Open champion Darren Clarke believes European golf is experiencing another “golden era”.
The 43-year-old won his first major last summer while fellow Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy triumped at the US Open and England’s Luke Donald finished on top of the money lists.
“Golf over here is very strong at the moment,” Clarke said.
“It’s like the sort of dominance we had in the late 80s and early 90s, we’re back to that golden era.”
Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam, Bernhard Langer and Jose Maria Olazabal were regulars in the world’s top 10 during that period and, fast forward to 2011, four Europeans occupied the top four spots in the final week of the year.
Donald and McIlroy are joined by England’s Lee Westwood and Germany’s Martin Kaymer, who won the 2010 PGA Championship, in the top four.
“We’re incredibly fortunate,” added Clarke, who ended a 20-year wait to land his first major, at Royal St George’s, last July.
“You look at Rory and the way he’s been playing, and what he did at the US Open.
“And you’ve got Luke, who finished number one in the money list in the United States and Europe. I don’t think that will be done again. What Luke achieved was monumental.”
The Northern Ireland player, who has played in four Ryder Cup-winning teams, and was a victorious vice-captain in 2010, said it was only a matter of time before world number two Westwood would join the elite.
“My good mate is knocking on the door – he’ll win a major, or majors, sooner rather than later,” he added.Another friend Clarke believes will again be challenging for the big prizes is Tiger Woods.
The former world number one and 14-time major winner, who fell as low as 58 in the rankings in November, broke his two-year winless streak by taking the Chevron World Challenge in December. However, Woods is still without a PGA Tour win since November 2009.
“I spoke to him after he won the tournament – he was obviously delighted,” said Clarke, who became an OBE in the New Year Honours list.”The game needs Tiger. You remember the excitement he brought to the game when he first came on the scene.”I’m looking forward to him taking on the likes of Rory, Lee and Luke in 2012. As talented as Tiger is, he won’t be far away from his best.”
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