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Golf Perspective: Is this the best batch of Europeans ever?

Golfweek logo Golfweek 3/25/2019 Alistair Tait
a group of people standing in front of a crowd: USA TODAY © USA TODAY USA TODAY

Three successive European winners on the PGA Tour suggests the theory that home course advantage played a huge part in last year's European Ryder Cup victory is wildly inaccurate. It also begs the question: Is this the best batch of Europeans ever?

Paul Casey, Rory McIlroy and Francesco Molinari are the winners of the past three PGA Tour events. Not even the big six of Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Jose Maria Olazabal and Ian Woosnam pulled off that stunt.

Suggesting McIlroy and company could be better than Ballesteros et al. borders on sacrilege. The Big Six won 18 major titles. If you include an arguably past his best Padraig Harrington amongst today's crop of European major winners, then their tally is 16. McIlroy's four major victories is the closest to Faldo's six, and one short of Ballesteros's five.

We might never see another golden age of the likes of Ballesteros and company. What we are seeing today is greater strength in the depth of European talent. Nine Europeans have won majors since Harrington broke a seven-year European drought in the tournaments that really matter by winning the 2007 Open Championship. Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer, McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Justin Rose, Danny Willett, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Molinari have followed in his wake.

More importantly, there's a fine crop of Euro players eager to get in on the act. A cursory look at the past 20-30 years has seen a marked improvement in European talent. You only have to look at the Official World Golf Ranking to come to that conclusion.

In March 1989, there were only 15 Europeans inside the world top 100. That number had increased to 20 in 1999. There are currently 28. There are 17 top 50 players compared to nine in 1989 and seven in 1999.

A look at the Masters line-up confirms the above numbers. There were just seven Euros in the field 30 years ago, and 15 in 1999. There are currently 23 Euros with Masters invitations.

Modern European Ryder Cup teams don't rely so heavily on the same strong core, big six group that brought Europe success in the 1980s. You only have to look at last year's 17 ½ - 10 ½ victory. There were no passengers in the Euro team. All 12 players contributed points.

England has helped deepen the Euro talent pool. Back in 1989 there were just three English top 100 players. There were four in 1999. There are now 12, including Casey, who tamed the Copperhead course at Innisbrook for the second straight year Sunday.

Faldo was the only Englishman in the field when he won the 1989 Masters. That number doubled in 1999. There are nine this year, and no one would be surprised to see Rose, Casey, Tommy Fleetwood, Ian Poulter, Matt Fitzpatrick or even rookie Matt Wallace slipping on golf's ugliest, most coveted blazer. Ditto for Continental Europeans like Molinari, Jon Rahm, Alex Noren, Stenson or Rafa Cabrera Bello.

Oh, and don't be surprised if another European wins this week's WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play to make it four wins in a row on American soil for the boys who pledge allegiance to the European flag. After all, many U.S. players didn't seem to enjoy head-to-head golf in Paris last year.

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