Europeans are on verge of a second 'golden era'

Lee Westwood helped Europe win the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor and is poised to take the No. 1 world ranking away from Tiger Woods.

NEWPORT, Wales --- The Ryder Cup used to be the crowning achievement for European golf.


Now it's gravy.

From the balcony of the clubhouse at Celtic Manor, the Europeans sprayed champagne onto a delirious crowd Monday afternoon, stopping every now and then to chug some of the bubbly in a raucous celebration.

All they cared about was winning the gold trophy that apparently had only been on loan to the Americans. Considering how the year has gone -- and what the future holds -- they might as well have been celebrating a banner year.

Europeans won three consecutive weeks on the PGA Tour, the first time that has happened. They had more major champions than any other continent, with Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland winning the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and Martin Kaymer of Germany taking the PGA Championship in a playoff.

Coincidence? Maybe. The world ranking, however, suggests otherwise.

Europe has five players in the top 10 -- and 11 players in the top 25 -- which is more than the Americans. Lee Westwood moved up to No. 2 in the world, and he won't have to do much at the Dunhill Championship this week or the Portugal Masters to replace Tiger Woods when they meet in Shanghai next month.

For years, there was a perception that the Americans had the best players and Europe had the best team. Now, it seems as though everything is going Europe's way.

This could be the next golden era for European golf.

"I think it's been a golden era for a couple of years now," Westwood said.

He quickly pointed out what made this European team look stronger than ever: It wasn't so much who was on the team at Celtic Manor, rather who was left off.

It was the first time Europe had a top 10 player who couldn't make the team, either on points or through a pick. That would be Paul Casey of England, who is No. 7 in the world and spent the Ryder Cup riding his bike through western Canada.

Six years ago, Europe didn't have a player ranked that high on its team.

Five of the players in this Ryder Cup were under 30. One of them is Kaymer, who already has a major.

Another is Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who tied for third in two majors and shot 62 to win on one of the PGA Tour's toughest tracks at Quail Hollow.

"I think the last four or five years have been a good time for European golf," Westwood.

Still to be determined is whether this crop can dominate golf the way its "Fab Five" -- Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam -- did in the 1980s and 90s.

Langer and Lyle won majors in 1985, the same year Europe ended 28 years of U.S. dominance in these matches. For most of the last decade, the U.S. team showed up at the Ryder Cup boasting the most major champions, and Europe proved its worth in the Ryder Cup.

Now it gets the trophy and the majors.

"I think it was clear that this Ryder Cup team was one of the hardest teams to get on," Luke Donald said. "We've won nine of the last 13. We're starting to get close to that word 'dominance.' "

Pavin's surprise picks

U.S. Ryder Cup players and captains have donated more than $15 million, with $50,000 of their $200,000 charity allotment directed to the "Play Golf America" program at the college of their choice.

Most of the players directed their donations to their alma maters, but not captain Corey Pavin. Pavin, an All-American at UCLA, sent his money to Grambling State and Spellman College, two historically black colleges.

"We just thought it was something we wanted to do," Pavin said. "We looked at several programs and decided on these two."

The PGA of America sponsors the PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship and has a program devoted to diversity. PGA chief executive Joe Steranka wasn't surprised when he saw the list of donations, noting that Lisa Pavin is Vietnamese.