If ever proof were needed about the impact that European Tour Members have on the global stage, a glance around the world of golf in January 2003 provided all the evidence required.
In six tournaments spanning three continents, five European Tour Members - Ernie Els, Trevor Immelman, Hennie Otto, Mahal Pearce and Vijay Singh - stood tall with gleaming silverware in their hands, a testimony to the international strength in depth of the Tour itself and the versatility of the Members within it.
Leading the way in some considerable style was Els who got the 2003 US PGA Tour season off to a scintillating start in Hawaii with a record breaking success in the Mercedes Championships on the Plantation Course at Kapalua, before following it a week later with another triumph in the Sony Open at the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu.
The victories could not have been more contrasting, the former by eight shots and in the process setting a new US PGA Tour scoring record of 31 under par 261, the latter the culmination of a thrilling play-off with Australian Aaron Baddeley, ‘The Big Easy’ winning thanks to a 40 foot birdie putt at the second extra hole.
It represented the first time since Steve Jones achieved the feat in 1989 that a player had captured the first two events on the US PGA Tour and reaffirmed Els’s credentials as one of the world’s truly great golfing talents.
With the South African foregoing the chance of a title hat-trick in favour of a return to The European Tour International Schedule, the winner’s circle on the US PGA Tour was left vacant until it was filled, the following week, by another European Tour representative, Singh.
The Fijian went into the final round of the Phoenix Open at the TPC of Scottsdale course in Arizona two shots off the lead but grabbed the tournament he had previously won in 1995 by the scruff of the neck with a blistering start, five birdies in his first six holes helping him to the turn in 29.
“When you are hitting it that close and making the putts you can have a good score and that’s what I did on the front nine. That’s what won the golf tournament for me,” said Singh, who eventually closed with a 63 for a 23 under par total of 261, three strokes clear of John Huston. It was to be the start of an electrifying year for the irrepressible Singh.
However, it was not just in the United States that European Tour Members were making their presence felt in January. In the southern hemisphere too, success was being gleaned on both the Australasian Tour and the Sunshine Tour.
As Els was bagging his second consecutive success in Hawaii, down under at Auckland Golf Club in New Zealand, host nation favourite Pearce completed an emotional maiden professional victory in front of a host of friends and family at the Holden New Zealand Open.
The 27 year old from Dunedin clinched a two shot victory on ten under par 278 with a largely blemish free final round 70, allowing him to truly appreciate the standing ovation he was accorded all the way up the 18th fairway.
“That was superb, you can’t get any better than that - that is what you play the game for,” said the New Zealander, who finished two shots ahead of fellow European Tour Member, Australian Brett Rumford.
Across in South Africa, the beginning of January had already proved to be memorable for Immelman, who claimed his maiden victory on The European Tour International Schedule in the South African Airways Open at his home Erinvale Golf Club in Cape Town.
Buoyed by the success, the 23 year old returned to the Sunshine Tour a fortnight later and won again, this time in the Dimension Data Pro-Am, continuing a proud tradition of European Tour success in the event, Immelman following in the footsteps of previous winners Lee Westwood (2000), Darren Clarke (2001) and Retief Goosen (2002).
A final round 71 at the Gary Player Country Club gave Immelman a 17 under par total of 271 and a one shot victory over fellow countryman Andrew McLardy and Bruce Vaughan of the United States. More importantly, it also put him in an unassailable position as Number One on the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit.
Immelman nearly rounded the Sunshine Tour season off in style the following week in The Tour Championship at the Leopard Creek Country Club, but this time he had to accept the runners-up spot as fellow European Tour Member Otto triumphed, a final round 68 giving him a 17 under par total of 271 and a two stroke winning margin over Immelman, who finished strongly with a 63.
Into May and South Africa continued to be a fertile hunting ground for European Tour Members in search of silverware.
Zimbabwe’s Marc Cayeux led the way in the 54 hole Limpopo Industrelek Classic at the Pietersburg Golf Club with a winning 19 under par total of 197, ten days before South Africa’s Des Terblanche captured the Capital Alliance Royal Swazi Sun Open at the Royal Swazi Sun Country Club, beating Brazil’s Adilson da Silva in a play-off after both men had finished with 36 points in the modified stableford competition. The success did not stop there as, in October, Doug McGuigan, of Scotland, won the Platinum Classic at Mooinooi Golf Club.
Back in the United States, Singh took his second title of the year on the US PGA Tour with victory in the EDS Byron Nelson Championship at the Cottonwood Valley Golf Club in Irving, Texas, in May.
Unlike earlier in the season in Phoenix, where he approached the final round in a challenging position, this time Singh held the lead going into the last 18 holes but he proved he was equally as effective in both roles, a final round 66 for a 15 under par total of 265, seeing the two time Major Champion home by two strokes from Nick Price.
In September, when Taiwan’s Yeh Wei-Tze won the ANA Open at the Sapporo Golf Club on the Japan Golf Tour, Singh won for a third time on the 2003 US PGA Tour when, with rounds of 66-68-69 and 65 for a 16 under par 268, he captured the John Deere Classic at the TPC at Deere Run in Illinois. Another win in the Funai Classic at the Walt Disney World Resort, Lake Buena Vista, Florida, in October, took Singh to the top of the US PGA Tour money list, and he consolidated his position the following week when he was runner-up to South Africa’s Retief Goosen in the Chrysler Championship at the Westin Innisbrook Resort, Palm Harbor, Florida. “My goal was to win the money list just once before I retired,” he said.
A tie for fifth place the following week in the season-ending Tour Championship, presented by Coca-Cola, saw the Fijian achieve his quest with winnings of $7,573,907, relegating World Number One Tiger Woods to second.
Singh became the first European Tour member to win the US PGA Tour money list since Greg Norman in 1995, “I’m really proud of what I’ve accomplished,” he said.
While Els and Singh are both proven winners on the US PGA Tour, the 2003 season saw another European Tour Member take his first step up onto the winners’ podium Stateside.
England’s Luke Donald had won the Southern Farm Bureau Classic at the end of the 2002 season, and now Australia’s Adam Scott took the lead into the final round of the inaugural Deutsche Bank Championship at the Tournament Players Club of Boston in September and withheld the pressure superbly to triumph.
A final round 66 saw Scott complete all four rounds in the 60s and his 20 under par total of 264 proved to be four shots better than runner-up Rocco Mediate, who was glowing in his praise of the 23 year old Australian. “He’s as good as you can get,” said the American.
When Colin Montgomerie headed east in October, to tee-up in the Macau Open - one week after John Daly had won the Kolon Cup Korean Open at Woo Jung Hills Country Club in Seoul, and four weeks before India’s Arjun Atwal won the Hero Honda Masters at Delhi Golf Club on the Asian PGA Tour - his one and only thought was of winning.
The Scot had won on his previous visit to Asia in 2002, reigning victorious in the TCL Classic in China, and now he did so again at the Macau Golf & Country Club. “This was very much a case of mission accomplished,” said Montgomerie. “I had had two seconds previously in the year - in Italy and Denmark - but I wanted to keep the streak alive of winning in each year since 1993.”
Montgomerie, however, was compelled to go to a play-off. He had opened with scores of 66, 72 and 67, and he birdied the final hole in a closing 68 to draw level with Australian Scott Barr on 11 under par 273. He immediately birdied the same hole again to claim the title at the first extra hole, and added; “I keep leaving winning later and later each year. Too late! I would rather win in January.”