It’s a quiet time for world golf before we enter what promises to be an exciting 2017. And as we have done at the end of each year, we take a look back at the major happenings of the past 12 months.
Last week, while handing out the annual report card, I named Sweden’s Henrik Stenson as my Male Player of the Year, and Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn as the Female Player of the Year.
Stenson may have been a slightly contentious choice, but I felt he was consistent throughout the year, and he would have earned more world ranking points than Dustin Johnson had he not pulled out halfway through the FedEx Cup Playoffs to give his knees some rest before the Ryder Cup.
So, here are my thoughts on everything else that happened in the world of golf…
TOURNAMENT WIN OF THE YEAR: RORY MCILROY AT THE DUBAI DUTY FREE IRISH OPEN
He wasn’t playing his best golf, and has a rather poor record at his home Open, a tournament that is now hosted by his own Rory Foundation.
Not only did he turn a one-shot deficit into a three-shot victory on Sunday, he did that in style by hitting unforgettable shots on the par-5 16th and 18th holes.
ADITI ASHOK AT HERO WOMEN’S INDIAN OPEN
Another home win that was all the more amazing because it was the first time Ashok played the event as a professional. Just 18 years of age and in her rookie year, she kept her nerve to beat the field by two shots.
BEST ROUND OF THE YEAR: JIM FURYK’S 58
I loved every bit of Stenson’s 63 on the final day of the Open Championship at Royal Troon, but when you have had a 58 during the year, it is hard to ignore.
On August 7, in the final round of the Travelers Championship at TPC Cromwell, Jim Furyk became the first man on the PGA Tour to shoot 58, 12-under par for the round. He made one eagle and 10 birdies.
It was the second time Furyk had broken the 60 barrier – having shot 59 at the 2013 BMW Championship.
TOURNAMENT OF THE YEAR: THE OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP
Nothing comes even close to the quality of the final round and the battle that took place at Royal Troon between Stenson and Phil Mickelson.
As they traded one blow after another, with Stenson finally prevailing following a sensational 63, even the legendary Jack Nicklaus was moved to say it was better than the ‘Duel in the Sun’ at Turnberry in 1977 between him and Tom Watson.
CONTROVERSY OF THE YEAR: OLYMPICS GOLF
The scheduling of the tournament, which was making a comeback after 112 years, was already an issue when the Zika virus cropped up.
That was just the excuse many top male players needed to pull out of the Rio spectacle. In the end, Olympics golf was a success, with Justin Rose beating Henrik Stenson to the gold medal.
The ladies responded superbly though, with almost every top player participating.
SHOT OF THE YEAR: MCILROY’s SECOND TO THE 18TH AT IRISH OPEN
Leading by one shot, the Northern Irishman hit a most fabulous three-wood shot to two feet for an eagle. The title was on line, but McIlroy never thought of playing safe, hitting over the water at the K Club from 253 yards.
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR: TIGER WOODS
The former world No1 showed he still has what it takes, making more birdies than the eventual champion in his comeback, and only tournament of the year – the Hero World Challenge.
There are questions yet to be answered, but he has made 2017 a whole lot more exciting.
MELTDOWN OF THE YEAR: JORDAN SPIETH
Just when it looked extremely possible that the Masters will have its first repeat winner since Woods in 2002, Spieth threw it away.
At the heart of Amen Corner, his heart broke as he wound up making a quadruple bogey seven on the par-3 12th hole. Leading by one, he fell behind by three shots.
BEST RUN OF THE YEAR: HIDEKI MATSUYAMA
The Japanese suddenly became unbeatable at the back-end of the year. From the Japan Open, he played five tournaments in eight weeks, winning four of them and finishing second in the fifth. One to watch in 2017.
The the award-winning event takes place at Yas Links on Yas Island from January 28-29, 2017.
The Irishman, who played in three consecutive victories for Europe and famously led the side to glory in 2014, will captain a Professional Golfers’ Team against a Celebrity Team in an exciting change of format for the second Abu Dhabi Invitational event.
The 2017 edition will comprise an Amateur Championship on Saturday, 28 January with invited sponsor and stakeholder guests before the main Invitational on Sunday, 29 January. Both days are open to the public.
The Invitational will see a Professional Golfers’ team, captained by McGinley, play a Celebrity Team.
Each professional and each celebrity will be paired with a VIP guest and the teams will compete against each other in a Ryder Cup Fourball format.
The teams will be playing to raise money for the captains’ charities, with McGinley’s team playing for The McGinley Foundation. The Celebrity Captain and their charity will be revealed in January 2017.
McGinley said: “I am honoured to be captaining the Golfers’ Team at this year’s Abu Dhabi Invitational. I have enjoyed playing Yas Links on many occasions and look forward to being there again in January for what promises to be another wonderful occasion. I hope we can raise a lot of money for charity over the weekend as well as having a huge amount of fun.”
Aref Hamad Al Awani, General Secretary of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council (ADSC), said: “We are thrilled Paul will be at Yas Links for the Abu Dhabi Invitational this year.
“He is a great character in the game and renowned for his unwavering commitment to charitable fundraising – an important feature for our event. We look forward to announcing many more big-name competitors from the worlds of golf, sport, entertainment and business in the coming weeks.
“We’re back at Yas Links because it’s the best links course in the region and one of the best golf venues in the world,” added Al Awani.
“With its location on Yas Island, the region’s ultimate leisure destination, Yas Links truly deserves its world class status and, with support from our partners at Miral, it is a major part of Abu Dhabi Sports Council initiatives moving forward.”
Howie Roberts, General Manager of Yas Links, said he was thrilled to see the Invitational return. “We have hosted the Abu Dhabi Invitational for the past three years and are thrilled to see it here again for a fourth,” he said.
“It is a chance to showcase this fantastic golf course, alongside Yas Island’s global entertainment and hospitality facilities, to an international and influential audience. The Abu Dhabi Invitational is always a wonderful event and we are proud to be associated with it.”
The Abu Dhabi Invitational is free to attend for spectators. Doors open at 7am on 28th January.
With just one small tournament remaining in the year that counts towards the world rankings, the top-10s in men’s, women’s and amateur rankings are now set in stone.
Among the top-five of the men’s ranking, the biggest fall was by Jordan Spieth (down five from No1), while the best rise was by Dustin Johnson (up to No3 from eighth).
The women’s rankings were more volatile even though Lydia Ko remained the world No1, with Ariya Jutanugarn climbing to second from No63 and only Ko and Lexi Thomson maintaining their place in the top-five.
As we have done in the past, it is now time for our end-of-the-year report card for some of the biggest stars in the game…
JASON DAY (7/10)
The Australian world No1 enjoyed yet another sensational year, but three early wins by the 20th week, including the Players Championship, was undone by his injury issues towards the back-end.
Day missed nearly a third of the year and he will have to do a much better job of managing his body if he wants to continue his domination of world golf.
RORY MCILROY (8/10)
In a year in which he won the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open for the first time in his career, as well as the FedEx Cup – thus filling two huge gaps in his otherwise impressive CV – the Northern Irishman will definitely rue the fact that he struggled in the majors.
Of his three missed cuts this year, two were at the US Open and the PGA Championship.
DUSTIN JOHNSON (8.5/10)
It was a breakthrough season in the majors for the American, who won his maiden major title at the US Open, apart from winning the WGCBridgestone Invitational and a FedEx Cup Playoff event.
His only missed cut came at the PGA Championship, and he let go of a brilliant opportunity to win the FedEx Cup. Was also named Player of the Year on the PGA Tour. Also won the maximum world ranking points
HENRIK STENSON (9/10)
For the consistency he showed throughout the year, and the amazing quality of golf he displayed at both the Open Championship and the Olympics, the Swede is my choice for the Male Golfer of the Year.
In addition, he also won the European Tour Race to Dubai for the second time and would have done much better in the FedEx Cup had he not kept European interest uppermost in his mind and pulled out of the final two Playoff events before the Ryder Cup.
JORDAN SPIETH (7.5/10)
The only reason Spieth is facing criticism is because everyone is comparing his 2016 to his 2015, which was as phenomenal a season as Tiger Woods’ 2000.
Otherwise, the American gathered 420.08 points – the fourth best effort of the year – and won three tournaments.
LYDIA KO (7/10)
The young Kiwi had a superb start of the year, winning three tournaments including the ANA Inspiration, but struggled in the second half with several mediocre outings.
She managed to retain her No1 ranking at the end of the season, but sacked her coach, David Leadbetter, and caddie.
ARIYA JUTANUGARN (9/10)
Apart from an exceptional month of May, when she won three LPGA Tour titles in back-toback starts, the phenomenonal Ariya won the Women’s British Open to become the first-ever major champion from Thailand.
She was named Rolex Player of the Year on the LPGA Tour ahead of Ko for her five titles and five other top-five finishes. The world No2 is also our choice of the Ladies Golfer of the Year.
INBEE PARK (8/10)
The South Korean struggled throughout the year with her left thumb injury.
For someone who did not break par since April, Park showed just how deep her resolve and determination was by winning the one tournament she was desperate to win last year – the Olympics – and that too by a whopping five shots over Ko. She has not played since then.
SHANSHAN FENG (7/10)
The world No4 Chinese superstar’s season went the other way of Ko. The four-time Omega Dubai Ladies Masters champion looked completely out of sorts in the first half of the year, but after winning a bronze at the Olympics, she was in contention in every tournament she played.
ADITI ASHOK (8/10)
It will be a mistake not to put the 18-year-old Indian in this piece – easily the standout performer on the Ladies European Tour.
An amateur in December last year, she won the LET Qualifying School final stage, then qualified for the Olympics, won twice on Tour including her home Open, finished second in the Order of Merit and was the Rookie of the Year.
Our Amateur Golfer of the Year is the young Aussie, winner of this year’s Asia Pacific championship and the US Amateurs. Luck will play the Dubai Desert Classic but has postponed his plans to turn professional so that he can play the Masters, the US Open and the Open Championship – the three majors he is exempted to.
And finally, the 17-year-old Rayhan is our MENA Tour Golfer of the Year. It really was an incredible year as he became the first amateur winner on the Tour, and also improved to No106 in the World Amateur Ranking.