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Colin Montgomerie chalks up the eight-year European major drought as largely coincidence. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Colin Montgomerie chalks up the eight-year European major drought as largely coincidence. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Time for Europe to show its strength, says Ferguson

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Judging by the Ryder Cup and the world rankings, European golf has never been stronger than it is right now. Europe's top players know they need to step up, says Doug Ferguson, and end a major drought that has reached eight long years.

By Doug Ferguson, AP Golf Writer

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (AP) -- European golf has never been stronger.

At least in September. And as long as the players are wearing matching clothes.

Europeans boast about their talent every other year in the Ryder Cup, and rightly so. They have beaten the Americans five of the last six times, and beaten them by record margins the last two matches. It now has reached the point that most people recognize Europe as having the stronger team.

But the Ryder Cup is only an exhibition, and a highly entertaining one.

Majors are what define greatness in golf.

And until a European wins a major championship, all that bluster about European strength means nothing.

"Now is the time," Colin Montgomerie said last week at Loch Lomond. "We spoke about the Ryder Cup team last year in September, about how it was the strongest that it's ever been. And now is the time that I think one of us should come forward. I think we are good enough to come forward now and win."

They sure had their chances last year.

Montgomerie squandered his opportunity when he missed the green with a 7-iron from the middle of the 18th fairway at Winged Foot. Sergio Garcia started the final round of the Open Championship one shot out of the lead and finished seven shots behind Tiger Woods. Luke Donald was tied with Woods going into the last round of the PGA Championship and wound up six behind.

And don't forget about Justin Rose. He was one shot out of the lead with two holes to play at the Masters, then promptly took double bogey on the 17th hole.

"You look at the Ryder, that validates that we have a core of very strong players," Donald said. "We've really dominated it in the last 10 to 15 years. Somehow, we've got to transition that to individual players."

He also referred to the world rankings, where Europe has six players among the top 20; the United States has five.

"We obviously are talented enough," Donald said. "We just haven't done it yet. But I think it's only a matter of time. When we do, that will definitely validate the Europeans as a bunch of great players."

Montgomerie writes off the eight-year drought as coincidence, that and Woods hogging the Grand Slam events.

Nick Faldo, known more for his six majors than his incomparable Ryder Cup record for Europe, is starting to wonder if the very thing that helps his comrades in the Ryder Cup is what holds them back in the majors.

Everyone talks about European unity every other September. Faldo sees too much of it the other 23 months of the year. In an interview this week with two British newspapers, Faldo suggested maybe they were too friendly. He noted that a six-pack of major champions from Europe -- himself, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Jose Maria Olazabal and Ian Woosnam -- went their own ways.

"Now the current generation are all having lunch together, and they go off and play for a million dollars," Faldo told The Times of London and the Daily Mail. "It is interesting to me that now they are all so much more chummy.

"Is that healthy? I don't know. I'm just posing the question," he said. "But the bottom line is the six players I've mentioned won 18 majors, and on the other side you have none."

That would be to ignore Paul Lawrie, which is easy to do.

Hardly anyone remembers that Lawrie won at Carnoustie because the memories belong to Jean Van de Velde and his unseemly collapse. Lawrie's name only comes up in conversation as the last European to win a major.

Someone asked the Scot if he was shocked it had been eight years since a European won a major.

"I think shock is not the right word. I think it's amazing that it's been that long," Lawrie said. "But that's where we are. I don't like being the last European."

There have been 32 majors since Lawrie won the Open. That's the longest Europe has gone without since the 34 majors between Tony Jacklin winning the 1970 U.S. Open at Hazeltine and Ballesteros winning his first major in 1979.

The record drought for Europe is 18 years between the 1951 British Open (Max Faulkner) and 1969 British Open (Jacklin).

It's hard to criticize the talent. Europe has had 18 players who have combined to produce 42 finishes in the top five since Lawrie hoisted the claret jug at Carnoustie, with Garcia leading the way.

If only Thomas Bjorn had not taken three shots to get out of the bunker on the 16th hole at Royal St. George's. Or if Monty had not chunked that 7-iron at Winged Foot. Maybe if Garcia had not taken so many waggles at Bethpage.

It's always something.

"We've not had anyone who could finish it off," Jacklin said Tuesday. "The '80s will be known as the golden age in European golf. Seve led the way, with Faldo, Woosie, Langer, Lyle. All those guys were fantastic. Up to now, I haven't seen anybody. You don't get that many chances in majors unless you're truly great. It's tough to win majors. But it was always tough."

The longer the drought continues, the tougher it will get.

"The more any European wins a major, that would help the rest of us," said Padraig Harrington, who has four top-five finishes in the majors. "We've proved in the Ryder Cup that there are a lot of good players out there. It's just a question of that little breakthrough."

Until then, the Ryder Cup is about the only thing Europe can claim as evidence.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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