PARIS: Tiger Woods snatched plenty of golfing headlines in 2018 with his remarkable comeback after years in the wilderness and will now be eyeing a 15th major title, while British Open champion Francesco Molinari inspired Europe to a Ryder Cup thrashing of the United States in Paris.
It was an eventful year for golf fans, with Woods’ return adding a sub-plot to the bigger tournaments, even as many of the younger generation confirmed their respective rises to the top of the game.
Justin Thomas’ spectacular eagle on the final hole at the WGC Mexico Championship kicked off the season in style, and although the 25-year-old lost out to veteran Phil Mickelson that day in a play-off, three major titles went to Americans under the age of 30.
Woods, who claimed his first tournament victory since 2013 in front of raucous galleries at the Tour Championship, ended his year with four straight Ryder Cup losses and a defeat by Mickelson in their overly-hyped and ultimately low-quality US$9 million match in Las Vegas.
But nothing can take away from the impact the 14-time major winner made on his return after over four years spent battling injuries.
The 42-year-old led on the back nine in the fourth round of the British Open at Carnoustie, and also produced a thrilling charge at the USPGA Championship before ending his title drought in the final individual event of the campaign.
As ever, the former world number one will be bullish about his chances of edging closer to Jack Nicklaus’ all-time record of 18 major titles in 2019, but Woods has still not lifted one of golf’s biggest prizes for a decade.
A rise from outside the top 1,000 in the rankings to world number 13 in less than a year was stunning, though, and Woods will have a chance to put a disastrous Ryder Cup performance behind him when he likely doubles up as captain and player at next year’s Presidents Cup in Melbourne.
“I want to compete. I want to play,” he said of the December 2019 matches against Ernie Els’ International side earlier this month.
‘Moliwood’ star on centre stage
The pre-Ryder Cup narrative centred around Woods and the Americans’ bid to end a 25-year wait for victory on European soil, but the matchplay showdown ended in a familiar one-sided home win as Molinari teamed up with Tommy Fleetwood to devastating effect in September.
‘Moliwood’ reeled off four straight victories as a partnership, with Thomas Bjorn’s hosts ruthlessly grinding down the US to triumph 17.5-10.5 after losing the opening session, before Molinari capped a golden year by becoming the first European in history to claim a perfect five points.
The Italian won the prestigious BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, clinched his first PGA Tour title in the States and became the first player from his country to seal a major title before his heroics in France.
“If someone told me I would go on to win Wentworth, win on the PGA Tour, win the Open, five points at the Ryder Cup, I probably would have laughed,” he said after adding the European Tour’s Race to Dubai crown in November.
Brooks Koepka bristled late in the season at a perceived lack of media attention in his game after a magnificent 2018 which saw the 28-year-old brush off the disappointment of missing the Masters through injury by winning two majors.
He and the likes of Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Masters champion Patrick Reed will be young Americans to watch in the new year, with exciting Spaniard Jon Rahm seeking to continue his incredible rise.
The men’s season will have a more truncated feel to it with all four majors being played between April and July after drastic changes to the schedule, with the USPGA to be played before the US Open, making the British Open at Royal Portrush the final major of the year.
Lindberg, Park fight duel in the dark
It was a strong year for women’s golf, with England’s Georgia Hall and Swede Pernilla Lindberg sealing thrilling major breakthroughs at the British Open and ANA Inspiration respectively.
Hall also teamed up with compatriot Charley Hull to impress in a mixed-gender European Tour event, while Lexi Thompson showcased her skills on the PGA Tour in the QBE Shootout alongside Tony Finau earlier this month.
The standout moment of 2018 came back at the start of April, though, when Lindberg denied Park Inbee an eighth major crown in a gruelling eight-hole, sudden-death play-off that started in Sunday-night gloom and ended on Monday morning.
The world’s best will return to Dinah Shore for the year’s first major in just three months’ time, only weeks before all eyes turn to Augusta National.