Bernhard Langer said it, so it must be true. European golfers will be winning majors again soon. Come the 2005 Masters at Augusta in April it will be
nearly six years since Paul Lawrie took advantage of that incredible last-hole triple bogey by Jean van de Velde and lifted the Open title at
A month later Sergio Garcia nearly beat Tiger Woods at the USPGA just four months into his professional career. But when Europe travelled to the Ryder
Cup in Detroit in September they did so without a major champion in their ranks for the first time since 1981. The outcome was somewhat different,
though. At Walton Heath 23 years ago the star-studded Americans won by an 18½-9½ margin, while at Oakland Hills that scoreline was exactly reversed
in one of the most stunning performances in sport this year. For many years, in fact.
"I'm convinced some of these guys will win majors - I believe that very strongly," said Langer, whose captaincy appeared to have the Midas touch while
that of Hal Sutton resembled a comedy of errors.
"It's just a matter of time. This is a very, very young group of golfers. And it's not easy. You've got to be on top of your game that particular week
because if you're not then somebody else will be."
Perhaps that can now be changed to "if you're not then Vijay Singh will be".
The Fijian has reached a remarkable level of consistency in recent months, taking over the world number one spot from Tiger Woods and even winning
when he shoots a closing 76, as he did for his third major title at the US PGA in August. Having already taken one Masters he will be savouring the
prospect of returning there in the spring, while Ernie Els has just got back to winning ways after near-misses in all four majors this season and will
not be content until he is wearing a green jacket.
The European contingent will also have to get past defending champion Phil Mickelson and Woods, of course. Putting two superstars together does not
make one great Ryder Cup partnership, but on their own they remain the biggest threats to Singh and Els. And yet just look at this list of recent
major winners. Lawrie, Rich Beem, Ben Curtis, Shaun Micheel, Todd Hamilton. Who would have thought it before it happened?
That more than anything ought to encourage the likes of Garcia, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Paul Casey and Ian
Poulter. Donald is the one who has made greatest strides this season, returning to Europe to chase a Ryder Cup debut, winning twice to achieve it
(thanks to Langer's wildcard) and then combining with Garcia to form a formidable foursomes duo.
Only two years ago Westwood was outside the world's top 250, but now he is heading back towards the fourth place he once occupied and by being joint
top-scorer with Garcia, his fourball partner, he left nobody in any doubt that the sky is the limit for him again. Harrington has been knocking at the
door, runner-up in the last two stagings of the Players' Championship in Florida and one shot away from a play-off in the 2002 Open. Nobody will be
working harder to get through that door. In 2005 the Open returns to St Andrews, the Home of Golf and its most atmospheric stage. Woods won there by
eight shots four years ago and while a showdown between him, Singh and Els is the easiest scenario to imagine what price another shock winner?
And this time a shock European winner. Those with good memories will remember that Steven Bottomley almost won there in 1995 and Simon Owen in 1978.