9 Disappointments from 2018 in Golf
IT HAS been an outstanding year on both the European and PGA Tours, with some incredible individual performances, not least Brooks Koepka’s two majors, Francesco Molinari’s emergence as a world-class golfer and Open champion and the incredible comeback by Tiger Woods. For all that, there have been some disappointments too. Here, we take a look at nine of them. You may have your own ideas - please let us know if you think we have missed any.
US Ryder Cup team
Lauded as the best team ever to leave the shores of the United States, Jim Furyk’s men started off brightly enough by winning the Friday-morning four balls, but then fell apart. Unbelievably, Furyk chose to play Phil Mickelson in the afternoon foursomes and he proceeded to spray the ball all over Le Golf National, giving playing partner Bryson DeChambeau no chance whatsoever as they collapsed to a 5&4 defeat to Sergio Garcia and Alex Noren. Garcia had gone into the match with his confidence on the floor, but watching Mickelson was exactly what he needed, and he went on to have a glorious three days. And it went from bad to worse. Mickelson and Tiger Woods didn’t manage a point between them. Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood won all four of their matches together, and the Italian also won his singles to finish the event with a maximum five points. Dustin Johnson was hammered by Ian Poulter. On and on it went. And so, the best team ever to leave the shores of the United States found themselves on the wrong end of a 17.5-10.5 drubbing. And it wasn’t long before the recriminations began, with Mickelson complaining about the course and Patrick Reed bleating about Jordan Spieth’s reluctance to partner him. Funnily enough, there were no complaints on the European side.
The Northern Irishman went into the final round of The Masters perfectly placed to finally complete the career grand slam, but he went backwards. Patrick Reed won his first major, while Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth produced plenty of fireworks of their own to run Reed close. McIlroy then missed the cut as the US Open - miserably so. Yes, he finished second at The Open, two shots behind Francesco Molinari, but he never really looked like wining. The US PGA Championship was another disappointment. And he hardly covered himself in glory at the Ryder Cup. He finished the year with a solitary victory on the PGA Tour and no wins in Europe. Bizarrely, he announced that he may not play in Europe in 2019. If he carries out his threat and loses his membership of the European Tour then he won’t play in the 2020 Ryder Cup. Needs to stop making excuses and get his act together - and soon!
Oh Rickie! There was a brilliant performance at The Masters, when he came within a whisker of catching Patrick Reed. But he came up short again. However, he announced that he now knew exactly what it took to win a major and he would break his duck before the year was out. It didn’t happen. Fowler has developed an unfortunate habit of producing one dreadful round in just about every tournament he plays and until he can work out why that is happening then he has no chance whatsoever of breaking his major duck. This is a hugely talented golfer with many years still ahead of him, having just turned 30, but a piece of the puzzle is missing, and the feeling is that it is located somewhere between his ears.
Spieth made a miserable start to 2018, struggling horribly with his putter. He kept telling us that it would all come right and, sure enough, he arrived at Augusta in April and putted brilliantly, coming close to winning his favourite major once again. He was back. Except that he wasn’t. He was an also-ran in the other three majors, played poorly at the Ryder Cup, finished the year without a single victory and failed to make the 30-man field for the season-ending Tour Championship. He then entered several early tournaments in the new PGA Tour season, saying that he was determined to get back on track. Spieth has never been a good driver of the ball but got away with it because of his magical powers on and around the greens. But his putting let him down all year and he has slipped down the world rankings, cutting a frustrated figure. The next 12 months will tell us a lot about the young American.
Lefty won a WGC event and recorded a host of other top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour, but then he embarrassed himself at the US Open by hitting a golf ball on a green while it was still moving to prevent it rolling off the putting surface. He was, of course, penalised, but came off the course and proudly announced that he would do the same thing again. A social media storm ensued and a sheepish Mickelson then had to stand before the world’s media and apologise, admitting that he had got it all wrong. The truth is that he had misjudged the reaction to his actions. He then bowled up at the Ryder Cup, played dreadfully, failed to win a single point and stood before the media once again, this time criticising Le Golf National, the magnificent course upon which Europe trounced the USA. He effectively announced that he was through with playing “tricked-up” golf courses. This from a man who has finished runner-up at the US Open on six occasions and had never once complained about the “tricked-up” nature of the greens at that particular event.
The $9m Match
Once upon a time there might have been both a demand and an interest in a head-to-head match between Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. How bizarre that it finally took place with Mickelson on the cusp of joining the Champions Tour and more than 10 years after Woods won the most recent of his 14 majors. The two protagonists attempted to set it up like a heavyweight boxing match, with lots of trash talking. They even put up side-bets involving their own money - they can afford it. For anybody who cares, Mickelson finally won at the second extra hole, but the quality of the golf was dreadful and nobody really cared who won. And, let’s not beat about the bush, $9m is an obscene amount of money. Please, no more.
Most pundits have been tipping Matsuyama to become the first Japanese golfer to win a men’s major, and he has been close, winning regularly around the world. But his progress came to a stuttering halt in 2018 and the harder Hideki tried, the worse it seemed to get. Many pundits have consistently expressed concerns about the pause at the top of his backswing and over the past 12 months it appears to have become more pronounced. And he seems to be swinging the club harder and faster than ever. What’s more, he has struggled on the greens. He is still a young man and, hopefully, he will work it out.
Kuchar finished outside the top 70 in the money list. This is a man who has spent his career achieving top-10 finishes for fun, but he didn’t have much to smile about in 2018. He had been a fixture in the 30-man field at the Tour Championship but came nowhere close this time, and also missed out on the US Ryder Cup team. Being the sort of man he is, Kuchar continued to play with a smile on his face but he must have been churning inside. Good news for his fans though. No sooner had the old season finished and the new one begun than he forced his way back into the winners’ circle. Suddenly, all is well in the world again.
The Italian had the world at his feet aged 16. Back at qualifying school at 25. He won his first European Tour title when he was still only 17, the youngest person ever to do so. By the time he was 20 he had won four times, including the BMW PGA Championship. He looked like a world-beater. But then he decided that he needed to learn to hit the ball further and starting spending too much time in the gym. He also changed a swing that had served him perfectly. He could probably have survived all of that had he not also lost his putting stroke somewhere along the way. He won all those tournaments because of his touch on the greens, but all of a sudden he couldn’t get the ball into the hole from three feet. And to cap it all off he lost his card and failed to win it back, which means he faces 12 months on the Challenge Tour. It is surely the saddest story of the year.
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