Europe loses footing in world top 10

For the first time in the history of the world rankings - all 18 years of it - the highest placed European golfer is not in the top 10. Instead, six Americans, two South Africans, a Fijian and a Canadian fill the first 10 places.

Padraig Harrington had been putting up lone resistance for almost a year but the Irishman slipped to 11th place yesterday after Phil Mickelson followed a victory last month with his third place behind Vijay Singh in the Pebble Beach National Pro-am on Sunday to leapfrog the Irishman. Harrington has yet to begin his season and will not tee-up until next week's Malaysian Open.

Colin Montgomerie, who first entered the top 10 in 1994, and Sergio Garcia both drifted out of it early last year. Not only that but Garcia is only just in the top 40 while, at 48th, Monty is in danger of slipping out of an automatic spot for the Open Championship.

Darren Clarke, who won his second World Golf Championship event last August, Fredrik Jacobson and Thomas Bjorn have all moved into the top 20 in the last 12 months but not managed to overtake Harrington. Lee Westwood, Jesper Parnevik, Clarke and Bjorn have all previously featured in the top 10.

The obvious pointer to how such a parlous state could arise is the fact that no European has won a major championship since Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie in 1999 while none has won a World Golf Championship event except Clarke.

Ironically, the administration of the ranking has only just moved from the offices of the International Management Group to the European Tour. If consolation is needed, they need look no further than the boardroom at Wentworth where the Ryder Cup resides.

When the ranking was first set up by IMG in 1986, Europe had the world's best golfers. In the first ranking, the top three comprised Bernhard Langer, Seve Ballesteros and Sandy Lyle. As well as Langer, Seve, Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam have been world No1s. For a period in 1991, the first four were Woosnam, Jose Maria Olazabal, Faldo and Ballesteros. Tiger Woods has headed the list for the last 235 weeks and 306 in all, leaving him only 25 weeks away from matching Greg Norman's record as the longest-serving No 1.

But Tiger's lead at the top of the rankings has shrunk to less than three points following Singh's victory on Sunday, his narrowest advantage for almost four years.

WORLD RANKINGS: 1 T Woods (US) 13.51pts avg; 2 V Singh (Fij) 10.43; 3 E Els (SA) 9.12; 4 D Love-III (US) 7.42; 5 J Furyk (US) 6.67; 6 M Weir (Can) 6.53; 7 R Goosen (SA) 5.56; 8 K Perry (US) 4.96; 9 P Mickelson (US) 4.87; 10 D Toms (US) 4.77.