As new season begins, European golf can bask in perhaps its best year ever

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Graeme McDowell celebrated his winning putt at the Ryder Cup, but that was just the beginning of Europe's heroics on the links in 2010.
By
Mark Garrod
PA Sport

Series:

What a season for European golf -- the best ever in most people's view.

Winning the Ryder Cup back would have been enough, really, especially given the nail-biting drama at Celtic Manor.

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Not since Bernhard Langer in 1991 had the very last match decided the outcome, and while Graeme McDowell's sensational birdie on the 16th will be remembered for a long time, it was just a bit sad that a duffed chip by Hunter Mahan at the next ultimately decided things on that oh-so-dramatic Monday.

Then there were the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

First McDowell, 37th in the world at the time, grabbed a title that had eluded all the great Europeans of the so-called 'Golden Era' and joined giants of the game like Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods who have triumphed at Pebble Beach.

Two months later, 25-year-old Martin Kaymer, now the European Tour's youngest leading money winner since Ronan Rafferty in 1989, showed the same calm and skill under pressure to land the final major of the year.

But those three events are just the highlights. There was so much more to savor, too.

As McDowell stated: "It's just been a great year and I'm just very proud to be part of that."

The final of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona in February was fought out between Ian Poulter and Paul Casey, with Poulter coming out on top in a result that would have Ryder Cup implications six months later.

Lee Westwood led the Masters and the Players Championship with a round to go, but for all the disappointment of missing out on those and a second-place finish at the British Open as well, he did earn his first PGA Tour victory in 12 years at the St. Jude Classic last summer. And a month ago, of course, took over from the troubled Woods as world No. 1.

Given he had fallen from fourth to outside the top 250 eight years ago, the Englishman's climb to the summit of the game would give him the Player of the Year honor in most normal seasons.

But this was no normal season. Justin Rose won twice in the United States and, like Casey, still could not make the Ryder Cup team. Both stayed in the States for the FedExCup rather than returning to Europe for the final two weeks of qualifying and paid a price.

Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald did the same, but European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie felt he could not do without them in Wales and they were to play their part there.

Rory McIlroy had a win in America like Poulter, Rose and Westwood, and what a win it was. Just short of his 21st birthday, the Northern Irishman produced a late eagle to survive the halfway cut at Quail Hollow, then shot closing rounds of 66 and 62 to capture one of the most prestigious regular-season events on the PGA Tour.

Who could have predicted that Italian golf would be on such a high, too?

Brothers Edoardo and Francesco Molinari both made the Ryder Cup team, with Edoardo's victory in the final qualifying event one of the most thrilling of the year and Francesco's wire-to-wire WGC-HSBC Champions win over Westwood in Shanghai putting both brothers in the sport's top 20.

They could soon be joined by 17-year-old Matteo Manassero. His 36th-place finish at the Masters -- when she was still 16 -- was the best by a European amateur for 73 years and he then became the youngest-ever European Tour champion by winning the Castello Masters at age 17.

But because majors and the Ryder Cup are where the pressure is at its most intense, McDowell and Kaymer deserve pride of place. The writers and broadcasters gathered to decide which one of them deserved to be called Golfer of the Year, and their decision reflected the excellence McDowell and Kaymer exhibited throughout the year. For the first time ever, the award was split -- both men were named Golfer of the Year.