Hazeltine omens positive

Mark Garrod looks at the chances of a European winner at the USPGA Championship.

Only one good thing can be said about Europe’s golfers in the majors so far this season. They have been getting closer.
At The Masters in April the top 16 places were filled by one Argentinian – winner Angel Cabrera, of course – 11 Americans, Japan’s Shingo Katayama, South African Tim Clark, Colombian Camilo Villegas and Australian Geoff Ogilvy.
Graeme McDowell was the most successful of the 24-strong European contingent in 17th spot.
Led by Lucas Glover, Americans filled the top four spots at the US Open in June, but Ross Fisher was fifth, Soren Hansen sixth, Henrik Stenson ninth and Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia joint 10th.
On to The Open at Turnberry, where it was Americans Stewart Cink and 59-year-old Tom Watson in the play-off, but Lee Westwood and Chris Wood were joint third only one shot back after both bogeyed the last, Luke Donald fifth, Hansen and Richard Johnson tied eighth and Miguel Angel Jimenez, Justin Rose, Stenson and Italians Francesco Molinari and amateur Matteo Manassero – only 16 – in joint 13th.
One last chance this year then. And if the band of hopefuls want encouragement heading to Hazeltine National in Minnesota for the USPGA Championship then they do not have to dig too deep for some.
First and foremost, Padraig Harrington is the defending champion. His win at Oakland Hills last year was the first by a European in the event since Tommy Armour in 1930, but it followed back-to-back Open victories.
Secondly, Hazeltine is where Tony Jacklin won the 1970 US Open by seven, increasing his lead each day as he added that crown to the Open Claret Jug he had taken the previous summer.
Thirdly, Hazeltine is also where Richie Ramsay just three years ago became the first Scot to win the United States Amateur title since 1898.
If Harrington is to retain the giant Wanamaker Trophy, donated by department store magnate Rodman Wanamaker back in 1916, he will have to play and think better than he did in his attempt for a third successive Claret Jug.
After a third-round 76 ended his hopes the Dubliner blamed a succession of mental errors, but after closing with a 73 for 13 over – at least he had played all four rounds after missing five Tour cuts in a row – he was sure what the future holds.
“I know I will come back and compete in many more Opens and win some more majors,” he said.
“The key now is to be ready for the PGA and that’s really what I’m looking at. I believe my game will be good and strong going into that.
“I will be a better player as a result of this week and I will have the last laugh.”
That last remark came after he was questioned about Tom Watson’s comment that shortening your swing was not a good idea.
“I’ve never tried to,” said Harrington. “It’s very nice that he would take time out and give a helping hand, but obviously he’s got the wrong information – as many people have.”
Westwood has now missed out on major play-offs by one shot twice, first at last year’s US Open and then at Turnberry.
“Both are pretty sickening, but you’ve just got to keep working. I’m putting in the hard work and it’s obviously paying off because I’m getting closer.”
Getting close does not guarantee future success, though.
Sergio Garcia is still searching for his first major 10 years after he lost by one to Tiger Woods in the PGA at Medinah.
Nineteen at the time and just four months into his pro career, that was the week he played his incredible “eyes closed” shot.
The sky seemed the limit then. But the near-misses have gone on, including, of course, his play-off loss to Harrington in the 2007 Open and his runner-up finish to him again at last year’s PGA.
Hazeltine will be Garcia’s 45th major, Westwood’s 48th – and Colin Montgomerie’s 69th. Superb players all, but so far not one major between them.