The U.S. Open used to be a showcase for America’s most talented golfers. But these days, the people acing the course are Europe’s best pros.
The previous two Opens have been won by golfers from the tiny nation of Northern Ireland. Rory McIlroy, the 2011 champion, set the record for the lowest total score under par (-16). This year, 37 of the 156 competitors are from Europe. That’s a big change from 1970, when Tony Jacklin, the last European to win the tournament prior to 2010, was the only one in the field.
The 2012 Open teed off this morning at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. The top-ranked players in the world, in descending order, are Luke Donald (England), McIlroy and Lee Westwood (England). Tiger Woods and Bubba Watson (both American) round out the top five. Overall, this year’s Open has a true international flavor: there will be ten Englishmen, five Swedes, five Spaniards, three Danes, two Irishmen, two Northern Irishmen, two Frenchmen, two Scots, two Italians and golfers from Belgium, Finland, Germany and the Czech Republic.
Rounding out the field are eight South Africans, nine Australians, seven Koreans, four Japanese and one golfer each from New Zealand, Canada, Argentina, Fiji and China.
It’s a far cry from the old days. Between 1926 and 1993, Americans won all but three U.S. Opens. Then again, in the tournament’s first years of existence from 1895 to 1910, it was won exclusively by Englishmen and Scots.
Meanwhile, the European contingent would have been even greater at this year’s open had Paul Lawrie decided to show up. But Scotland’s best golfer and the number 29 player in the world said he’d rather skip the Open to boost his chances of making the Ryder Cup, an international tournament that pits Europe’s best golfers against those from the U.S. (the Europeans have won six of the last eight).
But despite the European invasion, it’s pretty clear whom the world will be watching today: in a move made straight for TV, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson, three of America’s favorite golfers, were paired to play together this morning.