Winners and losers on the European Tour in 2017
Another spellbinding season on the European Tour has come to end, and what a year it has been. It is easy to feel a little downhearted about the fact that Americans won three of the year's four majors, but let's not forget Sergio Garcia's memorable victory at The Masters - or that he beat Englishman Justin Rose in a playoff.
Brooks Koepka (US Open), Jordan Spieth (The Open) and Justin Thomas (US PGA Championship) enjoyed unbelievable seasons, with Thomas looking like winning just about every time he teed off. And with so many other brilliant young American golfers emerging it would be easy to feel pessimistic about Europe's prospects in the Ryder Cup next year. Not a bit of it.
Here, we take a look at the winners and losers on the European Tour in 2017, and you will quickly see that we have plenty to be upbeat about.
Winner: Tommy Fleetwood. A year the Englishman will never forget, on and off the course. Twelve months ago he was outside the top 100 in the world rankings but then he won the Abu Dhabi championship, finished second to Dustin Johnson at the WGC-Mexico championship, finished second at the Shezen International, fourth at the US Open and won the French Open. He also became a father for the first time.
Winner: Justin Rose. From nowhere, Rose won the WGC-HSBC Champions after Dustin Johnson collapsed to a 77 in the final round, and followed it with another victory in the Turkish Airlines Open. All of a sudden, he was breathing down the neck of Tommy Fleetwood at the top of the Race to Dubai and reminding us what a wonderful golfer he can be. A magnificent ball striker.
Winner: Tyrrell Hatton. Enjoyed a purple patch on the PGA Tour earlier in the year, when he could easily have won twice. He soared up the world rankings, but then it all started to go wrong for the young Englishman. He returned to Europe but left his game on the other side of the Atlantic. For a time, he couldn't hit a barn door. Then he arrived at the British Masters and led after two rounds before fading. Hatton turned up at St Andrews and successfully defended his Alfred Dunhill Links title and followed it the next week with another win at the Italian Open.
Winner: Paul Dunne. The irishman was the 54-hole leader at The Open Championship at St Andrews in 2015 while still an amateur. He later turned professional and finally broke through at the British Masters at Close House, fending off the challenge of Rory McIlroy with a scarcely-credible final round of 61. His confidence and self-belief have grown since that wonderful week in the northeast of England and he now believes that he can win anywhere on any course against anybody. Watch him go in 2018.
Winner: Matthew Fitzpatrick. The young Englishman continues to get better and better. And as long as he accepts that he will never be one of golf's big hitters, there is no reason to believe that his remarkable progress will not continue. He has a magical short game, one of the best in the business from 100 yards and in. And he also possesses a wonderful temperament.
Winner: Ian Poulter. When you consider where he was at the beginning of the year, what Poulter has achieved is nothing short of remarkable. After spending much of 2016 on the sidelines recovering from a foot injury, he was on the cusp of losing his PGA Tour card until finishing second in the Players Championship at Sawgrass. The only thing missing as he continues to climb the world rankings was a victory. Don't bet against him making the 2018 European Ryder Cup team.
Winner: Sergio Garcia. After so many near-misses, the Spaniard finally won his first major after a breathtaking final day when he and Justin Rose went head to head for the Green Jacket at Augusta National. If you'd had to pick the one major Garcia was least likely to win, this would have been it when you consider all his trials and tribulations on the greens over the years. But he held it all together. On top of that, he also won the Dubai Desert Classic and the Andalucia Masters. Oh yes, and he got married. All is well in the life of Sergio Garcia.
Winner: Jon Rahm. In 18 months he has come from nowhere and is now ranked fourth in the world. He started the year with a dramatic victory at the Farmers Insurance Open, when he holed a massive putt on the final green. He then joined the European Tour and promptly won the Irish Open in sensational style. He hits the ball a country mile and has a wonderful short game. The Spaniard has no weaknesses and is a certain major winner and, possibly, a future world number one.
Winner: Matthew Southgate. A true feel-good story. Southgate, one of the nicest men on the European Tour, has recovered from testicular cancer. He finished second at the Irish Open and sixth at The Open Championship, where he was cheered on every hole.
Winner: Eddie Pepperell. Twelve months ago he lost his card after a miserable season. Pepperell appeared to be in the wilderness, but he headed off to tour school and won back his playing privileges. He then worked his socks off during the winter, determined there would be no repeat in 2017. He reeled off eight top 10 finishes, including a purple patch in September where, in successive weeks, he finished fifth, fifth, third and third. Now he just needs to take the next step and win a tournament.
Winner: Ross Fisher. One of the most underrated players in the world. Fisher hits the ball a mile. He is one of the best iron players in the business, and one of the most consistent. He had eight top 10s, including two runners-up finishes.
Winner: Francesco Molinari. The Italian finished second in both the BMW PGA Championship and the US PGA Championship - in each tournament he had the misfortune to come up against men playing golf from a different planet. At Wentworth, it was Alex Noren and at Quail Hollow it was the winning machine that is Justin Thomas. Molinari is one of the best iron players you will ever see. If only he could hole a few more putts.
Winner: Jordan Smith. Would have been crowned rookie of the year had it not been for the presence of a certain Jon Rahm. This time last year he was plying his trade on the Challenge Tour, but he has taken to life on the European Tour after the manner born. He ensured that he would keep his card with a third-place finish in South Africa in only his third start and he crowned a great season by winning the Porsche European Open and then finishing ninth in the US PGA Championship.
Loser: Rory McIlroy. It all started so well for McIlroy, when he lost in a playoff to Graeme Storm at the South African Open, but he later revealed he had suffered a rib injury caused by hitting too many shots as he tried out new clubs. The injury put him on the sidelines for a few weeks and he never really recovered. Incredibly, he went through the season without a single victory, although he came close at the British Masters, only losing out when Paul Dunne shot a final round of 61. He ended his season in October at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, vowing to return in 2018 fully fit and raring to go.
Loser: Lee Westwood. Now reaching the veteran stage, the Englishman still strikes the ball as well as he has ever done. There are few better drivers of the ball anywhere in the world and time after time he rifles iron shots to the heart of greens. He has always been a streaky putter but now he looks vulnerable over short putts and misses too many that he should hole. He had five top 10 finishes on the European Tour in 2017 but never looked like adding to his 23 titles.
Loser: Danny Willett. The 2016 Masters champion has had a wretched time of it since his unforgettable victory at Augusta National. He has been dogged by injury and then he lost form and confidence. The Englishman has now parted company with both his coach and caddie in an attempt to rediscover the magic and the good news is that there have finally been signs of recovery.
Loser: Victor Dubuisson. How can a golfer who possesses so much talent play so much awful golf?
Loser: Alvaro Quiros. Why is a man who finally returned to the winners' circle classed as a loser? Well, the good news for Quiros is that he has a two-year exemption after winning the Rocco Forte Open. More worrying, however, is the 17 missed cuts. Apart from his win, Quiros only made the weekend in three other events.
Loser: Andrew Johnston. Beef won his Tour card to play on the PGA Tour and while he loved the lifestyle, and the fans loved him, he struggled from day one and lost his card. On top of that, he also struggled when he returned to Europe and ended the year without a single top 20 finish. He was 116th in the Race to Dubai. There is no doubting that he has the talent, but the coming season is make or break for the Englishman.
Loser: Matteo Manassero. Incredibly, the Italian is still only 24 years old but has already lived a lifetime of emotions as a professional golfer. He was the youngest winner in European Tour history at the age of 17 and had won four times by the age of 20, but then he decided that he needed to hit the ball further and changed his swing - and lost his game. The past four years have been extremely difficult for Manassero, who finished 114th in the Race to Dubai.
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