Richard Boxall picks out his highlights of the European Tour year
By Richard Boxall
Last Updated: 19/12/14 11:47am
Sky Sports Golf commentator Richard Boxall reveals his best moments on the European Tour in 2014 and picks out his players to watch next year.
At the end of another fantastic year for the European Tour on Sky Sports, it’s time to reflect on the stand-out performances over the past 12 months.
One player in particular who came of age in 2014 was Alexander Levy, who secured his card as early as April with his impressive victory against a high-quality field at the Volvo China Open.
The Frenchman seized control of the tournament with a stunner of a 62 in the second round and, despite a double-bogey on the final day, he birdied the last two holes to win by four shots.
Levy picked up his second win of the year in October at the weather-ruined Portugal Masters, where he was 18 under par as he beat Nicolas Colsaerts by three in an event reduced to 36 holes.
One of the great stories of the year for me was Oliver Wilson’s fairytale win at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
Wilson had struggled for form since making his Ryder Cup debut at Valhalla in 2008 and had tumbled down the world rankings, but he turned his career around after four superb days at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns.
He had been runner-up nine times before, including four defeats in play-offs, but he finally clinched his maiden European Tour title as he held his nerve on the final day at the Old Course to win by one and upstage world No 1 Rory McIlroy.
I was also impressed with Mikko Ilonen this year, and the Finn established himself as a force to be reckoned with after he followed up his Irish Open win with victory over Henrik Stenson in the final of the Volvo World Match Play.
Stephen Gallacher became the first player to successfully defend the Dubai Desert Classic title, although I reckon his best performance came at the Italian Open in late August. Needing a top-two finish to earn automatic qualification for Paul McGinley’s Ryder Cup team, Stephen was struggling to make the cut until finding six birdies in a back-nine 30 on day two.
He got off to a flyer in the final round, but ultimately he fell agonisingly short as Hennie Otto took the win and David Howell snatched second place with a closing 63.
But Stephen had done enough to get a call from captain McGinley for Gleneagles, where Czech Masters champion Jamie Donaldson hit probably the best wedge of his career to ensure Europe retained the Ryder Cup yet again.
Another multi-winner last season was the evergreen Miguel Angel Jimenez, whose victory in his home Spanish Open broke his own record as the oldest winner in European Tour history.
Miguel has a difficult decision to make. He won on his Champions Tour debut in Atlanta and would probably clean up if he played full-time with his fellow over-50s, but he is still playing well enough to compete on the main Tour.
As for the round of the year? I though Marc Warren’s third-round 66 at the inaugural Made in Denmark was a remarkable effort on a very tough golf course.
Only five other players broke 70 on day three, but Warren birdied four of the last six holes to post the best score of the tournament and he followed it up with a 68 to beat Bradley Dredge by two.
The Himmerland layout in Denmark gave home favourite Thomas Bjorn and Co a stern test and proved an excellent addition to the European Tour schedule.
Middle East gems
The Tour is blessed with several world-class venues, with the three stops on the Desert Swing being right up there on my list of favourites. The courses in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Dubai are just excellent – always well prepared and beautifully presented.
It was also nice to see the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open being played at Royal Aberdeen, which stood out as a fantastic links course. I’m a huge fan of links golf and I would love to see more of it during the year.
It’s the most natural way of playing golf. In any tournament you need a bit of luck, but at a links you have to fight against the elements as well as being imaginative around the greens. I love it, it’s my favourite form of golf.
The other course that stands out for me is the Golf du Palais Royal in Morocco, where Alejandro Canizares cruised to a five-shot win in the Trophee Hassan II. Situated within the grounds of the King’s residence, the course is one of the most private in the world and also one of the toughest.
So on we go to the 2015 season, although it actually already started at the Nedbank Golf Challenge, and there’s a few players I believe will have excellent years.
Danny Willett’s win in Sun City was a long time coming and he should kick on to bigger and better things over the next 12 months, and I thought his fellow Englishman Andy Sullivan had an encouraging season.
Sullivan on the up
Andy had five top 10s and could have won the Turkish Open had it not been for a poor second round, but his maiden European Tour title is surely not far off.
Brooks Koepka took the spoils in Turkey and – like Ilonen – arrived as a proper player, and the likes of Shane Lowry and Marcel Siem were very consistent pretty much all year and they’ll be keen to keep that momentum going.
Lee Westwood had a quiet year by his standards, although he will go into the New Year with renewed optimism after his win in Thailand last weekend, and I’m hoping Francesco Molinari will bounce back from a disappointing 2014.
It will also be interesting to see how the young brigade get on, with much expected of former amateur world No 1 Matt Fitzpatrick in particular. It was a good experience for him to get some European and Challenge Tour events under his belt, and he came through the Q School with flying colours.
He’s a nice, level-headed young man and a very good player, I think he will do well. Having played the Tour for 17 years myself, I know it’s not just about hitting a golf ball. You need time to settle in and it can be a lonely place if things are not going well, but Fitzpatrick looks well equipped and he will be one to watch for sure.
So that’s about it for another memorable season. We’ll be back in early January for the South African Open, and then it’s off to the Middle East for the star-studded fields in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Dubai.
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