Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy & Adam Scott: Review of 2013
Since the turn of the century, odd-numbered years have sometimes been the quieter ones on the golfing calendar.
The 9/11 attacks prompted the postponement of the 2001 Ryder Cup, meaning the sport's most captivating contests are now played in even-numbered years.
But 2013 produced no shortage of intrigue, excitement, drama and controversy. Indeed it will be remembered as a year of huge significance for golf. Here, in no particular order, are 10 reasons why:
1. The decision to ban anchored putting methods was finally ratified
The rule-makers at R&A and USGA pushed through legislation that will outlaw the technique from 2016 despite opposition from the PGA Tour and PGA of America. The move means there will be fewer potential winners of the biggest tournaments, something the professional game badly needs.
Critics claim it will spoil golf for many keen amateurs who rely on broom-handle and belly putters. How many do you know?
2. The Open was played at an all-male club for the second time in three years and this time it was noticed
The spotlight fell on Muirfield because, at last, Augusta has admitted female members. Suddenly the Open looked isolated as the only major prepared to stage its events at single-sex clubs. The R&A mounted a purposeful and logical defence of its policy but it didn't wash.
Amid the furore, crowds were down despite fine weather and a strong British challenge on a stellar leaderboard. Chief executive Peter Dawson announced a review of the single-sex issue. It is one that is more significant than the R&A has, so far, been prepared to admit.
3. The European Tour appointed its first chairman from the world of business rather than professional golf
David Williams took over from Neil Coles, who had held the position for 38 years. Williams joined after significant new deals were signed by chief executive George O'Grady to secure the future of the season-long Race to Dubai which culminates in the World Tour Championship.
O'Grady received plenty of criticism for his unguarded comments around the Sergio Garcia racism row in May. The Tour boss knows he messed up on that occasion, but deserved credit for quietly and significantly bolstering the circuit's coffers despite difficult economic conditions and the continued rise of the PGA Tour.
4. Offices have been a less pleasant environment for Rory McIlroy
He slipped from number one to number six in the world during 2013. How much of his loss of form was down to off-course distractions like his bitter fallout with management company Horizon?
McIlroy is suing his former managers and they are fighting his claims with their own lawsuit against him. As the 24-year-old admits, he has seen enough lawyers' offices to last a lifetime. For all parties, a swift, amicable resolution that keeps reputations intact would, surely, top their new year's resolutions.
The Northern Irishman finally won his first tournament of 2013 in December with a dramatic one-shot triumph over Adam Scott in the Australian Open.
5. Europe had a new number one
Henrik Stenson seized the opportunity to become Europe's number one, putting behind him the debilitating effects of losing millions in the Allen Stanford financial scandal. The Swede more than made up the deficit, winning money list titles on both sides of the Atlantic. He is already a certainty for a Ryder Cup return at Gleneagles next year.
6. Australia was at last able to celebrate victory at the Masters
It could have been Jason Day or Marc Leishman on that final day at Augusta, but ultimately it was Adam Scott yelling a triumphant "C'mon Aussie." His play-off victory over Angel Cabrera was great news for the game.
Arguably, he was the global golfer of the year with four victories including the first major. Scott is articulate, photogenic and the perfect ambassador if golf wants to embrace the 21st century.
7. Tiger Woods remained at the head of the game
Although he again didn't win a major he was a hugely significant figure. His main moment was victory at the Players', the biggest tournament outside the big four. A total of five victories was offset by four rules breaches ensuring a fair dose of controversy for Woods in 2013.
He announced his romance with skier Lindsey Vonn and his life off the course appears settled. He knows next year is massive, having won at three of the four major venues (Augusta, Hoylake and Valhalla) and has been third and second at Pinehurst where the US Open will be held.
8. Woods was not the most dominant golfer of the year
That honour goes to Inbee Park who claimed the first three majors in the women's game. By the time the Korean arrived at St Andrews for the British Open she was the talk of the Auld Grey Toon. Park's challenge was blown away and Stacey Lewis hit the shot of the year at the 17th to set up a championship-winning birdie.
The Road Hole is there for such moments and the evidence of that week suggested wild criticism of alterations to the Old Course had been seriously overblown.
9. It may not have been a Ryder Cup year but the women's equivalent more than made up for its absence
The Solheim Cup produced Europe's first win on American soil by a massive 18 points to 10. The scale of the triumph will never receive its proper recognition; it was immense.
Caroline Hedwall made history by winning all five points and Charley Hull had a stunning debut aged 17, thrashing Paula Creamer in the singles. Most appropriately, the winning point was secured by the always-underestimated Catriona Matthew, of Scotland. It was a fine matchplay course but such a shame it was played in Colorado with an unsympathetic time difference. This event deserves a far bigger audience.
10. At last British golf fans were able to see Phil Mickelson in all his glory
Lefty's Open victory will leave a vivid memory. Who would have thought he would be able to spend Christmas drinking from the Claret Jug after an Open staged in such linksy conditions?
Mickelson is a shot-maker supreme as he proved with his stunning inward half of 32 at Muirfield. He left Stenson, Scott, Woods and Lee Westwood trailing in his wake. All this after being pipped to the US Open he so covets by Justin Rose only a month before. How appropriate it would be for Mickelson to complete a career Grand Slam at Pinehurst next year.
For golf, 2013 was as glorious as it was at times inglorious. There is plenty of reason to expect more of the same next year.
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