Americans in form, so it won’t be an easy Ryder
22:00 GMT, 30 April 2012
When the UK’s finest were cutting a swathe through Florida in March, the golf correspondent of America’s best-selling newspaper turned in my direction and said: ‘This year’s Ryder Cup could get ugly for the US.'
What seemed a pessimistic viewpoint at the time bears no relation to reality come the first day of May. Make no mistake, the revival of American golf is in full swing.
Two years ago, the sport’s most powerful nation was in such a bad way that 11 out of 15 tournaments staged during the middle of the season were won by players from overseas. Only last year, a plaintive American voice asked Lee Westwood: ‘Do you think in our lifetime an American will win another major’ Now look at the transformation.
States of play: Bubba Watson and Jason Dufner are two of those leading America's resurgence on the Tour
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In 19 events staged on the US Tour this year, the only non-Americans to get inside the winner’s circle were the trio of UK players — Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Luke Donald — who won in successive weeks in the Sunshine State, and the Swede Carl Pettersson, who just happens to be an American citizen.
On Sunday in New Orleans it was the turn of Jason Dufner to keep the internationals at bay, winning a play-off against South African Ernie Els for his first victory on tour.
Dufner is getting married on Saturday, so it is safe to say this week will go down as a life-changer. He and his wife are planning to take their honeymoon in the autumn but they might want to think about a further delay considering he seems a certainty to make America’s Ryder Cup team.
Masters champion Bubba Watson, US PGA champ Keegan Bradley, Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan, Dufner, Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods.
That’s not a bad core for captain Davis Love to work with, as he waits to see what the summer holds for Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk and Rickie Fowler, plus the immensely promising Kyle Stanley and John Huh.
This American renaissance, together with home advantage, points towards a tense beauty in Chicago in September rather than an ugly one-sider.
Luke who is top of the tree again
Thanks to the grit and class of Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy’s second stay at the top of the world rankings lasted no longer than his first.
The Englishman’s third-place finish in New Orleans on Sunday was sufficient to limit the Ulsterman’s latest residency at the summit to just a fortnight. Don’t expect this to-ing and fro-ing between the pair to end any time soon, either.
Luke who's back: There is a familiar face at the top of the world rankings once again
McIlroy returns to action this week at the Quail Hollow Championship, the scene of his first American victory in 2010 and a course right up his alley.
Then both players will compete the following week at the Players Championship in Florida on a course that favours Donald’s strategic gifts over McIlroy’s naked aggression.
Then again, what price neither of them leading following the Players, with third-placed Lee Westwood bagging the biggest title of his career to leapfrog them both
Fascinating, isn’t it
How good is the standard at amateur level these days For this weekend’s Lytham Trophy, those entrants playing off a handicap of plus 2.0 were balloted out of the original 144-man field.
'Makings of a great player': Javier Ballesteros
Callum Shinkwin, 18, winner of the Hampshire Hog last week and a likely England international who plays off that mark, only got in as third reserve. Mind you, how many will play to their handicap around Lytham
I’ll certainly be impressed if the German Marcel Schneider — who plays off plus 5.2, would you believe — manages to do so.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
‘Javier has started very strongly. He is close to joining us very soon. He has the makings of a great player.’
Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal, after watching Seve Ballesteros’s son Javier notch a notable top-12 finish while competing as an amateur in a minor pro tournament in Barcelona last week. Javier, 21, is completing a law degree at Madrid University and has yet to decide whether to become a lawyer or a pro golfer.
Pain in Spain
‘There will be a reckoning,’ warned a Spanish journalist friend of mine after Spain was overlooked for the role of host for the 2018 Ryder Cup in favour of France.
As the European Tour sets down in Spain this week at the beginning of an extended stay on its home continent, it would appear to be already in place. Five events will take place in Spain this year, down from seven last year — and two of those scheduled to take place in the autumn currently have no venue listed or sponsor.
Indeed, the number of events to be staged in Europe as a whole is down from 27 last year to 23 at best. Meanwhile, another big event attracting all the stars was announced last week for Shanghai in October. Right now, watching Europe trying to compete against the Far East is a bit like watching the BBC taking on Sky.