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2010 European Tour Year In Review

Kevin Currie, Golf Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The 2010 season ranks right up there among the best in European Tour history. Three tour regulars won a major, three others were victorious at World Golf Championship events and one of the tour's stalwarts took over the top spot in the world rankings.

Graeme McDowell (U.S. Open), Louis Oosthuizen (British Open) and Martin Kaymer (PGA Championship) all became first-time major champions. Ian Poulter (Match Play) and Francesco Molinari (HSBC Champions) won their first WGC titles, while Ernie Els (CA Championship) claimed his second.

McDowell's win was meaningful in that he was the first European to win the U.S. Open in 40 years. Oosthuizen became the fourth South African to win the British Open. Kaymer needed a penalty from Dustin Johnson to get into a playoff, where he then best Bubba Watson for his title.

Lee Westwood went winless for the season, but second-place finishes at the Masters and the British Open helped him take over the No. 1 spot in the world.

Not only was it a good year for the old guard such as Westwood and Miguel Angel Jimenez (three wins), but a pair of youngsters made their mark as well. Seung-yul Noh earned his first win at the age of 18, while the 17-year-old Matteo Manassero picked up his first tour win.

Let's take a look at the top performers.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR -- The New German Machine

Deciding on the European Tour Player of the Year was particularly difficult. The top two players on the tour combined for seven victories, including a pair of major championship crowns.

Germany's Martin Kaymer, who claimed the season-long Race to Dubai, won four times with the biggest victory, a playoff win at the PGA Championship.

Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell, who clinched the Ryder Cup for Europe, earned three titles, including a one-stroke victory at the U.S. Open.

What's more, they played in the same event 19 times. Kaymer bettered McDowell eight times. McDowell finished ahead of the German eight times, and they tied at the other three tournaments.

The choice of Kaymer is not only based on his one more victory, but also the fact that he earned over 500,000 euros more than McDowell.

Kaymer didn't waste anytime as he won his first start in Abu Dhabi. He also notched top-five finishes in Dubai and at the WGC-CA Championship. Despite a missed cut at the Masters, Kaymer's had a great year at the majors.

The 25-year-old shared eighth place at Pebble Beach behind McDowell. At the British Open, Kaymer tied for seventh. He followed with a share of 22nd at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, before catching fire.

Thanks in part to Dustin Johnson's final-hole penalty, Kaymer got into a three-hole playoff at the PGA Championship with big-hitting Bubba Watson.

Kaymer tripped to a bogey on the third extra hole, but his three-hole aggregate of even-par 11 was good enough to beat Watson by one stroke.

Like McDowell, it was Kaymer's first major championship title, and it was the first for a German since Bernhard Langer won the 1993 Masters. Kaymer took three weeks off to absorb the enormity of being a major champion.

In his return to the course, Kaymer won his next two starts and in between, he went 2-1-1 at the Ryder Cup. He closed the season with four top-30 finishes to hold off McDowell in the Race to Dubai.

McDowell did everything he could to catch Kaymer down the stretch with three top-five finishes in his last five events, but it wasn't enough.

TOURNAMENT OF THE YEAR -- Ryder Cup

So it might not be an official tour event, but the Ryder Cup was one of the best events of the year.

With rain playing a major part, the tournament saw Friday's play drowned by rain. Captains Colin Montgomerie and Corey Pavin had to join together with organizers to come up with a solution on how to play a full event.

Instead of the normal eight matches on the first two days, the plan was for 10 matches on Saturday and six more on Sunday before the 12 singles matches would conclude the event on Monday.

Despite failures in their rain gear, the United States opened a 6-4 lead after Saturday's action. Then, the Europeans took command with a dominating Sunday.

Luke Donald and eventual world No. 1 Lee Westwood trounced then No. 1 Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker in the first match and the rout was on.

The Europeans won the next three matches to grab an 8-6 lead. The Molinari brothers, Edoardo and Francesco, could only manage a halve against Matt Kuchar and Stewart Cink to deny Europe a perfect 6-0 mark for the day. In the anchor match, Ian Poulter and PGA Champion Martin Kaymer bested Rickie Fowler and Masters champ Phil Mickelson.

By taking five of the six matches, the Europeans headed to the singles play with a three-point lead. But, the Americans have always done well in singles.

The Americans inched within two points as Stricker downed Westwood in the first match, but the final round see-sawed until late in the day. Through nine matches, the U.S. had gotten just one point closer with four wins to three for the Europeans. The other two matches were halved.

So it came down to the final three matches, where each team had a pair of major champions. Europe's other player, Peter Hanson, was playing in his first Ryder Cup, while Hunter Mahan competing in his second Ryder Cup for the U.S.

Mickelson downed Hanson, 4 & 2 in the 10th match. In the penultimate match, Zach Johnson gutted out a 3 & 2 win over Padraig Harrington. That tied the score at 13 1/2 each.

Already having a season to remember thanks to his win at the U.S. Open, Graeme McDowell downed Mahan 3 & 1 to clinch the Ryder Cup for the Europeans.

McDowell gave Europe its fifth win in the last seven Ryder Cups and raised his record to 4-2-2 in two appearances. Mahan went 1-2 on the week after going 2-0-3 in his first appearance in 2008.

There were four other events in the running. The WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship had three European Tour regulars in the semifinals. The Open de France saw three of the top four finishers go on to play at the Ryder Cup. The Dubai Desert Classic had five European Ryder Cuppers in the top seven of the final leaderboard, while the season-ending Dubai World Championship had four Ryder Cuppers in the top seven.

SHOT OF THE YEAR -- The Spaniard's bank shot

The shot did not give him the win, or even put him in place to challenge for the title. Yet, it was a thing a beauty.

In the third round of the British Open, Miguel Angel Jimenez watched his ball roll within inches of a wall that stands as the out-of-bounds mark on the right side of the Road Hole, No. 17 at St. Andrews.

As Jimenez explained, "I was less than six inches from the wall and I didn't really have much option other than to play the ball. There was no place to drop it.

And play the ball he did. OFF THE WALL!!

Jimenez banked his sand-wedge shot off the wall and onto the green. Nevermind that he made double-bogey, the imagination and execution was spectacular.

"I took out my sand wedge and hoped to get a good break, but I had no idea how it would turn out as you can't practice that shot," Jimenez stated. "I was happy to see the ball bounce the right way over my head and onto the green."

It might not have been as important as Martin Kaymer's second shot that set up the winning birdie in Abu Dhabi, or as clutch as Ian Poulter's chip to seal his win at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, but the creativity and execution was flawless for a bank-shot off a stone wall.

ROOKIE OF YEAR -- The young Italian

Italian teenager Matteo Manassero finished as the second-best rookie in the 2010 Race to Dubai, but played nine fewer events than the other contenders for the Rookie of the Year award.

The 17-year-old gets the nod as the top Rookie. He had three top-three finishes, including a four-stroke victory at the Castello Masters, where he posted four sub-68 rounds.

Manassero did not have another top-15, let alone top-10 finish, yet missed only one cut. Early in the season, he also made three cuts as an amateur.

One of those three made cuts was at the Masters. Then a 16-year-old, Manassero became the youngest ever to make the cut at Augusta National. He tied for 36th there, and turned pro a few weeks later. He did so prior to his national championship, the Italian Open, where he tied for 29th.

Three of the other players -- Rhys Davies, James Morrison and John Parry -- considered for the award also won in 2010.

Manassero followed countrymen Edoardo and Francesco Molinari into the winners circle in 2010. The trio combined for four victories making this one of the most successful years ever on the European Tour for Italian golfers.

GOOD YEAR

Lee Westwood -- Collected his first PGA Tour win, had 11 top-10 finishes worldwide in just 19 starts, as his season was cut short by injury, and took over the top spot in the world rankings.

Graeme McDowell -- Won his first major, clinched the Ryder Cup in the anchor match and won two other European events.

Miguel Angel Jimenez -- Finished no better than tied for 12th in any of the majors or World Golf Championships, but did win three times and made his fourth Ryder Cup appearance.

Louis Oosthuizen -- Sure he missed the cut in three of the four majors, but his run-away victory at the British Open made him a household name.

Italy -- Native sons Edoardo and Francesco Molinari as well as Matteo Manassero each won, with Edoardo winning a pair of events.

BAD YEAR

Paul McGinley -- Finished 123rd in the Race to Dubai despite making 23 starts. Play may have been affected by his being an assistant captain on the European Ryder Cup team. Posted just two top-10 finishes all season.

Colin Montgomerie -- Sure he led the Europeans to victory as the Ryder Cup captain, but his best finish in 2010 was a tie for 25th in Singapore.

Sam Little and Gary Lockerbie -- They tied for the third-most events played, 33, but neither managed to keep his tour card for 2011. Little earned just 53,790 euros, while Lockerbie only made 82,011.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Kevin Currie at kcurrie@sportsnetwork.com.

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