Europeans badly need a stroke of genius

THERE is no end to the number of shock winners golf is producing these days, but none of them hail from our side of the globe.

Unheard of Americans are popping up all over the place but, other than Thomas Bjorn at the Open, there hasn't been a peep out of the Europeans. Even Bjorn blew it when he led by three with four to play at Royal St Georges, in stark contrast to both winner Shaun Micheel and runner-up Chad Campbell at Oak Hill over the weekend and Ben Curtis at the Open.

Taking this into consideration, what chance would you give Europe against the US in the Ryder Cup if the match was being played next month instead of September 2004? The honest answer has to be very little.

True, we have been down this road before and the unexpected happened and Europe prevailed. Now, however, there seems to be a serious lack of depth on the European Tour whereas the opposite is the case in the States.

It will be interesting to see if there is further confirmation of this when the stars reassemble this week for the World Golf Championship NEC event in Akron, Ohio.

We could badly do with a challenge to the supremacy of the American continent. If it isn't guys called Rich Beem, Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel who are picking up the main prizes, then it's a Canadian left-hander by the name of Mike Weir.

This must be a sobering thought for British bank HSBC, which is contracted to sponsor the World Matchplay, due to be played at Wentworth in October, for the next 10 years. The massive prize money includes stg£1 million for the winner.

So far, the indications are world number one Tiger Woods won't be there.

Masters champion Mike Weir has another commitment that week.

The three main "attractions" so far (with the exception of holder Ernie Els) are Jim Furyk, Curtis and Micheel.

In the meantime, Padraig Harrington has travelled on to Akron and will compete unless there is news from home of the arrival of his first child.

He attributes his recent run of poor form to typical midsummer lethargy and he's not panicking.

"I'm happier with my swing than I've ever been," he says. It's difficult to understand how that can be considering his recent run but he is adamant a change in fortune will come soon.

"It's just a little blip and people are reading too much into it," he says.

"There's a lot of expectation out there. I'm still having a pretty solid year. This week I didn't play well but I was a little bit sharper at times and got the ball around whereas on a couple of other weeks when I missed the cut I wasn't sharp.

"Whereas I would have recovered a lot of shots in years gone by, I'm losing some now because I'm not sharp. But I'm getting there and I'm very happy at where my game is. It's just one of those things. You're not going to play well for 12 months of the year and if you look at my past record, I do struggle in the summer months."

He would like to play in Ohio to see if he can maintain the slight improvement he noticed at Oak Hill and pick up some badly needed world ranking points that would keep him in the top 10. But developments at home will dictate that.

"I will play the BMW International in Munich if I don't play this week," he said.

Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley have no such dilemmas but they also badly need to do something about their ailing golf games.

Clarke had a hugely frustrating time at Oak Hill. If you exclude his opening two holes, which incredibly cost him five shots, he was four over for the other 34 holes, which suggests that his game may not be quite in the desperate state that he himself claims. A round of 70 on Friday, containing five birdies but two bogeys in the last four, was no bad effort but left him one stroke outside the cut-off mark. He likes America and after Akron he is off to Boston for next week's Deutsche Bank Classic.

McGinley's decline, like that of Lee Westwood and David Duval, is its own an indication of just how quickly a player can get on a slippery slope.

"You can't compete at this level taking 33 and 34 putts," he said at Oak Hill having also missed the weekend by one shot. Trouble is that Paul has spoken those words many times over the past few years and there still hasn't been a whole lot of improvement.

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