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

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - CONTENTS - WORDS MIKE WIL­SON

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.

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