2018 – GOOD YEAR, BAD YEAR?
HAVING SPENT MORE THAN HALF THE YEAR AT THE TOP OF THE OFFICIAL WORLD GOLF RANKING (OWGR), ONE MIGHT BE FORGIVEN FOR THINKING BIG-HITTING AMERICAN DUSTIN JOHNSON WOULD BE A SHOO-IN FOR THE ACCOLADE OF GOLFER OF THE YEAR, BUT, DESPITE WINNING THE YEAROPENI
A look at the highs and lows of the year for golf.
And, with Tiger Woods demonstrating something resembling his form of old, Italian Francesco Molinari winning his maiden, ‘Major,’ as did American Brooks Koepka, who won two of the four Grand Slam events for good measure with Phil Mickelson providing a blast from the past with a third WGC career win in Mexico.
And, with over 30 different winners on the PGA TOUR and 40plus on the European circuit, as well as four men reaching the #1 summit on the OWGR during the calendar year, 2018 has been a year of whitehot competition, with no single player able to extract the degree of superiority and dominance that was evident during the years in which Tiger Woods was in his pomp.
2018, the 50th anniversary of the formation of the PGA TOUR having split from the USPGA in 1968 – the European Tour followed suit fouryears-later – was an interesting, if not spectacular year, something of a landmark as the Florida-based circuit made significant scheduling changes, the repercussions of which would be felt not only across the pond down Wentworth way, but further afield into Asia.
That’s looking forwards, but taking a glance in the rear-view-mirror of the elite end of the game controlled with impunity by the PGA TOUR, 2018 was something of a ‘Curate’s egg,’ part good, part bad, and with a large slice of mediocrity making-up the filling of the sandwich.
Considering Dustin Johnson spent considerably more than half-theyear – 35 weeks in all and counting down towards the festive season break - atop the Official World Golf Ranking, one might be forgiven for thinking the big-hitter from Columbia, South Carolina would have, at the very least, added to his somewhat meagre return at the ‘Majors,’ (one, the 2016 US Open), but, no, a third-place finish at that event, a tie for 10th at the Masters, otherwise a very limited return.
Similarly, the WGC events, two top-10 finishes in 2018, close, but, as they say, ‘No cigar,’ DJ winning three times on the regular tour, January’s Tournament of Champions and, mid-summer, the prestigious FedEx St. Jude Classic and the RBC Canadian Open.
But DJ’s secret – aside of winning, on average, three times each season – is a grinding consistency; 20 starts during the 2017 / 18 PGA TOUR, in addition to his hat-trick of victories, runner-up twice, third three times, 17 top-25 and just one missed cut, making money most weeks, like the Royal Mint, but a far cry from the days when Tiger Woods ran the show with a fist-full of, ‘W’ against his name.
Yet, it was to be mid-May before DJ was relieved of his statistical supremacy, replaced at the top of the pile by compatriot, Justin Thomas, similarly, a trio of wins but without a, ‘Major,’ one solitary WGC title, but, once, like Johnson, a fistful of top-10 finishes and only two missed cuts out of 23 starts.
But, contending is not really what it’s all about on the PGA TOUR, where, by Monday morning, nobody can recall the plucky losers, just winners, and the man who took the plaudits on the biggest stages of all was Floridian Brooks Koepka, successfully defending his 2017 US Open title, adding a third, ‘Major,’ the USPGA Championship and kicking-off the new PGA TOUR schedule by winning the prestigious, cash rich CJ Cup in Korea.
Koepka, who just five-years-ago was learning his trade on the, “School of hard knocks,’ aka the European Challenge Tour even made it to the top of the world, spending a couple of weeks at #1 on the OWGR, swapping places with Englishman Justin Rose as the season drew to a close and then finishing back on top!
For his part, Rose, like Johnson, bases his game on consistency; playing 18 tournaments on the PGA TOUR, the South Africanborn Rose made 17 cuts, winning twice, 11 top-20 finishes whilst, on the European Tour, winning, and subsequently, successfully defending his Turkish Airlines Open title and coming oh-so-close to doing likewise the previous week at the HSBC WGC Champions in China.
Indeed, the early part of the year was dominated by Asians, three tournaments in a row won by players who cut their teeth on the Asian Tour; with Li topping US$2m, Kiradech $3m and the exciting Indian Sharma heading towards US$2m this term, followed by the talented-but-still-unpredictable Gavin Green all stepping up to the plate as Asian icons such as Thongchai Jaidee, Jeev Milkha Singh and Liang Wenchong prepare to leave the stage, far eastern dominance of the European Tour and making a mark on the PGA TOUR, the future looks brighter than event for the men from the orient, especially with others following in their footsteps.
In Europe, the Rolex Series, now to include the Qatar Masters from 2019 onwards offers eight events with a US$7m prize fund, yet, with these events unconnected by way of a mini-order-of-merit, their significance is diminished.
But, with half the Wentworthbased circuit’s events worth less than US$2.5m, and a raft of events such as the ShotClock Masters, the Golf 6s and the Belgian Knock Out confusing innovation with infatuation, the European Tour is falling far behind the PGA TOUR, with the Asian Tour - 17 of its events offering US$1m or more - playing catch-up, these are treacherous times, uncharted territory for new boss Guy Kinnings.
Tiger Woods during the pro-am as a preview for the 2018 Hero World Challenge at the Albany Club on November 28, 2018 in Nassau, Bahamas.