Martin Dempster gets out his crystal ball and looks ahead to the golfing year.
At the fifth attempt, Rory McIlroy completes the career Grand Slam by slipping into a Green Jacket for the first time. Having headed into the season’s opening major after shrugging off some final-round woes that started in the same event 12 months earlier, the Northern Irishman produces a classy display to join Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in an exclusive club. Having finished fourth, tenth, seventh and sixth at Augusta National since setting up the opportunity, McIlroy’s patience is rewarded as he holds off two other perennial challengers in the event, Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose.
US PGA Championship
At the event’s first staging in its new early-season slot, Tiger Woods, below, bounces back from a disappointing Masters by thrilling the rowdiest crowd of the year by getting in the mix at Bethpage State Park in New York. Drawing on his memories from a 2002 US Open success on the notorious Black Course at the Long Island venue, the 43-year-old shows that his return to form in 2018 was indeed no fluke but is pipped for the Wanamaker Trophy by the ever-improving Xander Schauffele as the young American makes his major breakthrough.
Dustin Johnson makes amends for blowing a three-shot lead heading into the final round and opening the door for Graeme McDowell to become a first-time major winner in 2010 by landing the title on the event’s return to Pebble Beach in June. Woods contends again at another venue where he landed a US Open.
The tournament’s much-anticipated return to Royal Portrush for the first time since 1951 is one to cherish for English players as Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood battle it out for the Claret Jug on the final day. A play-off is required, with Rose prevailing as the Olympic champion adds to a 2013 US Open victory, as well as numerous successes around the world in the past few years.
It’s Gleneagles glory for Catriona Matthew and her European team – but only just. In an epic contest over the PGA Centenary Course, the home team come out on top by the narrowest margin to regain the trophy following two successive defeats. Georgia Hall is the star for Matthew in a team that includes two newcomers, Bronte Law and Anne Van Dam. The event is the most successful Solheim Cup to date as the Perthshire venue once again ticks every box as a venue for big tournaments.
The loss of a number of players to the paid ranks over the last couple of years hits Great Britain & Ireland as a team led by Craig Watson loses in the biennial event on home soil for the first time since 2007. The GB&I line-up at Royal Liverpool includes only one Scot as Ryan Lumsden goes from strength to strength at Northwestern University.
In a strong season for Scots on the circuit, David Drysdale, pictured, takes pride of place as he lands a maiden victory in the countdown to his 500th appearance. Scott Jamieson also tastes success, with Stephen Gallacher and Richie Ramsay both knocking at the door. Gallacher, a two-time winner, goes close again in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic while Ramsay produces a strong performance in the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club, where he is attached.
Ladies European Tour
In another year of sparse opportunities, Michele Thomson records her maiden victory, building on the two medals she picked up in the inaugural European Golf Team Championships at Gleneagles in 2018. Hannah McCook, meanwhile, enjoys a promising rookie season on the circuit’s feeder circuit, the Access Series.
After four wins in 2018 and four players graduating to the European Tour, it is a hard act to follow for Scots on the second-tier circuit. But Connor Syme enjoys a really successful campaign to secure his seat back at the top table and is joined in making the step up by Calum Hill. Still only 22, Bradley Neil also recaptures his form after a tough first campaign on the European Tour.
It is a rookie year to remember for Paul Lawrie on the over-50s circuit. The newly-turned 50-year-old takes a couple of events to find his feet but is off and running before too long and is soon doing what he loves best – challenging for titles. It is also a successful season for Gary Orr as he adds to his brace of victories in 2018 while Euan McIntosh joins Lawrie among the newcomers after passing the Qualifying School test.
On the course, the women’s side has most success as Shannon McWilliam, Connie Jaffrey, Chloe Goadby and Hannah Darling continue to make progress at the top level in the amateur game. Off it, chief executive Andrew McKinlay is pleased with the uptake of the new Scottish Golf App but admits it is likely to be a few years before it can prove the “game-changer that could potentially bring in millions”.
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