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European Tour 2012 Season Preview
Posted by: Nick Bonfield on Mon 09 Jan 2012
European Tour Preview
The European Tour is poised for a brilliant season; its schedule is ever more varied and demanding, some of the most renowned players in the world game will take up membership, and incredibly exciting young players like Tommy Fleetwood and Tom Lewis will be propelled to centre stage.
Unfortunately, players such as Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy have taken up PGA Tour membership for the 2012 season, but they will still need to play a minimum of thirteen tournaments on the European Tour schedule in order to retain playing privileges for 2013.
On the plus side, players such as German Martin Kaymer and Álvaro Quirós have pledged allegiance to European golf, renowned Englishmen Paul Casey and Ian Poulter have rejoined the tour, and American amateur sensation Peter Uihlein will compete to earn a card for the 2013 season. Uihlein cited variation and experience in different conditions as the principal factors for starting his professional career on the European Tour; a contrast from the beautiful, challenging yet somewhat monotonous courses played in the United States. He has only seven events to secure his 2013 card, but many will hope he succeeds and draws yet more attention to the benefits of starting a professional career on the European Tour.
As mentioned, ability to perform in differing conditions is pivotal on the European Tour, and will be accentuated by the pressures of Ryder Cup qualification. Players have until the 26th August to accrue Ryder Cup points, a process which always throws up a surprise or two. But who is expected to qualify, and who might provide a surprise?
I expect Poulter and Casey to put poor seasons behind them and make the team, especially with off the course distractions now firmly in the past. Martin Kaymer will build on his tremendous end to 2011, win multiple times in 2012, and make the team alongside a resurgent Sergio Garcia. The Molinari brothers will have to come back strongly from disappointing seasons, and may be usurped by the likes of Álvaro Quirós, Richie Ramsay and 2011 rookie of the year Tom Lewis. Quirós won twice on tour last season, including the season ending Dubai World Championship, and will be exceptionally confident heading into 2012. With enormous power and a sumptuous putting stroke, Quirós looks poised to reach the highest level. Scotland’s Richie Ramsay had a fine 2011, and could be a dark horse to push for a Ryder Cup birth. He has gone from strength to strength since turning professional, and possesses the game and temperament to make a serious impression this term. The same can be said for Tom Lewis, who matched the low round score (65) for an amateur at the Open Championship, before impressing the golfing world with a stunning victory at the Portugal Masters in just his third professional start. With so much competition in the European game, the race for Ryder Cup qualification will be yet another tremendously exciting sub-plot in a season already laced with great potential.
To focus solely on European golfers would be to ignore the international nature of the tour, and South African’s will once again record multiple victories, starting in January. Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel will divide their time between the European and PGA Tours and, between them, will record at least one victory during the start-of-season African swing. Also look for big hitting George Coetzee and fellow South African Jaco van Zyl to make an impression this season, along with veteran Retief Goosen, who will be desperate to find some form and allay fears that he is past his peak.
Several other golfers are set to thrive on the European Tour this season. Spaniard Pablo Larrazábal claimed a memorable play-off victory against compatriot Sergio Garcia at the 2011 BMW International Open, which will give him the self-belief needed to compete at the highest level. Adrian Otaegui graduated from 2011 Qualifying school and became the youngest ever Spaniard, at 19 years old, to earn his tour card. He has been lauded by former Masters winner José María Olazábal and labelled by many as a star of the future. Other notable newcomers include Tommy Fleetwood and Andrea Pavan, first and second respectively in the 2011 Challenge Tour money list, who will be expected to make an impression this season.
Golfers from Scandinavia will have a significant part to play in 2011. The fluid Alexander Noren will continue to impress, and will start to feature regularly in majors and World Golf Championships. Robert Karlsson, although dividing his time between the two tours, will have a point to prove after a winless 2011, and Henrik Stenson will be desperate to find form and haul himself out of the proverbial abyss. Peter Hanson had a very consistent 2011, capped off by some brilliant golf at the Dubai World Championship, and will continue to improve this season. It wouldn’t be a surprise if all four were victors in 2012. Thomas Bjorn will be desperate to maintain the phenomenal play that saw him win three times last season, and fellow Dane’s Anders and Soren Hansen will feature prominently.
Padraig Harrington had a terribly disappointing season in 2011, with the Irishman failing to make it into the top 60 on the European Tour money list. He showed signs of improvement, however, towards the back end of the season, and must be desperate to preserve his standing in the game amid the spectacular rise of young golfers across the globe. Ross Fisher is a player who burst on to the scene in that bracket, but a lacklustre 2011 and he has fallen down the list of prominent English golfers. He has the mindset and ability to rise back up, however, and 2012 will be a successful season for the humble Englishman. Compatriots David Horsey, Robert Rock and Simon Dyson will all win again this season, and watch out for Joost Luiten; the flamboyant, streaky Dutchman should be high on confidence after his maiden European Tour victory at the Iskandar Johor Open in November.
Money list winner: Martin Kaymer – If the big German builds on his end to 2011, and recaptures the form that saw him win the 2010 PGA Championship and the 2011 WGC HSBC Champions Tournament, he will be a hard man to overhaul, especially given the truncated schedules of some of his closest competitors.
Comeback season: Padraig Harrington – The Irishman has too much talent, pedigree and determination to stay out in the doldrums for another season. He will win at least once on the European Tour schedule and contend for a major championship.
Young player of the year: Tom Lewis – It is hard consider anyone else, given his scintillating start to life as a professional golfer. He possesses the necessary attributes to become a world class golfer, and a sumptuous swing that will lead him to multiple victories in 2012.
Surprise package: Pablo Larrazábal – It is questionable whether he can be defined as a ‘surprise package’ given his performances in 2011, but I expect to see multiple victories for the boisterous Spaniard and a push for a Ryder Cup birth.
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