Europe's Ryder Cup potential highlighted by wins for Justin Rose and Francesco Molinari
It is four months until the Ryder Cup but Europe could be forgiven for wishing the match was starting much sooner.
Captain Thomas Bjorn wore a broad grin when he announced his vice captains last week and that smile can only have widened following weekend results on both sides of the Atlantic.
Justin Rose reaffirmed his world-class credentials with his brilliant victory in the Fort Worth Invitational while Francesco Molinari has thrust himself firmly into the Ryder Cup picture with an equally impressive triumph at Wentworth.
Were the Italian to demonstrate at Le Golf National in September the machine like consistency he showed in a bogey-free weekend at the BMW PGA Championship, he would be a huge asset to Europe's bid to regain the trophy.
"I know it's on a course I love and where I have almost as good a record as I have on here [Wentworth], so I'd love to be there," said Molinari, 35, who played in Europe's victories in 2010 and 2012.
The eight players currently occupying the automatic qualifying spots look as strong as Bjorn could realistically have wished in Tyrrell Hatton, Rose, Rory McIlroy, Molinari, Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Alex Noren and Sergio Garcia.
Not a bad line-up is it?
Of those eight, only Hatton is struggling and he has previously demonstrated a happy knack of flicking the form switch. It would not be a shock if it were to happen this week at the Italian Open where the Englishman is the defending champion.
Bjorn certainly will not be overly concerned at this stage, especially as he is armed with four wildcard picks and has the likes of Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson on the fringes of qualification.
As it stands the Danish skipper could send out stellar foursomes pairings in France. How about McIlroy and Garcia, Rose and Poulter, Stenson and Noren and Rahm and Molinari? There are plenty of other options as well.
Of the players listed, only Noren, Hatton and Stenson have failed to post a tournament victory this year. The portents are undeniably encouraging as Europe seek to extend an unbeaten home record that remarkably stretches back to 1993.
However, the inescapable fact is that the Ryder Cup is not being played next week and there are four huge months to go before the United States defend the trophy in France.
This is the period that will largely define the golfing year, with the US Open at Shinnecock Hills in June, the Open at Carnoustie the following month and then August's PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club.
Rose must be relishing the prospect after such a complete display at Colonial where he manufactured birdie opportunities inside twenty feet on 45 of the 72 holes. It was a fitting display of ball striking at the spiritual home of Ben Hogan.
This was not lost on the 37-year-old Englishman, who will also be aware that Hogan's 1953 Open victory came at Carnoustie.
In winning at Colonial, Rose added to an impressive list of victories at classic courses that includes Merion, Aronimink, Muirfield Village, Congressional and Royal Aberdeen. "I'm very proud of the places I've been able to win," Rose said.
"I don't know why that is. I'm not saying they suit my game, but I'm happy my game has turned up and I've been inspired by some of these great venues."
Shinnecock Hills in Suffolk County, New York is a classy Rose-type venue. Having now matched his career high of third in the world, the 2013 US Open winner has the number one spot and more major glory in his sights.
By contrast McIlroy is still short of his best golf. Having been 12-under-par in his opening two rounds at Wentworth, a six-under weekend would have given him the title.
He could manage only scores of 71 and 70 as he trailed in Molinari's wake.
On the up side, the Northern Irishman ground out those totals despite losing the progress he thought he had made with his swing during his opening rounds of 67 and 65.
To put it into context, his runner-up finish was his fifth top-five of the year including victory at Bay Hill. But, this is the time of year when the golfing clock begins to tick ever faster.
McIlroy will quickly need to rediscover his finest form if he is to add to his four major titles in the coming weeks. As he says, he is "close" but he still needs an extra ingredient to make the most of his prodigious talents.
The last four majors have been won by young Americans - Patrick Reed (Masters), Justin Thomas (PGA), Jordan Spieth (Open) and Brooks Koepka (US Open).
Rose, McIlroy and Rahm are the most likely Europeans to break the US stranglehold. Were they to do so they would give Bjorn and his backroom team further delight.
And already in this period when the Ryder Cup phony war gathers momentum, Europe's skipper has plenty of reason for confidence in his likely line up.