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Golf | Golf Globe

Tiger Woods © Gallo Images

2018: The year of the Tiger

No, no the title has nothing to do with the Chinese zodiac but everything to do with golf’s enigmatic phenomenon who is arguably as important to the sport as the game itself… Tiger Woods!

Many storylines played themselves out in the golfing world in 2018 - two first time Major winners, a first US Open defence since 1989 and a Ryder Cup for the ages, to name a few - but none came close to the return of Woods to the winner’s circle.

The year began with the world watching the 14 time Major winner’s every move as he made a bid to build some form ahead of the Masters in April. His first two tournaments, 23rd at the Farmers Insurance Open and a missed cut at the Genesis Open, didn’t inspire much confidence that he would achieve that.

A 12th place finish at the Honda Classic seemed the catalyst and he went on to record two top-five finishes; second at the Valspar Classic and fifth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, to take some momentum heading to Augusta.

Masters week arrived and there was much fanfare around the former World No 1 but opening rounds of 73 and 75 dampened any hopes of Woods claiming Major No 15. He carded weekend rounds of 72 and 69 to end the tournament in a tie for 32nd, not the result we hoped for but at least he was there swinging the club freely and without pain.

The polarising Patrick Reed finally realised his potential, even if it is mostly self-attributed, by claiming his maiden Major triumph at Augusta. Reed held on to win by one shot, ahead of a charging Rickie Fowler, who finished as a bridesmaid at a Major for the third time.

If Tiger’s start at the Masters wasn’t bad enough, he opened the US Open with a shambolic round of 78 and followed it up with an ordinary 72, which saw him miss the cut for the second time in a row, last in 2015. The result posed further questions around whether he would be able to dominate the sport like he once did or even just compete at the highest level.

Brooks Koepka, who withdrew from the Masters because he was not 100 percent after undergoing wrist surgery, became the first player since 1989 to win back-to-back US Open titles. Koepka had a sluggish start, carding a 75 on day one but rounds of 66, 72 and 68 saw him fend off a final-round surge by Tommy Fleetwood, who shot a tournament low of 63.

Missing a cut again seemed to spur Woods on as he claimed a fourth place finish at the Quicken Loans National before a vintage performance at the Open Championship saw him finish in the top 10 at a Major for the first time since 2013, which was coincidentally at the Open as well. Tiger’s third round 66 left him four shots off the lead heading into the final round and at the halfway point on the fourth day he was at the summit and his fans began to dream again. His challenge faded though, with a double bogey on 11 and two more bogeys on 12 and 14, which meant he ultimately had to settle for a three-way tie for sixth.

Francesco Molinari put the gloss on a fantastic few months by becoming Italy’s first ever Major champion. Molinari claimed two victories and two second-place finishes in the run up to the Open, and a solid final round 69 saw him claim a two-shot victory over the likes of Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose, who finished in a four-way tie for second. On a day where the tension was palpable and the crowds roared for the Tiger, Rory, and Justin, Molinari went about his business quietly, parring 13 consecutive holes before making his move with birdies at 14 and 18, which ultimately proved to be the difference.

Woods built on his Open form to fall agonisingly short of that elusive 15th major title, ending the final Major of the year, the PGA Championship, just two shots behind the winner Brooks Koepka, despite shooting his lowest round of the year (64) on championship Sunday. Woods began the week solidly, albeit unspectacularly, with a level-par 70. He followed that up with a pair of 66s and was in prime position to strike, four back of the lead heading into the final round.

And what a final round he produced… Tiger shot out of the blocks and carded four birdies and a bogey on the front nine while Koepka’s opening nine consisted of four birdies and two bogeys, leaving him with a three shot lead. Tiger again went on the charge early on the back nine with birdies on 12 and 13 which brought him to within one of Koepka, who was going steady with four consecutive pars. Tiger faltered on 15 dropping a shot and despite holing two more birdies at 15 and 18 was not able to close the gap on Koepka, who birdied 15 and 16 and closed out with consecutive pars to claim his third Major title.

Tiger was solid yet uninspiring in his next two starts, claiming 40th at The Northern Trust and 24th at the WGC Dell Technologies Championship but returned to form at the penultimate event of the FedEx Cup Playoff, coming home in a tie for sixth at the BMW Championship.

It was a case of leaving the best for last as an emotional Tiger Woods walked up the final fairway on the brink of victory at Tour Championship as the crowed swarmed the 18th fairway hoping to get as close to the momentous occasion as possible.

All the pain and heartbreak of dealing with the injuries over the last few years weighed heavy on Tiger’s mind as he admittedly struggled with his emotions en route to breaking a five-year title drought.

Tiger was flawless on the final day and his three-shot lead over Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose was never seriously challenged by either man. Woods’ one birdie and eight pars on the opening nine gave him a five-shot margin at the turn and, despite bogeys at 10, 15, and 16, he held his nerve on the final two holes to move with two of Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour titles.

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Tiger’s form left Jim Furyk with no choice but to select the man, who now had 80 PGA Tour titles to his name, for the Ryder Cup. This team tournament once again proved to be a format at which Woods continued to struggle. Furyk went with a mix of experience and youth in his picks with Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, and Tony Finau joining the eight who had already qualified.

Europe’s captain Thomas Bjorn went for all-out experience with his picks as four of the eight players who qualified directly were rookies. Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson were called upon by Bjorn to add some much needed steel to what appeared to be a soft belly of the European team due to the number of first-timers.

It looked as though Bjorn had got it wrong after the morning fourballs, with the US racing to a 3-1 lead but the shining light was the birth of ‘MoliWood’, the partnership between Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood that secured Europe’s first point. The afternoon foursomes however belonged to the Europeans who whitewashed the Americans to take a 5-3 lead and all the confidence into the second day, ‘MoliWood’ taking their record to 2-0.

‘MoliWood’ continued their stellar partnership and went 4-0 with victories over Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed in the morning fourballs and Woods and Bryson DeChambeau in the afternoon foursomes as Europe dominated the day, five points to America’s three.

The score stood at 10-6 in Europe’s favour ahead of the final day’s singles and Team USA’s hopes of mounting a comeback victory got the perfect start with Justin Thomas beating Rory McIlroy. Brooks Koepka earned them a half a point against Paul Casey before Webb Simpson beat Justin Rose and Tony Finau handed Tommy Fleetwood his first taste of defeat to bring the US within a point of the Europeans.

That was as close as it would get with Jon Rahm, Ian Pouter, Thorbjorn Ollesen and Sergio Garcia setting up Molinari with a chance to claim the victory for the home side in his match against Phil Mickelson. The Italian capped off his fantastic year by duly obliging his teammates offer as he dispatched Mickelson 4&2 to hand the Europeans an insurmountable 14.5-9.5 lead, resigning the Americans to a sixth consecutive loss on European soil.

Europe claimed three of the other four points available to give them a commanding and deserved 17.5-10.5 victory which was spearheaded by a flawless Francesco Molinari who became the first European to go unbeaten at a Ryder Cup tournament.

All in all the world of golf put on a fantastic show in 2018 but unlike in recent years fans, young and old from all over the globe, now have the added hope of getting to see Tiger Woods dominating the game, as only he can, once again in 2019.


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