Ariya Jutanugarn cleans up at Race to CME Globe Finale
If you’re looking for a list of seriously impressive achievements in a single season, you needn’t look any further.
Ariya Jutanugarn may not have won the season-finale tournament, but she just about claimed every other accolade going.
Ending the year as World No.1, Jutanugarn won a major this year and was crowned the Race to the CME Globe Champion, winner of the money list, Rolex player of the year, the Rolex Annika MAJOR award, leader of the top 10 competitions and winner of the Vare Trophy.
Lexi Thompson wins CME Group Tour Championship
It’s been a tumultuous time for Thompson ever since she suffered that now infamous four-stroke penalty at the ANA Inspiration last year.
Since getting over that loss, she has struggled with her mother’s battle with cancer, a break from the game to ‘recharge her mental batteries’ – which resulted in her missing the Ricoh Women’s British Open – as well as opening up about her battles with her body image. It was compounded with the very recent split of her partnership with Scottish caddie Kevin McAlpine ahead of the season-finale, as Thompson opted instead to have her brother caddie for her in the last week of the season.
It was a decision that paid off, and the 23-year-old achieved her 10th LPGA Tour title to guarantee she would not have her first winless season since 2013.
With rounds of 65, 67, 68 and 70, Thompson ended the tournament four shots clear of compatriot Nelly Korda, following Westwood as the most recent player to win just the week after parting ways with their regular caddie. And she was quick to credit her brother as the reason for her win.
“He kind of saved me out there,” she said of her brother Curtis. “I had so much fun. He was just keeping me laughing. Even when I struggled on a few holes today he was like, ‘It’s OK, you got this. You’ll hit a great shot. Come on, Lexi. You’re the best. You got it.’ That’s just what I need to hear. To hear it from him, it’s amazing.”
As for her victory, with everything she’s been through, Thompson sees it as a testament to the hard work she’s been putting in this year.
"It's helped out tremendously with my attitude just in general," said Thompson, "just showing the hard work that I've been putting in these last – well, this whole year really ... just to see that pay off in these four days was huge for me. I've been waiting for that moment."
Molinari crowned Race to Dubai Champion
Francesco Molinari was crowned Race to Dubai champion on Sunday following his most successful season to date, having become the first Italian to win a major title and the first European to win five out of five matches in a Ryder Cup.
In addition to that, Molinari also claimed the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and his first ever PGA Tour event at the Quicken Loans National.
It all came down to the much loved duo of ‘Moliwood’ in the season-finale, with defending European No.1 Fleetwood in need of victory in Dubai as the only man who could stop his Ryder Cup partner from taking his crown.
In the end though a costly third round stopped Fleetwood from having a chance of catching Danny Willett, and a T26 finish for Molinari ensured his status as the best player on the European Tour this year.
"It's incredible," said Molinari of his year. "Now I'm going to have time to sit down and relax and really think back about the last few months.
"It's more than I ever dreamed of achieving. I've seen guys that I think are better players than me not winning Majors and not winning Order of Merits or Race to Dubais. To achieve those things in one single season is just incredible."
Danny Willet back in the winners circle in Dubai
Danny Willett had been plagued with numerous injury set-backs, loss of form and a drop from 9th to as low as 462nd in the world rankings following his Masters triumph back in April 2016.
What began as a high was soon followed by a disappointing Ryder Cup debut, a split with his long-time caddie and the hiring of Sean Foley as his new coach last year – and he admitted at one point he didn’t even want to play.
For Willett all the hard work, uncertainty and turmoil was finally rewarded on Sunday as he gained his 6th European Tour trophy in the season-finale DP World Tour Championships in Dubai by two shots over Matt Wallace and playing partner Patrck Reed.
Starting the day in a share of the lead with Reed, Willett quickly moved ahead. Reed dropped a shot on the first and Willett made an unlikely long-range 50 footer for eagle on the second to increase the gap to three.
By the turn his lead was comfortable, dropped shots on the 10th and 12th saw him fall back in to a share with Wallace, who is a three-time winner on Tour this season. But three birdies on the 14th, 15th and 17th put him back ahead, and it was a piece of luck on the final hole that guaranteed his win: Willett leaked his drive left but fortunately came up just shy of the water hazard and surrounding rocks, going on to make par for a final-round 68 and two shot victory.
"It's been a lot of hard work," Willett said. "It's been tough. I'm just massively proud of myself and everyone that's been around me."
Shubankar Sharma wins Rookie of the Year
Shubhankar Sharma has won the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award to top off a remarkable debut campaign on the European Tour.
The Indian started the season with a top ten at the UBS Hong Kong Open and two weeks later claimed his maiden European Tour victory at the Joburg Open in just his tenth start.
It only took him three more to win his second title as he carded a stunning closing 62 to lift the trophy at the Maybank Championship - joining Rookie of the Year predecessors Jon Rahm and Jeunghun Wang and former World Number One Luke Donald as the only players in the last 20 years to win twice in their first 20 events.
"You can only do it once in your career and I'm very happy with the season," he said. "I'm very happy to be on the Tour here.
"I'm sure a lot of other great players before have won this award, I'm really happy that I was lucky enough to win it this year. I played well and won twice and had a few top tens, so very happy.
"To win twice and just to learn so much on this Tour with the best players in the world, I would say I had a great year."
Sharma joins an illustrious list of winners including Sir Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, José María Olazábal, Colin Montgomerie, Thomas Bjørn, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Martin Kaymer, Brooks Koepka and last year's winner Rahm.
The 22 year old is also the third Asian winner of the Award in the last four seasons after Byeong-hun An and Wang in 2015 and 2016.
Charles Howell III ends 11 year drought for victory at RSM Classic
If you thought Willett had waited a long time for his next win, it was nothing compared to Charles Howell III. Prior to Sunday, Howell hadn’t had his name engraved on a trophy since 2007. But it was no mean feat to get there.
He began the final round with a one shot lead, but by the third tee he trailed by three.
“I just honestly thought I had shot myself in the foot again,” Howell said.
"Sometimes you wonder, well, maybe you just don't have it in you. Maybe today is just not the day. More than likely I won't be winning the golf tournament."
But the comeback began, with back to back birdies at five and six and another on the 10th. From there, Howell III needed three consecutive birdies over from the 15th to draw level with Patrick Rodgers, and he knew he needed one more on the 18th for victory.
Instead it barely missed the hole and Howell III sunk to his knees, knowing he now needed to dig deeper as the pair headed for sudden death.
“I thought, man, I've seen this movie before and I know how it ends,” he said. Last year, he barely missed a birdie putt on the final hole of the Quicken Loans National, then lost a playoff to Kyle Stanley.
Rodgers putted first on the second playoff hole. He missed again. This time, Howell poured in his 15-footer. Overwhelmed with relief, he sank to the ground and grabbed his face with his hands.
“Quite honestly, I didn’t know if I would ever win one again,” Howell said. “I had come up short so many times.”
Abraham Ancer tops Australian Open as 3 earn Open Qualifying Series spots.
Abraham Ancer claimed the Austrlaian Open title to become one of three players, along with Dimitrios Papadatos and Jake McLeod, to earn their spots at The Open Championship in Royal Portrush next year.
Ancer cruised to a five-shot victory to win his second professional title – and first since 2015 on the Web.Com Tour – on Sunday, and said he was extremely excited of the bonus that came with his win.
“I’m extremely excited to be going to Royal Portrush,” said the 27-year-old Mexican. “I got a taste of The Open at Carnoustie earlier this year and it’s a Championship I want to come back to every single year.
“I’ve never been to Northern Ireland before so I’m really looking forward to that. It’s going to be incredible. I will try and get over there to play some links golf now that I’m in. It would be great to play an event on links before The Open."
Papadatos claimed the second qualifying spot after finishing runner-up to Ancer on an 11-under-par total of 277. The three-time PGA Tour of Australasia winner fired in seven birdies to post a final round 67 and he will now make his debut in The Open when he joins the world’s best golfers at Royal Portrush in July.
It has been a week to remember for 24-year-old McLeod after he followed up a win in the NSW Open at Twin Creeks last Sunday with a third place finish in the Emirates Australian Open to land the final qualifying place.
“I’m absolutely stoked right now, to qualify for The Open is unreal. It’s going to be special to play in my first major championship, especially in Northern Ireland as I’ve never been there before. I can’t wait to get there.
“I’ve wanted to play in majors like The Open ever since I was a little kid and for this to be my first appearance, it’s going to be so special. I’m nervous already. I played a bit of links golf at the Dunhill Championship and did ok, so yes, can’t wait.”
Sam Horsfield Fires back at social media critics
Remember the video that circulated of Sam Horsfield spending an inordinate amount of time standing over his golf ball?
The Englishman hit the headlines at the Turkish Airlines Open earlier this month after a video of him standing over the ball for 30 seconds before hitting his shot went viral. Horsfield first addressed the issue on Twitter, but speaking to Today's Golfer in Dubai he fiercely denied accusations that he was being disrespectful to his playing partners.
“I woke up on Sunday morning [in Turkey] and had 96 Twitter notifications,” he told us. “People were saying stuff, but I guess you’ve got to remember that all those guys, who have something negative to say, wish they were doing what I was doing, playing for seven million dollars
“Obviously, I’m not trying to do it. If you know me personally, as a lot of the guys out here do, you will know I’m one of the fastest players out here. I take, like, five seconds for my pre-shot routine.”
Horsfield admits he’s grateful for the support he has received from fellow tour pros, including Eddie Pepperell and Danny Willett, and sees no reason why he can’t keep contending in tournaments while he fixes what, he hopes, is only a temporary issue.
“I’m working on it and it’s getting better,” added the 22-year-old, who finished tied 10th in Turkey. “It just so happens that I’m playing well and I’m in the spotlight. People always find something to complain about, but I honestly don’t really care what people think.
“Matt Ginella, he’s the main culprit of it, and if he has a problem with me, he can come and find me. That’s all I have to say about that.”
Horsfield just finished in a tie for 41st place at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship to finish 52nd in the Race to Dubai.
Rory McIlroy may give up European Tour membership in 2019
Rory McIlroy hit headlines earlier in the week as he admitted he may not play enough events on the European Tour to qualify for membership next year. He wants to focus on getting back to winning majors – something he hasn’t done since 2014 – and for him that means heading back for a longer period of the PGA Tour.
"I don't know," McIlroy said. "Right now I've got two events on my schedule in Europe.
"I don't have to commit to that until next year so I'm starting my year off in the States. That'll be the big focus of mine up until the end of August and then, obviously, we will assess from there.
"I've got a couple of pure European Tour events on my schedule up to the end of August. I guess my big thing is I want to play against the strongest fields week in, week out, and for the most part of the season that is in America.
"And if I want to continue to contend in the majors and continue my journey back towards the top of the game, that's what I want to do."
He insisted that while he hasn’t made a decision just yet he would always remain dedicated to the Ryder Cup, and would never do such a thing in a Ryder Cup year. What he perhaps didn’t realise though, was that it could mean he is never allowed to be European Ryder Cup Captain – as stipulated in rules that came in to force in 2018.
The announcement attracted criticism from the likes of former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley. But as it turns out, McIlroy doesn’t really care.
"Everyone has to look out for themselves and next year I'm looking out for me," McIlroy explained.
"At the same time, I don't have to make a decision on it. I didn't say that it was a definite. It's up in the air. I don't have to make a decision until May. We'll see how it goes.
"McGinley is on The European Tour board. He's involved and he has to protect what he has, and I get it.
“Again, look, everyone has to do what’s best for them, and for me next year, I’m trying to do what’s best for me to help get back to the best player in the world and try to win majors again.”
27 Players made it out of European Tour Q-School
Following the gruelling, six-round final stage of Qualifying School, 27 players earned their playing rights on the European Tour for next season – including former European Tour winners Marc Warren and Alejandro Canizares.
Canizares was crowned the winner of Q-School following an exceptional final round to finish level with South African Zander Lombar as both men regained their status on Tour for next year.
One of the players to hit the headlines though was Scott Gregory, who famously stumbled to an opening round 92 in the US Open earlier this year. The former Amateur Champion made it through all three stages of Q-school to bounce back and earn his European Tour card, and was quick to silence any remaining critics over the status of his game.
Stenson the latest to split with long-time caddie
Henrik Stenson is the latest player to split with their long-time caddie, confirming after the second round of the DP World Tour Championship that he and Gareth Lord were ‘taking a break’.
Lord has been on Stenson’s bag since 2013, and was by his side for both of his Race to Dubai titles and his victory at The Open Championship in 2016 at Royal Troon.
But now the duo have followed Westwood and caddie Billy Foster and Lexi Thompson and Kevin McAlpine as the latest partnership to go their separate ways, instead opting for Brandt Snedeker’s old bag-man of 12 years Scott Vail to carry his bag.
"Gareth and I we decided a little while ago that we were looking at maybe taking a break so he (Vail) is filling in for the time being and you never know we might be back out there together but for now it's Scotty that is carrying the sticks."