With the top three positions in golf’s world rankings currently occupied by European players, it is relatively apparent that we are witnessing a shift of power across the Atlantic.
Whereas up until about 18 months ago, there were few who could come close to challenging a certain American when it came to winning majors, his demise has paved the way for a new era in golf.
One of six players, including Woods, could have been propelled to world number one upon winning this year’s Masters, yet it was Germany’s Martin Kaymer who retained top spot after a thrilling final day which ended with South African Charl Schwartzel claiming his maiden major championship.
Whilst nobody would deny the events of that final day were fantastic for their sheer drama – as eight players found themselves with a share of the lead at various points in the round – there was nonetheless a tinge of anti-climax in the result.
Kaymer missed the cut at Augusta for the fourth successive year and those looking to surpass him failed to capitalise, most notably Rory McIlroy who had lead by four going into the final day only to self-destruct on the back nine and finish tied for 15th.
It had looked as though former world number one Woods could be set to storm back to the top after a front nine 31, but he was unable to pick up further shots after the turn and a first win in 17 months remained elusive.
As it was, he finished in a tie for fourth with Australian Geoff Ogilvy and Luke Donald, the third player who had a realistic chance of toppling Kaymer on the final day.
However, that neither Woods nor Donald were unable to do so was less their failure, and more the monumental display of Schwartzel who holed twice from off the green and finished with four birdies.
Kaymer has since relinquished the top spot to Lee Westwood who he had replaced on 27 February after finishing runner-up to Donald at the WGC¬-Accenture Match Play Championship.
Much of the acclaim the 26-year-old has received emanates from his victory at the US PGA Championship last year when he prevailed over Bubba Watson in a three-hole play-off.
However, other than a convincing eight-stroke win at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf World Championship in January, which he had won the previous two years, it has thus far been a relatively poor 2011 season for Kaymer, culminating in another failure at Augusta.
Major in the bag
Indeed, the only thing that currently gives him any edge over Westwood and Donald is a major championship, but the two Englishmen have shown enough consistency of form to make it a matter of when and not if they achieve likewise.
For Westwood in particular, the lack of a major has become both a source of frustration for himself, and a detail that the media have been eager to pinpoint in every press conference he has given during his two spells as world number one.
He continues to stress that majors are irrelevant as far as being top of the rankings is concerned, perhaps in an effort to mask his personal anguish at finishing third in three, and runner-up in last years’ Masters and Open Championships.
Nobody can deny however that he has been a consistent performer since 2008 and that he is probably deserving of his position, and narrowly retained it on April 24 when he won the Indonesian Open as Donald lost out to Brandt Snedeker in a play-off at The Heritage.
His fellow Englishman had held a joint lead with Jim Furyk going into the final round only for Snedeker to pull back a six-shot deficit with a stunning 64 and force the play-off which he won at the third extra hole.
Beware of the other dogs
It demonstrated how little there currently is between Westwood, Donald, Kaymer, and also McIlroy who, for the first 63 holes at Augusta, looked a major-winner in the making.
Nevertheless, in determining who is Europe’s top dog, these four players’ respective Masters performances would be a useful point of reference, and it was Donald who came out on top.
Those who questioned whether or not his game was suited to the lengthy fairways of Augusta were answered by some accomplished approach play, and typical brilliance around the greens.
Indeed, were it not for the miracles produced by Schwartzel on the final day, and a tee-shot into the water on 12, Donald would have been as well placed as anyone to land the green jacket.
Distance isn’t everything in golf and Kaymer’s admission that he can’t adapt his game to Augusta was very telling. Yes, he is a major winner but to win the Masters is the ultimate test of a golfer and the German’s failure to make a single cut doesn’t exactly bode well.
As for Westwood, his short game has always been open to scrutiny and nothing dropped for him all week at Augusta. His victory at the Ballantines Championship last week may have reinforced his grip at the top of the world rankings, but given Donald’s recent performances in high profile events, Westwood’s compatriot appears Europe’s best hope for major success in the foreseeable future.