NBC’s Johnny Miller Notes New Golf World
TUCSON – If there ever were any doubts that European golfers have surpassed their American counterparts, the results of the latest WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship reflect brilliantly on the sorry saga of U.S. demise.
England’s Luke Donald finally wins a big tournament Sunday and jumps to No. 3 in the world rankings. The guy he beats in the Match Play final at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain, Germany’s Martin Kaymer, ascends to No. 1 despite the loss.
Add Donald’s countryman, Lee Westwood, at No. 2 and Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell at No 4, and the top foursome in the world will be all-Euro when the latest rankings are released Monday. It is the first time such an oddity has occurred since 1992 — or pre-Tiger.
Unbelievable? Perhaps. Disturbing? Not really, although it does bring up a couple of questions that loom rather large when it comes to this seismic shift in global golf power:
*What’s happened to Woods and Phil Mickelson, now the No. 5 and 6 players in the world? Between them they’ve won once in the past year and currently are just barely ahead of two more Euros – No. 7 Paul Casey and No. 8 Rory McIlroy – and sliding fast after early exits in Tucson.
Can what happened to the LPGA – total domination by International players coupled by a disappearance of American stars – happen to the PGA Tour? After all, of the original 64 players invited here this past week, 24 were Americans and 40 were from someplace else. By comparison, the original Match Play field in 1999 included 41 Americans and 23 Internationals.
Just check out the past year starting with last year’s Match Play Championship, an all-England final where Ian Poulter beat Casey. In fact, three of the past four Match Play champs have been Europeans, the other being Sweden’s Henrik Stenson in 2007.
Then you toss in the fact(s) that two of last year’s four majors were won by Euros, who also beat the Americans in the Ryder Cup, and, well, it is a different world we are living in golf-wise these days.
Or as NBC’s Johnny Miller so succinctly put it: “They’re doing something right over there, aren’t they!’’ And, no, he didn’t phrase it as a question.
Donald and Kaymer were clearly the class of this elite field, which might be the last Match Play Championship ever held in Tucson. The Tour, Accenture and host Tucson Conquistadores will meet in the coming weeks to decide the event’s fate. Some said this week that the tournament already was out of there for 2012, while others said it has at least another year.
If it was the final curtain for the Match Play it proved memorable, with snow blanketing Dove Mountain on Sunday morning and a hailstorm stopping play early in the afternoon with Donald in control. When play resumed, Donald did what he had done all week, he fought off his opponent through the middle of the round(s) with birdies at the 11th and 12th holes for a 2-up advantage, and ended up winning, 3 and 2. Somewhat remarkably, he never trailed at any point during the week.
For the 33-year-old Donald, his biggest victory ever was his first win on Tour since the 2006 Honda Classic. He has now won three times in America and three times on the European Tour.
“I’ve had a bit of a monkey on my back the last five years, not winning here in the U.S. But with a lot of blood and sweat we got here,’’ said Donald, who ran his individual record to 16-6 in this tournament as he stepped firmly on the world stage.
“It certainly is payback for all the hard work I’ve done. But hats off to Martin for being No. 1 in the world, I guess that makes (the victory) a little sweeter.’’
Asked how he did it, Donald, a smart kid who went to Northwestern, where he was NCAA champ, put it all in perspective: “I just don’t give many holes away and that’s important in match play.’’
With the exception of a few errant drives, Donald did everything else right as he became the first Match Play champ to win every match before it reached the final hole, going an unofficial 24 under for the 89 holes he played over five days.
“It couldn’t have gone any better,’’ he added. “Not to go to the 18th hole in any of my matches, that allowed me to go through stress-free.’’
Obviously, Kaymer, who lives in Paradise Valley when he is not in Dusseldorf, would have been in even better position had he won the $1.4 million prize instead of runner-up money of $850,000. (Oh, well!) At 26, “the Germanator’’ is the second youngest to be No. 1 in the world behind Woods, who was 22 when he went to the top.
“I just didn’t play as well as I did the last few days,’’ said Kaymer, the reigning PGA champ who became the 14th player ever to be ranked No. 1 in the world.
“I played OK, but the way Luke plays, a decent round isn’t enough. He’s a tough competitor, always difficult.’’
But asked about being No. 1 in the world and having the three other guys under him all Europeans, Kaymer smiled.
“Yes, especially to be the first is nice on the top,’’ he said mixing up his English slightly. “Yeah, of course, European golf has been great.
“For us to make golf even more popular in the world, it’s fantastic to have four Europeans up there. It was always Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, and now there are four Europeans up there, so it’s good.’’
Get used to it. While nobody is rubbing the Europeans’ iron grip on the game in anybody’s face quite yet, it will become a much bigger issue by the time we get to the Masters, when that rivalry will be all the rage.