When Colin Montgomerie finished second at the Open Championship and Jose Maria Olazabal tied for third, it was a good showing for the Europeans. But not quite enough to crown a European major champion for the first time since 1999.
That’s when Olazabal won his second Masters and Scotland’s Paul Lawrie prevailed in the brutal examination that was the Open at Carnoustie.
Olazabal has 12 top 10s in majors and Montgomerie has nine. They have done their best to live up to the legacy established by Europe’s “fabulous five” of Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam, who combined for 16 major championships between 1979 and 1996. Olazabal’s 1994 Masters title was the only major during that period that was won by a European not in the “Fab Five.”
Montgomerie and Olazabal’s careers have had many comparisons and contrasts since Ollie topped Monty in the final of the 1984 British Amateur. Olazabal has two major championships; Montgomerie has been denied twice in major championship playoffs (by Ernie Els at the 1994 U.S. Open and by Steve Elkington at the ’95 PGA Championship). Montgomerie also finished second to Els at the ’97 U.S. Open.
Olazabal and Montgomerie have combined for 50 PGA European Tour titles, and Montgomerie reigned supreme in Europe when he reeled off seven consecutive Order of Merit titles and reached No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. The pair exemplifies European golf excellence, and set a solid example for those following in their footsteps.
Those rooting for the Europeans can only hope that their favorites have been watching closely. It will take some doing to match the accomplishments of Europe’s grand pair, but it needs to happen if there is going to be a European major champion anytime soon.
European fans who lament the current dearth of major champions from our side of the pond should know that this isn’t the first drought we’ve experienced. When Tony Jacklin won the Open Championship in 1969, it ended an 18-year dry spell that began after Max Faulkner won the British in 1951.
After Jacklin’s Open Championship victory, it was 10 more years before another European won a major – Ballesteros at the 1979 British Open at Royal Lytham. Then began the Fab Five’s magic ride between 1979 and ’96, during which time the longest drought was between Ballesteros’ Masters titles of 1980 and ’83.
The dry spell today has reached six years. Some look to Sergio Garcia to end it. His tie for fifth this year at St. Andrews followed a tie for third at the U.S. Open. It was his 10th top 10 in majors. Toss in six PGA Tour victories since 2001 and all the evidence points to the 25-year-old Spaniard joining the ranks of major champions.
And then there are Darren Clark, Padraig Harrington, Luke Donald and Jesper Parnevik – all winners in the United States. But the question is whether any of them they will turn from contender to champion.
And even for Europeans who might not spend much time on the PGA Tour, the chance for major victory still should be there. It’s not where you play, but how you play.
South Africa’s Goosen and Els have dominated the European money list for the past four years. The successes of Americans Shaun Micheel (Asian Tour) and Todd Hamilton (Japan Tour) and even Bob May (who took Tiger to a playoff at Valhalla, and had played mostly on the European Tour to that point) prove that a major can be won no matter where you’re from or where you play.
The European contenders are there. It’s just a matter of finishing the job.