Stellar year for the European game puts golf back in spotlight

OVER the last decade or so, golf has been something of an after-thought at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards.

With no major winners from 2000 to 2009, and very little headway made towards the top of the world rankings by British players, the only gong handed out has been for Overseas Personality to Tiger Woods – and that was only once.

Not even the record-breaking margins of victory achieved by the European Ryder Cup teams of 2004 and 2006 were deemed good enough for the team of the year accolade.

Colin Montgomerie has been a regular nominee for the coveted individual prize but has never quite crossed the line, a fitting epitaph to his near misses in the game's defining tournaments.

This year, however, the landscape is considerably different.

For in Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell, golf has two shortlisted players of immense popularity who are doing something that golf nominees have not been renowned for in recent years – winning.

Westwood is the recently-crowned world No 1, the 37-year-old having come back from the brink of the sport's abyss seven years ago to lead the British and European stampede on the world's top 10.

The Worksop professional ended a 12-year drought in America before holding off Tiger Woods when the pair went toe-to-toe in China just four days after he replaced golf's troubled star at the game's summit.

That he was in a supermarket buying mashed potato when he learned he had become the first Englishman since Nick Faldo to reach the No 1 spot says everything about his down-to-earth manner and what makes him such a likeable ambassador for the sport.

McDowell became the first Briton for 40 years to win a US Open, proved that was no fluke by claiming two more titles and then teamed up with Westwood to help Europe win the Ryder Cup at an emotionally-charged Celtic Manor.

His nerveless holing of the decisive putt could tip him over the edge with voters, as could his rapport with the fans – the affable Ulsterman has nearly 100,000 followers on Twitter.

And their contribution could even help Monty finally get his hands on an award.

Montgomerie has twice contributed to Ryder Cup squads winning the team of the year accolade in 1995 and 2002, yet if his magnificent Manor men prove victorious tomorrow evening, Europe's captain marvel will get a deserved conclusion to 2010.

And the honours may not stop there, with Pete Cowen a potential winner of the coach of the year award.

The Rotherham coach helped Westwood to the game's summit, McDowell to US Open glory and Louis Oosthuizen to an Open victory that took many by surprise but not his hard Yorkshire task-master.

Fellow graduates of the Cowen school of hard truths, Westwood and Henrik Stenson, rounded out the top three at St Andrews to complete a golden summer for a man who has already pipped England coach Andy Flower to one national coaching award this autumn.

And even if none of the above is triumphant, British golf has at least made the sporting public sit up and take note in 2010.