Ewen Murray reviews first six months of memorable 2017 in golf
Last Updated: 23/12/17 9:15am
As 2017 draws to a close, Ewen Murray reflects on his golfing highlights from the first half of another memorable year.
It was a year in which we saw several young players stamp their authority across the fairways of the world in the United States, Europe and further afield, laying down the challenge to the established stars.
Last January, the European Tour got the calendar year under way in South Africa where journeyman Graeme Storm held off Rory McIlroy in what was a captivating BMW South African Open. The crowds were the largest this old Open had enjoyed for many a year and it was a fitting beginning.
"You will all have your round of the year and no doubt many will have Alex Noren's 62 at the top of their list - no wonder!"
The following week, the deserts of Abu Dhabi gave us the shape of the European season to come when the impressive Tommy Fleetwood kept a top-class field at bay to take the HSBC title.
Only a couple of years before, Fleetwood had needed a top-10 finish in South Africa to secure his playing rights. This was the start of an amazing year for the Englishman.
A few days later in Dubai, a certain Spaniard by the name of Sergio Garcia entered the winner's circle again, this time at the Emirates Golf Club.
The US PGA Tour was already under way with wins from Justin Thomas and the in-form Dustin Johnson, who began the year in similar fashion to where he left off in 2016. The first World Golf Championship was secured in Mexico after an emphatic victory at famed Riviera.
The second WGC event, at the enchanting Austin Country Club in Texas, also went to Dustin and as we headed to the year's first major, the question everyone was asking was who could stop him adding another major to his name?
April is reserved for one of sports intriguing, charismatic and most-eagerly-anticipated tournaments. Augusta National, as always, was perfectly prepared for another Masters.
Golf is never a game to predict although Johnson, quite rightly, was up there with the favourites. But his hopes were dashed after injuring himself tumbling down the stairs of his rented accommodation.
Rory McIlroy had the chance to complete the Grand Slam but passed that opportunity up. Charley Hoffman had the biggest first-round lead since Cary Middlecoff in the fifties and others came and went, leaving us with one of the most compelling duels amid the tall Georgia Pines.
Enter Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose. As they traded blows throughout the majestic back nine, Sergio was hanging on. In trouble at 13, Rose looked stronger. Garcia, trying to win a major at his 74th attempt, then produced what only the chosen few can.
His second at the 15th was exemplary and the eagle had landed. Still, Rose exuded confidence and in the end four rounds were not enough to separate them. I hoped there were two Green Jackets, as neither deserved to lose.
Garcia's joy at ending his major disappointments will stay with all who saw it and this was happening on what would have been Seve Ballesteros' 60th birthday; the stuff of dreams in a heavenly place.
Sergio had the most-coveted garment in the game, but the way these two great players conducted themselves whilst producing golfing excellence meant that golf was the winner. Rose would bounce back before the year was out.
May sees the Players Championship Stateside and the BMW PGA at the European Tour's headquarters at Wentworth.
The closing stretch at Sawgrass is daunting for even the most experienced professional. At 21 years of age, Si Woo Kim of Korea showed a calmness that belied his years with a breathtaking display to become the youngest winner.
At home, the BMW was the first of eight events that made up the new Rolex Series and what an event to open up with. You will all have your "round of the year" and no doubt many will have Alex Noren's 62 at the top of their list - no wonder! The modern Wentworth is a fearsome test and Alex finished around two hours before the last group. Nobody could catch him, nor match his brilliance.
June heralds the US Open and this year's contest was in Wisconsin at the much-admired Erin Hills. The course was a disappointment, but the winner wasn't. Brooks Koepka stood alone after an exhilarating performance. Hideki Matsuyama and Brian Harman challenged, as did Justin Thomas and Tommy Fleetwood - who secured his highest finish in a major.
Justin Thomas fired the best round under par in the championship's history. I've admired the USGA in trying out new venues like this one and Chambers Bay two years ago. I liked Chambers Bay, but there were no greens. Erin Hills was simply not up to it.
It's no surprise this major goes back to familiar territory next year. Shinnecock Hills is tried and tested.
Part two of Ewen Murray's review of the year will be available to read on the Sky Sports Golf website from Christmas Eve.