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Europeans need to make Major breakthrough

England's victory at the WGC-World Cup of Golf in Spain on Sunday has capped a remarkable year for Paul Casey and Luke Donald, British golf and the European game in general.

England's triumph at Seville's Real Golf Club, the country's second in 50 editions of the World Cup, follows the memorable scenes at Oakland Hills, Detroit in September when Europe romped to a record-equalling Ryder Cup success against the U.S.

Bernhard Langer's team dominated the last-day singles encounters to beat the Americans by 18-1/2 points to 9-1/2, inflicting upon them their heaviest defeat in the competition's 77-year history.

The score matched the record victory achieved by the United States against Europe at Walton Heath Golf Club in England in 1981.

European golf, blessed with several world-class players under the age of 30, is on a collective high at the moment. The sole blemish is the failure by any golfer from the continent to win a major since Paul Lawrie's British Open title in 1999.

The dominance since the late 1970s of the heavyweight European quintet of Seve Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle, Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam ended a decade ago.

Now the time is ripe for the likes of Spaniard Sergio Garcia, Britons Casey, Donald, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and Justin Rose and Swede Fredrik Jacobson to stand up and be counted at the highest level of the game.

Older players -- such as Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain, Irishman Padraig Harrington, Frenchman Thomas Levet and Britons Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke -- also have the potential to make a major breakthrough.

They all have the talent and experience. Buoyed by the memories of Oakland Hills, none of them will lack motivation as they prepare for the grand slam events of 2005.

Casey and Donald, both members of Europe's triumphant Ryder Cup team at Oakland Hills two months ago, dovetailed superbly to win the final WGC event of the season by a stroke at the weekend.

With Casey holing virtually every putt he looked at in the last-day foursomes and Donald arrow-straight with his approach shots, the English duo held off a strong challenge by hosts Spain.

Spaniards Garcia and Jimenez, the pre-tournament favourites, had to settle for second place while Ireland's Harrington and Paul McGinley, the 1997 winners, finished a further two shot back in third.

Perhaps hardly surprisingly, those top six players all featured in Europe's rampant Ryder Cup victory in September.

"We had been there before, and the Ryder Cup obviously is a huge scale," Donald, 26, told reporters on Sunday. "It's bigger than this event.

"The number of crowds and just the atmosphere and the pressure did seem huge at the Ryder Cup. I think having gone through that experience, it definitely gave us a good feeling to know what to expect at this World Cup."

Donald, who plays mainly on the U.S. PGA Tour, won twice in five European Tour starts this season.

Jimenez, producing the best golf of his career at the age of 40, has enjoyed an annus mirabilis in 2004 with four victories in Europe.

Garcia, twice a winner on this year's PGA Tour, believes his game is at its best since he turned professional in 1999.

Harrington, the world number six and Europe's highest-ranked player, is probably overdue a maiden major victory after several close calls since his tie for fifth in the 1997 British Open at Royal Troon.

Casey, although without a strokeplay title in 2004, shared sixth place at the U.S. Masters in April. Widely acknowledged as one of the game's hottest putters, he too will be expected to contend at all four majors next year.

Boosted by memories of Oakland Hills and last week's World Cup of Golf, Europe's leading players know they can win at the highest level. The time has now come for one or more of them to follow in the footsteps of Ballesteros, Faldo et al.

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