Tiger Woods Steals Show in Year to Remember
Brooks Koepka finishes 2019 as the world number one and Rory McIlroy was crowned PGA Tour Player of the Year after his victories in the Players Championship, Tour Championship and Canadian Open but the year belongs to Tiger Woods.
The American finally won his 15th major, securing The Masters in dramatic and emotional circumstances at Augusta in April as he completed one of golf’s most astonishing comeback stories. In the process he saw off the challenge of the likes of Koepka and Jon Rahm, the Spaniard who won the Race to Dubai after winning the DP World Tour Championship in November. Woods’s career had appeared to be over until back fusion surgery allowed him one last chance at glory. And he took it with both hands.
But just when it looked like he was back, he struggled at the US PGA Championship, US Open and Open Championship, where he failed to make it to the weekend and cut a thoroughly miserable figure. He took the decision to go under the knife once again, this time to sort out a troublesome knee injury. He was sidelined for weeks and made his competitive return at the inaugural ZoZo Championship, a full-field PGA Tour event staged in Japan. And guess what? He only went and won it, beating yet another world-class field in the process.
He played well enough to give himself a captain’s a pick for the Presidents Cup in Royal Melbourne. And he was unbeaten, and his team’s outstanding player, as the USA completed a final-day recovery to take eight points out of a possible 12 in the singles to win the cup yet again. And his players queued up to pay tribute to their captain, not only for his outstanding play, but for his leadership skills. Who would ever have thought it? In his prime, Woods was a solitary figure, interested only in himself and what he was doing on the course.
But, by his own admission, he is now a different human being. He realised how close he had come to having to face up to the end of his playing career. He had taken so much for granted. But not any more. He engages with his fellow players and the fans who have worshipped him for more than 20 years. Woods plays with a smile on his face, and it is abundantly clear that he cherishes playing competitive golf more than at any stage in his career. Now in his mid-forties, he is arguably playing some of the best golf of his life, and it would be a foolish person who bet against him adding to his tally of majors.
Koepka successfully defended his US PGA title in brilliant fashion, and could have also won The Masters and the US Open. He does not receive the credit he deserves, and has not been afraid to say so. Koepka has had his say on McIlroy, has attacked the media for failing to recognise the scale of what he has achieved and has tackled the issue of slow play in a refreshing manner. He has criticised Bryson DeChambeau, one of the slowest players on the planet, and called for the PGA Tour to take action. He is a breath of fresh air.
Sadly, the same cannot be said of DeChambeau, who may well be a phenomenally gifted player but who insists that he has no plans to change the way he plays. He just doesn’t seem to get the fact that his approach to the game is a turn-off to millions of golf fans watching at home.
Gary Woodland, one of the game’s best ball strikers, finally fulfilled his potential at the US Open and, weeks later, there was a masterful performance by Shane Lowry at a never-to-be-forgotten Open Championship at Royal Portrush. Northern Ireland embraced the world’s oldest major with a passion - every single ticket was sold out months before the first shot was struck. Mcilroy began the week with huge pressure on his shoulders and then began his challenge with an eight on his opening hole. His first round turned into a nightmare, and he was devastated. It is to his eternal credit that he went out on day two, produced one of the great rounds in Open history and only failed to make the cut by a whisker.
The fans who had cheered his every step around Royal Portrush couldn’t quite believe what they had seen - the best and worst of McIlroy encapsulated within two extraordinary rounds of golf. But they still had Lowry, who would go on to dominate the tournament and walk away with the Claret Jug. It was a performance that announced his arrival as a force on the world stage. He partied for weeks afterwards, but will be looking to get back to business in 2020.
McIlroy’s form in the majors was a disappointment. Elsewhere, he looked like the best golfer in the world. And there are still many who believe that he is. But it is now more than five years since he won the most recent of his four majors - Koepka has already caught him. His form in winning the Players Championship, Tour Championship and Canadian Open was sensational, and nobody recorded more top-10s than the 30-year-old Northern Irishman. McIlroy is at his best when he plays with freedom and if he can find a way to do at The Masters then he might yet complete that long-awaited career grand slam.
Augusta is made for him, and he knows it. “I have played there often enough now to have figured out where to put the ball and, more important, where not to put it,” he says. “Augusta is a puzzle and I know that I have the game to solve it. I just need to go there and do it.”
There is every possibility that Rahm will don the Green Jacket before McIlroy. The young Spaniard had another incredible season, capping it by winning the Race to Dubai, pipping Tommy Fleetwood in the process. Spare a thought for Fleetwood - he went through the entire year without missing a single cut on either the PGA or European Tour. He also finished second at The Open in the week that Lowry chose to find the form of his life.
Rahm, McIlroy and Fleetwood ensure that the future of golf in Europe looks bright. But some incredible talents have also emerged on the PGA Tour - Cameron Champ and Matthew Wolff are two of the brightest American prospects, but the new PGA Tour season has already seen a host of first-time winners emerge - Jaoquin Niemann, Lanto Griffin and Sebastian Munoz are all young and fearless. Look out, too, for a young man called Scottie Scheffler. In his first season, he has already come close to winning and it is surely only a matter of time before he joins the aforementioned golfers.
And what of Jordan Spieth? For a time it looked like he was ready to dominate the game for years, but it has all gone wrong. However, there have been signs that he might yet rediscover his very best. He still has weeks where he putts like a god. His problem is that he misses too many fairways. If he can put that right he may still return to his best. He has lots of people rooting for him. - and he is still only 26.
On top of all of that, we have another Ryder Cup to look forward to. So goodbye to one unforgettable year, and let’s look forward to what is certain to be another one in 2020.
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