SUNDAY, 14 July. It was the day that effectively shaped the 2013 golf season.
Not only did it give Phil Mickelson the confidence boost to become Open champion for the first time; it was also the start of a run of form that saw Henrik Stenson cap his return from the depths of despair by sitting at the top of the tree on both sides of Atlantic.
After finishing third behind Mickelson in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Castle Stuart – the pair were then first and second at Muirfield seven days later – there was simply no stopping Stenson, the Swede securing the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup by winning the Tour Championship then repeating the feat in the European Tour’s season finale to clinch the Race to Dubai title.
It was a stunning effort from Stenson, one of the game’s most likeable characters, who has shown remarkable resolve to bounce back from his plummet down the world rankings that coincided with him losing $8m in investments linked to notorious fraudster Allen Stanford.
As Stanford serves a 110-year prison sentence, Stenson can look forward to an exciting future that, even if he put his clubs away for the next six months, will include a Ryder Cup appearance on Scottish soil when Gleneagles welcomes the event back to the home of golf for the first time in more than 40 years in September.
Then, it will be strange for Scottish golf fans to be cheering against Tom Watson, the American captain in Perthshire, and the same goes for Mickelson, who cemented his place in the hearts of those educated followers of the Royal & Ancient game with his dream double last summer.
At Castle Stuart, he did his best to throw away the Scottish Open as he three-putted from nowhere on the 72nd green only to conjure up some classic ‘Mickelson Magic’ – a difficult chip he put stone dead at the first extra hole against Branden Grace – to retrieve the situation in only the way he can. Then, in East Lothian, where the Claret Jug joust had been overshadowed by criticism of Muirfield’s men-only policy, he burst out of the pack with a scintillating four birdies in his last six holes, closing with a 66 to win by three after starting the final round five shots behind the leader, Lee Westwood.
It was a triumph that came five weeks after Mickelson had suffered the heartache of a record sixth runner-up finish in the US Open, the latest man to deny him in that event being Justin Rose, whose triumph at Merion was every bit as sweet for the Englishman as Adam Scott’s victory in The Masters earlier in the year. Bidding to make amends for blowing a big lead as he lost out in the Open Championship to Ernie Els at Lytham the previous summer, Scott’s cry of “Come on Aussie” after holing a putt across the green at the 72nd hole was one of the highlights of the year.
Even though it caused angst for this correspondent fighting a deadline across the other side of the Atlantic, so, too, was Angel Cabrera’s approach minutes later to the last that set up a play-off, which Scott won at the first extra hole by holing another good putt.
As from the start of next year, the Australian will no longer be able to use the long putter that has helped transform his game after the year’s most significant announcement resulted in that impending ban on ‘anchoring’.
With Jason Dufner winning the USPGA Championship, it meant another barren major year for Tiger Woods, who recorded five PGA Tour wins but, on the downside, found himself embroiled in just as many rules rows, including one at Augusta that is likely to leave a sour taste in many mouths for a considerable time.
Sweet, however, was undoubtedly Europe’s first Solheim Cup success on American soil, the honour of securing that triumph in Denver falling to North Berwick’s Catriona Matthew in her seventh appearance in the biennial event.
Matthew won the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open for the second time in three years at Archerfield Links while the highlight of the year amongst her male professional counterparts was Stephen Gallacher’s stylish win in the Dubai Desert Classic.
On the amateur front, it was a season to forget, mainly due to the fact a Scot failed to make the Walker Cup for the first time since 1949. But, with Bearsden’s Ewen Ferguson winning the Boys’ Amateur Championship and Bradley Neil from Blairgowrie showing potential, it is hoped that is just a blip.
It would be remiss to draw a line under the 2013 season without mentioning Lydia Ko, the 16-year-old Korean-born player who lives in New Zealand having won twice on the LPGA Tour as an amateur and, within a few weeks of joining the paid ranks, recently landed her first winner’s cheque.
For others, notably Rory McIlroy, it was a frustrating year. Thankfully, though, things are starting to look up again for the two-times major winner, which, with that Ryder Cup looming on the horizon, is good news for Paul McGinley and Europe.