donald, Garcia, Harrington, Paul Casey of England, and Sweden’s Robert Karlsson and Henrik Stenson – are the same who grew up watching their European idols win at Augusta National.
The more they play, the more they see they can beat Woods and Mickelson, the more confident they are likely to become. At some point, the thinking goes, that’s got to carry over to the majors.
Maybe even this week.
After Woods and Mickelson, Stenson is a popular pick to win. He arrives as one of the hottest players in the game after winning at star-studded Dubai and Accenture Match Play Championship.
Casey won at Abu Dhabi earlier this year, and Harrington won Europe’s money title last year. Don’t ever discount Garcia or Donald, either.
“It’d be great for golf right now if one of the young players could win a major,” Rose said. “Obviously, I hope it would be me.”
And once one of the Europeans wins, look out.
“It’s like a bus,” Rose said. “You wait all day for one, and then two turn up.”