Casey's case for a brighter tomorrow

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The Independent Online

Finding distractions from the heated and often ugly politics that scarred the golf season has not always been easy. The Ryder Cup was postponed and none of Europe's leading men could quite sustain a challenge at any of the majors, let alone win one. But as the European Tour ends its season at the Volvo Masters in Jerez this week, there can still be genuine optimism for the future.

Retief Goosen, the US Open champion, has already wrapped up the Order of Merit title, becoming the first overseas player for 19 years to win the Harry Vardon Trophy. This is, however, plenty still to be played for at the £2m event at Montecastillo. Those in the top 15 on the money list, for example, earn exemptions for the US Open next year; the top 20 get to go to the Open. The Masters and the US PGA have no set criteria but also look at the European Order of Merit when drawing up their invitations, the latter being more generous than the former. World ranking points are also at stake, with a place in the world's top 50 by the end of the year the aim for the likes of Phillip Price and Paul Lawrie.

For Paul Casey, the 24-year-old from Burhill in Surrey, just being at Montecastillo is an achievement. Casey, who only turned professional last winter and is in line for the Rookie of the Year award, is 18th on the Order of Merit and has managed that from only 16 appearances – only Ernie Els and Bernhard Langer above him have played less. Having earned his card for next year from a limited number of starts, Casey was still playing on invitations when he won the Scottish PGA in August. It was a highly mature and impressive performance and earned him a mention in dispatches when Sam Torrance announced his Ryder Cup wild cards.

Another tournament in August augured well for the future, namely the Walker Cup, where Luke Donald and Nick Dougherty starred in Great Britain and Ireland's second successive victory. Dougherty will be at the European Qualifying School later this month, Donald at its equivalent in America. Meanwhile, Jamie Donaldson is this weekend fighting out the No 1 spot on the Challenge Tour at their last event in France having already secured his main Tour card for next year.

The Welshman from Macclesfield was unknown to Nasser Hussain when they were paired together at the Dunhill Links Championship but the England cricket captain knows enough about top class sport to suggest Donaldson was "definitely one for the future".

Peter McEvoy, the Walker Cup captain, thinks this is one of the best generations of youngsters to hit the European Tour. He may well be right, but they could do with some breathing space provided by the older guard's continued success for a few more years.

It was disappointing, then, that there was no credible challenge in the decisive moments of the year's four majors, as opposed to high finishes, by any of the leading Europeans. Goosen, who at least is a European Tour-based player, paid tribute to the quality of his opponents on the circuit. While there were no dominant performances such as the multi-win seasons of Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood of recent years, there is certainly a case for believing the strength in depth on the European Tour is greater than ever before. While Goosen won three times, adding the Scottish and Madrid Opens to his Tulsa triumph, only Montgomerie, Langer and Vijay Singh managed a second.

Democracy is generally a good thing but an awful lot of players ended up with just one title to their name, although not Padraig Harrington, bizarrely, despite seven second places. Darren Clarke can plead for wins in South Africa and Japan to be taken into consideration and his European Open victory was a special one, the first by an Irishman on home soil for 19 years. He goes to Montecastillo hoping to hang on to second place in the Order of Merit for the third time in four years – not quite what he wants but admirably consistent.

Sergio Garcia also has two other wins to consider and, significantly, they came on the US Tour. He may not be the flavour of the month on the European Tour for some of his antics and his declaration that America is the place for him to improve his golf, but the 21-year-old Spaniard may perhaps be ready next year to start winning majors.

Along with Goosen and Harrington, a contender for "most improved" must be Langer. At the age of 44, the amazing German made his 10th Ryder Cup team and had already recorded six top-10 finishes in America even before this challenge this weekend at the US Tour Championship in Houston.

Montgomerie is only 38 and has time aplenty left but needs to recapture his old reliability in his driving. For Westwood, the birth of his son Samuel made up for a dismal season on the course. Last year's No 1 is working on the faults that have crept into his game but found out the hard way that it is difficult to regain form in public after a long break.

As for the absurdly long-winded saga that was the contest to stage the 2009, now 2010, Ryder Cup and the private battle between the European Tour and the PGA for control of the event, Ken Schofield, the executive director of the Tour, may think he has never won a more important battle. It is thought the Welsh and Scottish Cup campaigns have generated £104m over the coming years for the Tour, and some of that may be needed to shore up the schedule in the near future given current world events.

"There is economic uncertainly coupled with the terror. These are not the best circumstances for our business, because obviously we are luxury goods item," Schofield told Golf Weekly magazine. "People can live without our sport. During the Gulf crisis 10 years ago we had to support tournaments from our reserves and we have to be prepared to do so again.

"If it means there is a slow-down in the advance, at least we have set a decent benchmark for us to maintain. Our job is to do everything possible not to cancel golf tournaments, because we are talking about players' livelihoods."

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