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Simply superb!

So much to celebrate with each passing month, says Ewen

Ewen Murray Posted 18th December 2011 view comments

It seems only a few weeks ago we were celebrating the European Tour's most successful season.

And what a season: Graeme McDowell winning at Pebble Beach, South African Louis Oosthuizen emulating fellow countryman Bobby Locke with his victory at the home of golf and then Germany's Martin Kaymer winning at Whistling Straits.

Perfect example: 'golfers could do a lot worse than imitate Donald's pace and tempo'

Perfect example: 'golfers could do a lot worse than imitate Donald's pace and tempo'

I don't think anyone could have expected 2011 to be as good, but this year has surpassed everyone's predictions! I've highlighted some of my best moments below.

Each month, we have had much to celebrate and the fact that there has not been one dominant player, like Tiger in previous years, means the game has never been healthier.

Changes

You could argue that England's Luke Donald has claimed much of the spoils, but so many of the golfing headlines have been shared by a plethora of fine golfers throughout the game on all Tours.

Back in 1994, Greg Norman hinted that the game was changing and set in the years ahead to go global. His vision was correct because that is where we find ourselves today. Nearly two decades ago, life began and ended on the USPGA Tour.

America had the best players, the largest purses and because of their closed-shop system, only a few international players were able to compete there.

As the century came to a close, doors were forced open by the emerging talents from afar and America were right to recognise that if they did not embrace the changes that were taking place, their Tour would suffer. Nowadays the best players in the world compete against each other more often, just as Greg predicted.

Many changes have taken place in the past two years. Asia have their first major winner and that has given a tremendous boost to the Asian Tour. Because of the prizes and glory of the main Tours, the Challenge and Nationwide Tours have benefitted greatly and are no longer, 'supporting tours'.

The competition is fierce so the standard has significantly increased and when players graduate from there, they are ready to compete on the grand stage.

Undisputed

Luke Donald has been simply superb. During his last 30 tournaments, he has won four and finished in the top ten in no fewer than 80 per cent of them. His consistency has been admirable and he finishes the year as the undisputed world number one.

In a world where long hitting and power has been the focus of too many, the impressive Englishman has gone about his business using his natural skills to conquer not just the best players, but the long tough courses, many of which host the top events of today.

Many of you who enjoy the golf on Sky Sports and have golf as your hobby can learn a lot from the way Luke plays.

During my time playing Pro-Ams I often saw handicap players hit the ball as hard as they could. This of course puts more spin on the ball and any mistake is magnified. A cut becomes a slice, a draw becomes a hook.

For you, it would be desirable to start next season with a swing that is within yourself, one that has the pace and tempo of Luke.

With sudden rushes of power from the top of the backswing replaced by a gradual acceleration, you will be surprised how much straighter you will hit the ball and consistency will become part of your golf game. With less effort you will find golf more relaxing. The ball and clubs of today are far superior to those in the past and they are designed to add distance to your game. It is of course human nature to hit the ball as far as possible, but if you follow this simple bit of advice, as displayed by the top golfer in the world, you will notice a vast difference in your performance.

Food for thought in the months ahead.

Review

It's that time of the year when we look back at the past 12 months and review some of the talking points of what has been a fascinating season.

My moment of the year


The titanic clash of the then world number one and two at Wentworth in the BMW PGA Championship. Even 72 holes were not enough to separate Luke Donald and Lee Westwood.

Not only were they playing for the title, whoever won would be or stay world number one.

Westwood held that position at the time and in taking on a devilishly difficult pin position found the water. Donald made the birdie, won, and since taking over the top position on that Sunday has never relinquished it. It is the European Tours showcase event and it was a script from heaven. Two great players fighting to the end.

Close to that was Donald and Kaymer contesting the final of the Accenture Match Play in the Arizona desert. Like the previous year when Ian Poulter defeated Paul Casey, the final was a credit to the sport. Four players brought up to appreciate the traditions of the sport.

Our first Masters on Sky Sports: tournament of the year

What a thrill it was to bring you five days from Augusta. After 54 holes, the expectation from our island back home was huge. Rory had a four shot lead having played exemplary golf over the first three days. Even after a shaky three putt at the opening hole, he was still leading going into the back nine, then his world collapsed.

Quite simply he played poorly, was out of his rhythm and his round went from bad to worse. As he walked off the 18th green, I wanted to put my arm around him and say something that would make him feel better.

I hated those media comments that he had choked. Rory was just 22 years old and had been there for the first time. Some players would fold after a day like that and never recover. McIlroy is different and thankfully didn't take long to show the world that he gleaned much from his demise at Augusta.

It was perhaps the best Masters for many a year. Six players were still in it having gone through Amen Corner, then Charl Schwartel took the tournament by the scruff of the neck.

Four birdies to close will be talked about for years to come inside the hallowed grounds of Bobby Jones wonderful creation.

Performance of the year

In America's Capital, Rory got back on the horse and simply destroyed a top quality field as well as one of the country's great courses. From start to finish, it was Rory's week and nobody got ever close to him. A master-class from day one, his golf was a joy to behold as one pin was peppered after another. Fairways split in two along with an assured touch on and around the greens. His Congressional Medal of Honour was just reward for his brilliance.

Emotional moment of the year

It came at Royal St.George's. Having been close to Darren Clarke for a number of years, I watched the drama unfold at home. I admit now and again to hiding behind the sofa! Normally working at such events, I got to watch this as you do. The roller coaster of emotions was extraordinary. The highs, the lows, the cheers, the groans.

Darren's best years were taken from him as he nursed his wife through the traumas of cancer and the aftermath of that tragic illness. Often, during hours spent on the range at Queenwood, we talked about him winning a major. I always believed he would but more important, he did.

You need fortune to win one of our four elite events and Darren got the odd break on that momentous final day. Mickelson missing a tiddler at 11 while his ball jumped the bunker at nine.

Dustin Johnson hit a 'mystery shot at 14 but when a break comes your way, you need to seize the opportunity with both hands and that he did. Having been to many places since that day in Kent, I gather it was also the most popular win of the season.

I still have his message he left on my answer phone during the night of victory. I still can't understand it!

Surprise of the year

I enjoyed the year's final major at the Atlanta Athletic Club as two unheralded players traded blows down the last nine.

Many fans would have taken to Keegan Bradley and Jason Dufner for the way they battled through the pressure on four hugely difficult closing holes.

The excitable Bradley versus Jason who always looks as if someone has stolen something belonging to him. Keegan struck a blow for America as they won their first major since Mickelson's Masters in 2010'.

The Race To Dubai gets much coverage over the course of a year and what a fitting finale we had in the desert.

In Alvaro Quiros, the game has a real superstar. Great player, long hitter, film star smile and personality and all round top man. To close the year out with an eagle three was more like something out of a Spielberg script. With Donald rewriting history on the same day it was a special moment in the Tour's history.

So that was the majors, the memories and some of the top moments of a superb golfing year. I'll close with some other awards.

Ewen's Alternative Awards


Bug of the Year

Why sponsors continue to invite John Daly to their events. He has too many bad days, argues with officials, and thrashes ball after ball into water - on more than one occasion.

Here is a player who has no standing on any tour and still lives off the distant past. Either go to a qualifying school or take his bat and ball to Dardanelle or wherever it is he hangs out.

Worst comment of the year

Steve Williams after caddying for Adam Scott at the Bridgestone: "It's the best win of my career."

Oh dear! 63 wins including 13 majors with Tiger didn't come close then Steve? For the record, Adam won the Bridgestone and Steve successfully carried the bag.

Dumb statement of the year

Bill Haas after winning the Tour Championship at East Lake. Tim Finchem said "Congratulations, Bill." The reply? "Thank you, who won the Fed-Ex Cup?" Eh, you did Bill!!

Golden oldie of the year

Thomas Bjorn. After several tough seasons, Thomas won in Qatar, Gleneagles and Crans-sur-Sierre. He also finished fourth at the Open where he came so close 8 years ago. It was a fine comeback from the Dane.

Young performance of the Year

This is plural for Tom Lewis. Having returned his 65 at Royal St.Georges, the lowest score ever in the Open by an amateur, Tom won on his third event on the European Tour. His win in the Portugal Masters belied his years and this is only the beginning. A remarkably calm young man with bags of talent. I look forward to his progress next year.

Worst celebration of the year

Thomas Levet. Having jumped into the lake by the French National 18th green, he broke his leg and missed the Open.

Best celebration of the year

Darren Clarke, it began back in July...

Final round of the year

Martin Kaymer at the HSBC in China. A duffed chip at 7 found the bunker. He holed that and finished the last 12 holes in nine under par to win his first world golf championship.

Round of the year

Lee Westwood's 62 in round three at Sun City although the opening round last week in Bangkok must also be a contender. His 62 in the Nedbank was the best ball striking round I've seen as a player or commentator. It was 18 holes of sustained brilliance.

My worst comment of the year

Calling Thomas Bjorn "cyclone" a slow moving depression! I don't think he's speaking to me at the moment, but he knows that game has no final whistle and I expect a torrent of abuse early in 2012!

It's worth noting that, even though it was an 18-man field and his own event, Tiger Woods got back to winning ways and put an end to his two year drought. It's not so much the win, but the manner of it. Two birdies to close out the event is the Tiger we knew and the one we have admired so much.

With Luke the outstanding player of the year, Westwood in top form and a hungry McIlroy and Kaymer occupying the top four places in the world ranking, I don't think I'm alone in looking forward to 2012. It should be another cracking season.

Before then, my very best wishes for Christmas to all the readers of this column and a happy, healthy and successful New Year.

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