The world stays tuned to Tiger’s tale

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS - By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

In a year of emo­tional highs and lows in global golf, Tiger Woods’ come­back was the big­gest story.

Tears were shed over the death of icon Arnold Palmer, but four first-time men’s ma­jor cham­pi­ons, golf at the Olympics and Woods’ re­turn to com­pe­ti­tion from a 16-month lay­off set the stage for more thrills in 2017.

Woods, a 14-time ma­jor cham­pion with 79 ca­reer US PGA Tour tri­umphs, made his long-awaited re­turn two weeks ago fol­low­ing a long ab­sence while re­cov­er­ing from back surgery.

He fin­ished 15 th in a field of 18 at the Hero World Chal­lenge in Nas­sau, Ba­hamas, show­ing flashes of his peak form but lack­ing con­sis­tency. Watch­ing him fight back to tour­na­ment fit­ness fig­ures to be one of 2017’s big­gest at­trac­tions.

An­other should be Ja­pan’s Hideki Mat­suyama, who won the Chal­lenge for his fourth vic­tory in two months and fifth of the year. He won twice in Ja­pan and at a WGC event in Shang­hai, fin­ish­ing a ca­reer-best sixth in the rank­ings and serv­ing no­tice he is a ma­jor threat.

When the world’s best teed off at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics for the first time since 1904, Eng­land’s Justin Rose, the 2013 US Open cham­pion, and South Korean Park In-Bee, a seven-time ma­jor win­ner, cap­tured gold in the men’s and women’s tour­na­ments.

But the Olympics was haunted by the with­drawal of sev­eral top men’s play­ers — many over Zika virus con­cerns and the course’s fail­ure to boost the sport’s im­pact in Brazil.

Aus­tralia’s Ja­son Day fin­ished atop the world rank­ings with North­ern Ire­land’s Rory McIl­roy sec­ond, Amer­i­can Dustin John­son third, Swe­den’s Hen­rik Sten­son fourth and US star Jordan Spi­eth fifth.

But only two of them won ma­jor ti­tles in the first year since 2011 that pro­duced four first-time men’s ma­jor win­ners.

Eng­land’s Danny Wil­lett won the Mas­ters af­ter Spi­eth had a Sun­day back-nine melt­down while poised to claim back-to­back green jack­ets.

John­son won the US Open on his way to US PGA Player of the Year hon­ors, end­ing a se­ries of ma­jor near misses.

Sten­son won the Bri­tish Open, out­last­ing Phil Mick­el­son in a two-man duel down the stretch at Royal Troon, only to fall short in an Olympic last-day show­down for gold with Rose. Sten­son also claimed his sec­ond Race to Dubai crown on the Euro­pean Tour.

Amer­i­can Jimmy Walker was the wireto-wire win­ner of the PGA Cham­pi­onship, edg­ing de­fend­ing cham­pion Day by a stroke af­ter rain set up a marathon fi­nal day and “lift, clean and place” rules.

Day won three PGA events in 2016 – the Arnold Palmer In­vi­ta­tional and WGC Match Play as well as the Play­ers Cham­pi­onship.

John­son took the PGA money and lows­cor­ing awards, although it was McIl­roy who claimed the FedEx Cup play­off points crown af­ter win­ning the Deutsche Bank Cham­pi­onship and sea­son-end­ing Tour Cham­pi­onship.

The Amer­i­cans de­feated Europe 17-11 at Hazel­tine to re­claim the Ry­der Cup af­ter los­ing three in a row and six of the pre­vi­ous seven team show­downs. A US task force as­sem­bled af­ter a 2010 loss brought a new push for the tro­phy fight.

Top-ranked New Zealand teen Ly­dia Ko, who took a sil­ver medal at Rio, won the ANA In­spi­ra­tion at Ran­cho Mi­rage for her sec­ond ma­jor vic­tory in a row.

Thailand’s world No 2 Ariya Ju­ta­nur­garn won the LPGA sea­son Race to the Globe and five LPGA events — in­clud­ing the Women’s Bri­tish Open for her first ma­jor crown and the Cana­dian Women’s Open. She took the LPGA money crown and Player of the Year hon­ors.

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