Ewen Murray looks back on the first six months of a memorable 2016 in golf
Last Updated: 20/12/16 3:04pm
The 12 months of 2016 produced some memorable moments across the fairways of the world. Here are my reflections on what happened across our screens at television's home of golf over the first half of the year.
The PGA Tour began and it was business as usual for world No 1, Jordan Spieth. Just the 30 under par to win in Hawaii!
The "Desert Swing" is the place to play in what is normally the dullest month of the year in northern Europe and Rickie Fowler got off to a flyer at the National Course in Abu Dhabi. The HSBC has become one of the game's premier events and Fowler beat a strong field to win his second event on the European Tour. Chasing him all the way home was one of the finds of the year - the tall, impressive Belgian, Thomas Pieters.
In Qatar, Branden Grace took the Oyster Trophy and the following week in Dubai, Andy Sullivan, a three-time winner last year, was kept at bay by Danny Willett in what was one of the most exciting finishes in Dubai Desert Classic history.
A month where the PGA Tour gathers momentum and the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am welcomes not just the professionals, but the stars of stage and screen. All were put in the shade by a name from the past, Vaughn Taylor. After a gap of over 10 years since his last win, Vaughn enjoyed his third Tour victory just when it looked like his career had come to a natural end.
This event has a history of unlikely champions, Brett Ogle and an ageing Johnny Miller, who came out of semi-retirement to win just a couple of examples.
The Phoenix Open set a tournament record for the number of fans attending. Over 600,000 watched a fascinating battle between Rickie Fowler and the eventual winner, Hideki Matsuyama. It was the coming of age for the Japanese star, the start of a brilliant season for the 24-year-old.
This month belonged to Australian, Jason Day. Having won the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he continued his form at the Austin Country Club in the WGC-Dell Match Play as he held off Rory McIlroy in a tense semi-final before defeating South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen in the final. These two stunning victories allowed him to reclaim the world No 1 position from Spieth.
The Florida Swing is popular with the players as they say goodbye to the Poa annua grasses of the West coast and on to the smoother putting surfaces of the Sunshine State. The Bear Club, at the home of Jack Nicklaus, hosted the Honda Classic, where Adam Scott won and then followed it with victory at the Trump Doral in Miami.
No real surprise there given the quality of golfer Adam is, and with Day and Scott cleaning up in that four-week stretch, March in America suddenly became Australia Month.
The most anticipated time of the year as the major season begins. The tall Georgia pines, the emerald green fairways and lightning fast greens, Augusta is timeless and was ready for another chapter in its rich history and what a Masters it turned out to be.
One of the over-used cliches in golf is the "back nine on Sunday at Augusta National". Maybe so, but it continually delivers, year after year. Spieth appeared to have it in his pocket as he boarded the notorious par-three 12th tee. I don't think anyone has ever had The Masters in their pocket before walking off the 72nd green. History supports that.
Jordan's weak approach to Golden Bell was costly, and then it was Willett's moment to step forward. A two at 16 and a saving pitch at 17, a stroke that goes into one of my top five shots of the year, a par at the last followed and the Green Jacket was Danny Boy's. Yes, Spieth had a glorious opportunity to win, but take nothing away from Willett. When the chance came, he was ready.
Over in Europe, a cult hero was emerging. His name, Andrew Johnston, from the North Middlesex golf club. Just as Danny's world changed 5,000 miles away, so did Andrew's after his victory at Valderrama in the Spanish Open. Beef was born, and he would go on to prove he was different gravy!
Day tightened his hold on the World No 1 position with yet another victory, this time at Sawgrass in The Players Championship. I still think the best date for this event is late March, a fortnight before the Masters. I feel it's rather lost in the middle of normal tour events during this month.
We said goodbye to the great man, "Himself". Christy O'Connor passed away at the grand old age of 91. Those who were fortunate to play alongside him will tell you just how gifted he was.
The BMW PGA Championship at headquarters was won by the tall Bristolian, Chris Wood, effectively making qualification for his first Ryder Cup a certainty. After a few years of niggling injuries, this was a popular win.
I'm never sure about players who say they don't look at scoreboards. If Chris had looked, he may well have played a different shot for his approach to 17 and made the task easier. However this prestigious title was his after a par at the last.
Over the last few years we have talked about the Chinese players progressing in golf, and that country celebrated Li Hao Tong's success in the Volvo China Open. And there was further success for Asia when South Korean, Jeunghun Wang won back-to-back titles in Mauritius and Morocco and was second in India. Wang's purple patch effectively secured Rookie of the Year honours.
My shot of the year came from McIlroy at the K Club. Having lost his lead to Russell Knox, Rory stood in the middle of the 16th fairway over 270 yards away from the hole. Not one player in the field had gone for the green in two on that Sunday.
A tiny target, masses of River Liffey water, a three-wood that had to be perfectly struck or it was all over in front of his own folk. As his ball landed on the green, I thought that might be the best shot I've seen as a player and commentator. I'm still thinking that today.
Very few players are capable of producing that class when absolutely necessary. It was a shot of sheer brilliance, and a similar blow followed with a five-wood to a couple of feet at the last that wrapped up his first Irish Open title.
Just when you thought Dustin Johnson was ready to break into the major club, along come the United States Golf Association to put a spanner in the works. Their wording on Johnson's ball moving on the fifth green at Oakmont was nothing short of embarrassing.
With a fabulous US Open in full swing, the USGA brought shame on the game with their interference and, not happy with that, they eventually penalised Dustin one shot after his round. What that was for I have no idea.
Johnson did not cause his ball to move and that was confirmed by his playing partner, Lee Westwood, the match referee, and all who witnessed it - but not the USGA. But Dustin's handling of the situation was impressive, and his approach to the 72nd is in my top 5 shots of 2016. His win took him into the world's top three.
Meanwhile, England's Bronte Law won all of her five matches as Great Britain won the Curtis Cup in Ireland and the LPGA Tour had their second youngest major champion as Canadian, Brooke Henderson, claimed the PGA Championship in a play-off against fellow teenager and world No 1, Lydia Ko.