Highlights Of The Decade
In the second part of our 'look back at the decade' series, Golfshake writer Derek Clements reviews the top highlights on the men's professional tours for the past decade. Do you agree? Let us know in the commets below.
TIGER WOODS dominated the 1990s and the 2000s before his body let him down and injuries took their toll. As the current decade came towards an end, he was a spent force. Not so very long ago, he even announced to the world that his playing days might be over. But Woods being the individual he is, he battled back to fitness and dumbfounded us all at Augusta in April 2019. It got us thinking about the most outstanding performances of the decade. Woods tops the list, but there were many other memorable moments. Here, we look at 10 of the best . . .
1 Tiger Woods, The Masters, Augusta National, 2019
How would ever have believed it? When Woods won the US Open in 2008 it was his 14th major success. Everybody expected him to cruise beyond Jack Nicklaus’ record tally of 18. But then life caught up with Woods, Injury, personal scandal, painkiller addiction. It appeared that his competitive career was over. But we all reckoned without his extraordinary spirit. Career-saving back fusion surgery finally brought an end to years of pain and he would win the 2018 Tour Championship and finished second behind Brooks Koepka at the US PGA Championship. He even briefly led during the final round of the 2018 Open. But a 15th major? Surely not. If he was ever going to achieve it, The Masters was probably going to be the most likely venue. And, wouldn’t you just know it, he did precisely that, completing one of the most remarkable of all sporting comebacks to defeat the likes of Koepka and Jon Rahm. Three more to go to catch the Golden Bear. Can he do it? Don’t bet against him.
2 Henrik Stenson, The Open, Royal Troon, 2016
Stenson had climbed the heights but also hit some dreadful lows, completely losing his game after falling victim to conman Allan Stanford, currently languishing in an American prison for perpetrating a massive fraud. But the Swede is a fighter and gradually battled his way back up the world rankings. All that was missing was a major. And when it came, at Royal Troon in 2016, it was in what was arguably the most unforgettable Open Championship since 1977, when Tom Watson prevailed against Jack Nicklaus in what became known as The Duel in the Sun. This time it was Stenson and Phil Mickelson who went at one another like a pair of world-class heavyweight boxers. Most onlookers expected Mickelson to come out on top, but Stenson produced the best final round this grand old tournament has ever witnessed. As well as Mickelson played, he could do nothing when faced with Stenson’s remarkable 63.
3 Rory Mcilroy, US Open, Congressional, 2011
The Northern Irishman had thrown away a golden opportunity to win The Masters earlier that year, falling apart with the golfing world looking on. Many wondered if he would ever recover. We didn’t have to wait long for the answer. He dominated from start to finish at Congressional after an opening round of 65. Mcilroy would go on to win by eight strokes from Jason Day. He set eleven US Open records on the weekend, including the lowest total 72-hole score (268) and the lowest total under par (−16). McIlroy and Robert Garrigus also became the fifth and sixth in U.S. Open history to score under par in all four rounds. It was a monumental performance.
4 Jordan Spieth, The Open, Royal Birkdale, 2017
The American was the best player in the world when he arrived at Birkdale. Winning tournaments for fun on the PGA Tour is one thing. Doing the same thing on a British links course is something very different. And Spieth turned out to be up to the task. In the end, the 2017 Open turned out to be a duel between Spieth and fellow American Matt Kuchar. Spieth seemed to be cruising towards the Claret Jug. But then things began to go wrong and he was hanging on by his fingernails when he came to the 13th hole. He hit a wild drive into a huge mound on the right and decided his ball was unplayable. He took an eternity to decide where to drop the ball and eventually hit his third shot short of the green, from where he somehow managed to get up and down in two, walking off with a miraculous bogey. But Kuchar was now in the lead. Not for long though. At the par-three 14th, Spieth nearly holed his tee shot and converted the birdie attempt to tie Kuchar. Then at the par-five 15th, Spieth made a 48-foot eagle putt to take the lead once again. With birdies on the next two holes Spieth played 14–17 in five-under to take a two-stroke lead heading to the last. When Kuchar found a greenside bunker and made bogey, Spieth was able to tap in for par and win by three strokes.
5 Francesco Molinari, The Open, Carnoustie, 2018
The little Italian had always been a beautiful ball striker but would be the first to admit that, when it mattered most, he struggled on the greens. But he refused to give up and worked tirelessly with coach Denis Pugh and in 2018 he found something. He won his first PGA Tour title and stormed to the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. He bestrode the world’s fairways like a behemoth but he surpassed everything that went before when he arrived at Carnoustie and stunned the world, winning The Open Championship and, in the process, holding off challenges from Justin Rose, Rory Mcilroy and Tiger Woods.
6 Jordan Spieth, The Masters, 2015
The American had almost won the Green Jacket the previous year, on his Masters debut. He came to Augusta putting like a god, just as he had done in 2014, But this time he had learnt a bit more about the nuances of arguably the most famous golf course on the planet. For four days he played near-flawless golf, putting his approaches in the right places and holing putts for fun. He looked like he owned the place. He led from start to finish, shooting a record-equaling winning total of 270 (18 under par) for his first major at the age of 21, four ahead of Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose.
7 Ryder Cup, Medinah, 2012
Jose Maria Olazabal captained Europe to what is surely the most dramatic of Europe’s Ryder Cup wins. Coming to the end of the Saturday afternoon fourballs, Europe found themselves trailing 10-4 but, inspired by a remarkable performance by Ian Poulter, they finished the day 10-6 behind. It meant that the Americans required just 4.5 out of a possible 12 from the final-day singles. Nobody gave Europe a prayer. But Olazabal gave his team an inspiring speech on Saturday night, urging his players to embrace the spirit of the late Seve Ballesteros. It worked. And how. Unbelievably, Poulter and company brushed the mighty Americans aside, with Martin Kaymer sparking wild celebrations when he holed the winning putt on the final green.
8 Martin Kaymer, 2014 US Open
Kaymer had already won the US PGA Championship and proved himself to be a stalwart of Europe’s Ryder Cup team. He reached the top of the world rankings but then began to struggle. However, for four days at Pinehurst, the German produced a career-defining performance. He led from start to finish, eight ahead of Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton. He was the first golfer to open a major with two rounds of 65 or better, and set a U.S. Open record for lowest 36-hole score at 130. Kaymer was also the first player from continental Europe to win the U.S. Open and the fourth European winner in five years.
9 Ryder Cup, Le Golf National, 2018
Europe had been soundly defeated by a rejuvenated American team on home soil in 2016. The USA had been humiliated at Gleneagles in 2014 and, amid much recrimination, they set up a task force. It worked. And Jim Furyk’s team arrived in France full of confidence, expecting to comfortably retain the little gold trophy. They reckoned without Moliwood, otherwise known as Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood. They cruised to victory in their four matches together, and Molinari claimed a maximum five points when he also won his singles match. It turned out to be another massacre. What will the USA try next?
10 Danny Willett, The Masters, Augusta National, 2016
Jordan Spieth was cruising towards a successful defence of his title until he came to the 12th hole, one of the most famous par threes in the world, with a narrow green guarded by water. He put his tee shot into the water. Spieth then dropped another ball. He was now laying his third shot. Unbelievably, he hit it fat and looked on in horror as that ball also sank. Spieth would eventually walk off with a seven. Up ahead, Englishman Danny Willett was playing like a man possessed and his 67 turned out to be good enough to win. Augusta had got its own back on Spieth. Willett had secured his first major.