• Out of Bounds

Don't ignore the rest of the world

ESPN staff
August 10, 2011
Adam Scott is growing into the dominant player many expected to see a decade ago © PA Photos

It was the underlying storyline of this year's Open Championship, and becomes the overwhelming one in golf come September of every other year - Europe versus the United States.

For every year the Ryder Cup is not played, it sometimes seems major championships can become something of a phoney war in that regard, with players at the top of the leaderboard held up as representatives of their particular countries or continents, over and above the determined individuals out to achieve personal glory they also are.

Darren Clarke's victory at Royal St George's was a deeply emotional victory for one of the game's most popular characters, but it was also a triumph over the American challengers - most notably Dustin Johnson.

Rory McIlroy's breakout victory at Congressional three weeks earlier was seen by many as ushering in a new era in golf's great history, but it was also another major without an American winner - as their national championship continued to reside in foreign pastures.

For better or worse, the popularity and prevalence of the Ryder Cup colours our perspective on the bigger individual championships throughout the calendar. Which is a shame, as it often seems to marginalise players from the colonies that cannot compete in that event - otherwise known as the Rest of the World.

Yes, such a team do face the United States in years when the Ryder Cup is played, but the fact that six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan is set to be an assistant captain in the event this year says all you need to know about the true stature of that event. Yet the players that make up the Americans' opponent are every bit as good as the Europeans - and perhaps they are now ready to take credit for it.

South African Charl Schwartzel won The Masters in April, after all, continuing a quite amazing recent run of victories for the Rainbow Nation that has incorporated everyone from Ernie Els and Retief Goosen to, more recently, Trevor Immelman, Louis Oosthuizen and the aforementioned Schwartzel.

Throw in a sprinkling of the best players from Asia - 2009 US PGA champion YE Yang, KJ Choi and the emerging Ryo Ishikawa - and you already have the makings of a very talented team.

But it is Australia who could be set to go on a run of their own in the majors that could thrust them back into the spotlight on the world stage. Since the likes of Steve Elkington and Greg Norman exited stage left, the next generation of Australians has taken its time to come through. Only now is Adam Scott finally beginning to show the enduring quality that he hinted at as a youngster around the turn of the millennium, while Aaron Baddeley has been in the final pairing of a major championship once in his career (the 2007 US Open) but now looks increasingly comfortable in big events, particularly on the western side of the Atlantic.

But it is another young Aussie who is quickly proving himself to be the real deal. Jason Day finished second in both The Masters and the US Open this year, (impressively) his first appearances in each event. He scored a top ten in his debut USPGA Championship appearance last year, at Whistling Straits, which he qualified for after his maiden PGA Tour victory at last year's Byron Nelson Classic.

He was also firmly in contention at last week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, another high quality event with a high quality field. In short, the confident 23-year-old has shown he has the game and the mentality to contend at pretty much any level he bothers to attend.

Yet, while golfers in the rest of the world continue to come on leaps and bounds and Europeans have suddenly found a way to claim major championships on a regular basis (they currently own three of four), the United States is on a previously unimaginable dry spell.

If an American fails to win this week at Atlanta Athletic Club, then that will make a record seven major championships without a major victory for the country. With Phil Mickelson fading and Tiger Woods struggling to find an even keel, the pressure on the likes of Dustin Johnson, Nick Watney and Rickie Fowler is so far proving a bit too much.

The US PGA is the final major of the year, and thus provides a last stroke of colour to the year's narrative. Youth versus experience has been one storyline, as has the European struggle to keep beating Americans. This week another layer of context could be added to both those tussles.

Europe against the United States is the big inter-continental rivalry, but this week the rest of the world, with Australia at the vanguard, could be set to offer further evidence that we certainly can't afford to ignore them either.

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