GOLF – LOOKING AT THE YEAR AHEAD
By Steve Wade
With the professional golfing season in Asia, Europe and the US already under way and the first major of the year the US Masters only a few weeks away, we thought we would take a look at the golfing prospects for this year.
First of all Dustin Johnson the World Number One has sent a message out to all his competitors by absolutely hosing up in the tournament of Champions in Hawaii in January. Shooting 24 under par, 8 shots clear of the rest of the field.
On the European tour Tommy Fleetwood won in Abu Dhabi and started this season much as he did last, maintaining his improvement and is now pushing for a place in the world’s top ten. I can actually remember going to a tournament 3-4 years ago just outside Bangkok with a friend of mine who is a very good judge. After watching Tommy Fleetwood at that tournament I actually thought he wouldn’t get anywhere – shows how wrong you can be. However my friend told me “Watch this kid he is going to be a good player” !
Some of the other world’s top ranked players have shown their intentions to come back this season better than ever. Jason Day the former world number 1 won The Farmers’ Insurance Open on the US Tour by beating Sweden’s Alex Noren in a playoff that lasted for 5 holes
Meanwhile Rory McIlroy started the season in good form after his injury problems and a change of clubs and caddy last season. I was actually watching the last round in Dubai which saw McIlroy just beaten into 2nd place by a very talented young Chinese golfer called Li Haotong. Only 22 years old the young Chinese player was playing with McIlroy in the final group and birdied 4 of the last 6 holes to hold MIlroy off to win. What was interesting about this was that during the TV coverage on the day every commentator was talking as if it was going to be a victory stroll for Rory. Despite watching hundreds of hours of golf these so called “experts” seem to get caught up in the hype of the player they are watching and do not read the tournament as it is unfolding in front of their eyes. The strength in depth on the golf scene now is as strong as I have ever seen it and there are no certainties any more.
So at the top of the tree we have Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day “Rory McIlroy and the new European Wonder Kid from Spain John Rahm. These will be the names that will be at the top of the market in most tournaments this season. Unfortunately Japan’s top rated golfer Hideki Matsuyama who would have been in the above group, had to withdraw from The Waste Management Phoenix Open, recently played in Arizona because of a damaged wrist. How long this takes to heal and what effect it has is anybody’s guess but we would hope for a speedy recovery, as Matsuyama is as good as anybody when playing well. So all in all it looks like being a fabulous season with all the top players competing,and the annual excitement of the 4 major tournaments of the year being topped off by The Ryder Cup in September. As I said earlier, The Masters is next month and my friend the good judge reckons that Matt Fitzpatrick the young English professional, has a good chance there because of his good ball striking and fabulous putting.
Of course at the end of September we have The Ryder Cup.This Year’s event will be held in France from September 28th to the 30th at Le Golf National in Saint-Quentin-En-Yvelines a suburb South-west of Paris. Believe me this is a tough course and depending on how it is set up will not be torn to pieces despite the fact that some of the world’s top golfers will be competing over the three days . The US team looks very strong for the first 4 or 5 players Dustin Johnson, Jordan Speith, Justin Thomas (who has been a winning machine on the US Tour over the last 18 months), Ricky Fowler and Matt Kuchar who has already accrued enough points to be virtually guaranteed a place this year, despite not winning After that some of the names on the team will be less familiar to the European Golf fans for example Chev Reavie who recently won The Waste Management Phoenix Open in Scottsdale and who will be amongst a host of up and coming players on the US Tour fighting for a place on the team.
Meanwhile the European team looks to have much the same pattern to it as the US Team but I believe has much more strength in depth with Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Sergio Garcia, Tommy Fleetwood Justin Rose Alex Noren ,Tyrell Hatton and Henrik Stenson making the top of the team look very strong. Although Stenson will have to improve to guarantee his place if he doesn’t want to rely on a Captain’s pick to make the team.
Ross Fisher looks like being the European equivalent of Matt Kuchar by not actually winning the tournament but accruing enough high place finishes up until now to virtually guarantee his place in the team. Anyway it is sure to be as always, one of the most exciting sporting spectacles of the year and what a year it promises to be with all this and the World Cup Too