Europe tempers expectations for 2010 encore

"It’s a changing of the guard over to Europe."
- Ryder Cup European captain Colin Montgomerie on the shift in golf dominance.

"It’s a changing of the guard over to Europe." - Ryder Cup European captain Colin Montgomerie on the shift in golf dominance.

What does Europe do for an encore? That’s a pertinent question as the 2011 European year kicks off with the Africa Open in East London, South Africa, this week.

Last year marked the best season in European Tour history. Three tour members became majors winners – Graeme McDowell became the first European to win the U.S. Open in 40 years, Louis Oosthuizen lifted the old Claret Jug and Martin Kaymer won the PGA Championship. Europe won the Ryder Cup, and Lee Westwood rose to world No. 1 to be the first European to accomplish the feat since 1994.

 No wonder champagne corks were popping at European Tour headquarters in Virginia Water, England. No surprise that European Tour chief executive George O’Grady had a permanent smile on his face throughout the season-ending Dubai World Championship.

Onwards and upwards then, but can 2011 come even close to the same success? Doubtful, according to one of the stars of 2010.

“I look at my own game from a personal point of view, and it’s going to be tough to replicate what I did . . . so it’s going to be tough for the European Tour to follow this up,” McDowell said.

Truth is, the European Tour doesn’t really need to replicate 2010. Just coming close would be a significant accomplishment for European golf. Rest assured, O’Grady would be content with half of 2010’s successes.

If Europe wins just one major this year and contends in the other three, consider it mission accomplished.

And there are plenty of candidates lining up to follow in the footsteps of McDowell, Oosthuizen and Kaymer.

One of Ian Poulter’s first tweets of the year read: “I feel it’s going to be a major year on all counts.” No doubt about his main goal in 2011, then.

It’s the same for Westwood, Paul Casey, Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Justin Rose, Ross Fisher, and Edoardo and Francesco Molinari. All will be champing at the bit to get their hands on major silverware. If McDowell and company can do it, they believe, so can they.

Westwood is the man most likely to join the major club. He’s come tantalizingly close over the past three years, with five top-three finishes, including second-place finishes in the Masters and Open Championship last year. Besides, a major trophy would validate his position at the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.

So just one European major winner this year will do nicely for an encore. Anything more than that is just a bonus.

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