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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Year-End Review: Ryding High

The big talk of 2010 -- besides Tiger, that is -- was the "sudden rise" of the European players. And let's be honest, it was specifically the European players everybody was talking about -- not the Japanese or Korean players, though they certainly stepped up their games, nor the Australian players with Jason Day's coming-of-age and the return of Adam Scott.

But was the European invasion really all that sudden? I don't think so. What really happened is that the OWGR finally caught up to what's been happening for quite a while.

Here's the deal: The Euro Tour players have been consistently improving for several years. However, because the OWGR didn't award any great number of points for their tournaments -- supposedly the fields weren't strong enough! -- these players slowly inched their way up the charts without anybody really noticing. Since they didn't get the points, the Euro players didn't rank high enough to play often in the majors and other quality events, so they didn't get much notice. And, as a result, unless you followed the ET closely, these players simply didn't register on your radar.

But then, sometime in the last eighteen months, the world rankings of these players reached a critical mass. The OWGR suddenly started granting more points to these tournaments, and the constant climb became a "sudden rise" in the world rankings. But those of us who tried to keep up weren't so surprised. For example, Neil over at Armchair Golf Blog and I commented back and forth earlier in the year about the European and South African "invasions," and I'm sure plenty of you noticed it too.

To paraphrase a well-worn motto, those guys are good too. And if that didn't become clear at the majors this year, it was certainly plain at the Ryder Cup.

After an American (Phil) won the Masters, the final 3 majors went to an Irishman (Northern Irish -- I did pay attention, folks), a South African, and a German. And none of those players were really surprises. Graeme McDowell already had 4 ET wins and 3 seconds coming into 2010; Louis Oosthuizen had 3 ET seconds, 5 Sunshine Tour wins, and a vote of confidence from Ernie Els; and Martin Kaymer had 4 ET wins and 6 seconds, plus 2 Challenge Tour wins. Can you really call any of these big surprises? They certainly had some experience.

And Lee Westwood reaching #1 in the OWGR was certainly not a surprise. The only surprise is that he hasn't won a major yet. I had him picked to win the PGA until that calf injury put him out. Ironically, several of the guys at Golf Channel have picked Westwood to win the PGA in 2011. Of all the majors, I think the PGA sets up best for him; there are no tricked-up greens, pavement-hard fairways, or jungle-high rough to contend with. The PGA is set up so good players with a decent all-around game can score, and that's what Westwood does best.

Every year after the Ryder Cup teams are finalized, there is always talk about who is stronger "on paper." The lag between the skill level of the European players and their recognition by the OWGR has made that argument a badly-skewed one, since the rankings were in no way an accurate measure of where players truly ranked. When the American team characterized themselves as the underdog at this year's Ryder Cup, they may have accidentally spoken the truth. At the very least, the teams were much closer than anyone was willing to admit.

In 2011 we will finally start to see the real rankings. With several of the top-ranked players remaining on the ET as their home tour, the points for those tournaments should be more in line with the actual talent playing there. By the end of the year, we should have a much better idea of who is really at the top of the rankings.

But you can count on one thing: A lot of those players will be European, and that bodes very well for the European Tour.

2 comments:

  1. I guess it's easy to put that word "sudden" in there when you look at a teenager like McIlroy, a major going to a journeyman like McDowell, and another to a young-ish German. Add in a world #1 from Europe and another fantastic Ryder Cup appearance. If you're not someone who keeps an eye on the Euro Tour...or a xxx Golf Channel on air person :-D...it might look like they just popped up out of nowhere.

    good stuff !

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