Originally created 02/22/06

World stars catching up to the best of America



CARLSBAD, Calif. - The first World Golf Championship brought together players from 17 countries, a collection of flags from Paraguay to the Philippines flying over La Costa Resort.

It was strictly Stars & Stripes by the weekend.

The Americans always had numbers in their favor, which partly explains why it was an All-American semifinal at the inaugural Match Play Championship. Even in the years when Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson were knocked out early, there was always David Toms or Jeff Maggert or Kevin Sutherland to carry the flag.

But as this tournament enters its eighth year, American dominance in world golf is dwindling.

There were 40 Americans in the 64-man field when the Accenture Match Play Championship began in 1999. As recently as two years ago, Americans made up more than half the field. But when the brackets were set Monday night, the United States reached a new low with only 25 players.

Woods was the only American with a No. 1 seed in the four brackets, another first.

Whether this is a case of Americans getting worse or the world getting better is up for debate. The Match Play Championship field is determined by the world ranking. And more international players - Europeans and Australians in particular - have joined the PGA Tour, earned more points and climbed higher in the rankings.

"There's no sliding for Americans," Ian Poulter said Tuesday. "It's just that there are good golfers from around the world wanting to play good golf. And they're wanting to play on a couple of levels - and that would be the PGA Tour. It's a progression of interest over the last 10 years from Tiger playing. Everybody wants to compete against him."

Poulter, an Englishman who reached the semifinals last year before losing to Toms, is among a record 17 players from Europe who qualified for the Match Play Championship. Europe had 11 players the first year, and the numbers have steadily increased each year.

World parity also is reflected in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.

Europe has dominated the Ryder Cup since 1995, winning four of the past five, and the 18-9 margin two years ago at Oakland Hills was its biggest rout.

The Presidents Cup was a tie in 2003, and only the late heroics of Chris DiMarco kept it from being another one last year.

"We're catching up," Colin Montgomerie said. "I think we had a particularly good year the last two years, especially in Europe, where a lot of the young guys and a lot of guys that had potential have now come through. It's one thing showing potential, but it's another proving it."

Perhaps of greater concern to U.S. golf is the emergence of young players.

The best young players on the PGA Tour carry international passports - Garcia of Spain, Adam Scott of Australia, even Rory Sabbatini of South Africa, whose victory in the Nissan Open was his third on the PGA Tour. No American younger than 30 has more than two PGA Tour victories.