Tait: Hasn't been all roses for European golf

Padraig Harrington

Padraig Harrington

It’s been another great year for the European Tour. Three major wins, a European has held the world No. 1 spot for the entire year and the first four spots for most of the season.

Yes, sir, European Tour chief executive George O’Grady and his team will have much to celebrate this Christmas.

The exploits of Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke in winning the first three majors of the year, and Luke Donald as World No. 1 are the good-news stories from this side of the Atlantic. Yet there are stories that haven’t brought much good news this year.

Here are five.

Where’s Padraig?

Padraig Harrington takes a lot of credit for inspiring the recent crop of six European Tour major winners in the past two years. He opened the floodgates by winning three in 13 months – the 2007 & 2008 Open Championships and 2008 PGA Championship. Yet Harrington’s game seems to have disappeared.

Harrington hasn’t won since those three major victories. He has made only six of 12 cuts in the majors since that 2008 PGA Championship victory, with a best finish of 10th, in the 2009 PGA. He missed his last two cuts in the Open Championship, a tournament he owned in 2007 and 2008.

The Irishman has sunk to 79th in the Official World Golf Ranking - from a career high of third in 2008. He topped the Euro money list in 2006 but is 70th on the Order of Merit, with just €373,167. That’s less money than he made in his rookie year of 1996, when he earned €399,033.

The Dubliner left long-time coach Bob Torrance in July after making extensive swing changes. Harrington doesn’t seem to have progressed since the split and is a shadow of his former self. Hopefully this affable Irishman can find his way back to the winner’s circle soon.

Still waiting for Sweden

Who’d have thought we’d still be waiting for a Swedish male to join the major club at this point in time? Not me.

I remember back to the 1990s when Anders Forsbrand and Ove Sellberg were being touted as the first Swedish major winners. Then it was Jesper Parnevik, Jarmo Sandelin, Niclas Fasth, Pierre Fulke, Robert Karlsson, Carl Pettersson and Henrik Stenson. They’ve all come and seem to have all gone.

There were high hopes for Stenson after he won the 2009 Players Championship, but he’s having a hard time hanging on to playing rights in Europe, nevermind challenging for majors. He’s 134th on the Euro money list and 175th in the world ranking.

At 42 years old, Karlsson doesn’t have time on his side and has had problems with injuries during the past two years.

Alex Noren is the best of the young Swedes. Will he be the one to make the breakthrough, or is the first Swedish male major winner not yet on our radar?

Nick’s nightmare

Nick Dougherty should be challenging Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and Paul Casey for the right to be hailed England’s best golfer. Instead, he’s living a nightmare.

Despite three European Tour wins, Dougherty is facing a trip back to Q-School this year. He’s made just one cut in 30 events and languishing in 276th place on the money list. It’s not what was expected for a man who played on the same victorious 2001 Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team as Donald, with whom he partnered in foursomes, and Graeme McDowell.

Dougherty seems to have changed coaches recently as much as he changes socks, and that may be part of the problem. It might explain why is hitting less than 50 percent of fairways. Let’s hope he can find a way back, because he’s one of the nicest guys in the game.

No one to fill Monty’s shoes

We Scots are still waiting for someone, anyone, to fill Colin Montgomerie’s shoes. With the exception of Paul Lawrie’s 1999 Open win and the odd victory by Stephen Gallacher and Richie Ramsay, no Scot has emerged on the world stage to take Montgomerie’s place. And looking down through the Challenge Tour and amateur ranks, the wait could be a long one. Shame.

Ernie’s three-year plan

Remember when Ernie Els said he had a three-year plan to unseat Tiger Woods as the World No. 1? The Big Easy made that announcement at the end of 2006. Els hasn’t come close to taking the top spot since, but at least he now has a higher ranking than Woods. Els is 48th while Woods is 10 places down the pecking order. Difference is, Woods still has a chance to get back to No. 1 while Els just seems to be going through the motions.

The South African can’t even seem to cut it in Europe any more. He’s 49th on the money list.

Seems odd to think that this man with so much talent might not win more than the three majors he already owns.

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