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Golf review of the year: Turmoil, triumph and Tiger

Golf review of the year: Turmoil, triumph and Tiger

After ending 2022 with a winner, Matt Cooper recalls a year of excitement and strife for the sport – and then looks ahead to the Majors of 2023

WE’VE never seen a golfing year like 2022, a year when the sport tore itself apart like two combatants in a very bitter divorce case.

The cause of the anxiety? LIV Golf and its figurehead Greg Norman, who has always had a fire in his belly when it comes to taking on the PGA Tour, but when Saudi oil was poured over it the flames roared and relationships burned. Europe’s Ryder Cup team has gone from back-slapping to back-stabbing and a generation of American big-hitters who always gave the impression of not really caring have revealed that they really didn’t. Quote of the year? Norman who, when asked about the murder and chopping up of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi by his financiers, said: “We all make mistakes. You just want to learn by those mistakes and correct them going forward.” The first instance of Instagram wellness quotes being applied to state-sponsored murder. Not one of golf’s finest moments. So let’s crack on with the best action of 2022.

Players of the Year

In the men’s game it was a tale of three men. Early in the year Scottie Scheffler transformed himself from a brilliant player with no trophies in the cabinet to a ruthless winner. Four victories in six starts saw him tick off a first PGA Tour win, a first WGC victory, a first major title and with it all he became the World No. 1.

Australia’s Cameron Smith joined him as a maiden major winner when lifting the Claret Jug in July, completing a high class trio of victories that started with the Tournament of Champions and also included THE PLAYERS Championship. Win numbers four and five for the year came after he joined LIV in late summer.

Rory McIlroy continues to be stranded on four major wins – narrowly missing out on triumph in the 150th Open – but he ended the year top of the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour and the world rankings (and bottom of Greg Norman’s Christmas card list after a year long ding dong).

Tiger Woods deserves a mention just for teeing it up in the Masters and ending the first round in the top 10. He also joined McIlroy and Justin Thomas in becoming a guardian of the game’s heritage in the LIV dispute.

In the women’s game four players stood out. Nelly Korda missed much of the campaign with a blood clot but rebounded to win again and briefly top the world rankings. She replaced Thailand’s teenage superstar Atthaya Thitikul and by the year’s end Lydia Ko had reached No. 1. Meanwhile, in Europe, Linn Grant finished top 10 in 79% of her starts and thrashed a DP World Tour/LET field by nine shots.

Rounds of the year

Let’s zoom in. Who had the best days in 2022? Justin Thomas’ PGA Championship triumph was built on a superb Friday lap when he defied the wind in carding a 67. Cameron Smith’s final round at the Open was no less superb but all about the short game rather than ball-striking.

In Gee Chun wins this crown, however, with her 8-under-par 64 in the first round of the KPMG PGA Championship. It was the lowest opening round in the tournament’s history, her five-shot lead matched the record 18-hole advantage in women’s majors and she gained a whopping 11.38 strokes on the field. All incredibly impressive but perhaps even better was that she completed the course in seven strokes better than anyone else in the morning wave.

What about shots of the year? Guido Migliozzi’s approach to the final hole of the Open de France comes close for sheer audacity. Rory McIlroy’s holed bunker shot on the final hole of the Masters was full of drama. But Matt Fitzpatrick’s fairway bunker shot on the 72nd hole to confirm victory in June’s US Open combined both qualities.

The Majors in 2023

The Masters will be intriguing, flavoured by one new story and one old one. How will Augusta National deal with the LIV rebels? And will Rory McIlroy finally complete the career grand slam?

The two travelling American majors head to opposite ends of the country. The PGA Championship will be at Oak Hill Country Club in New York. Expect a raucous atmosphere and perhaps a surprise. Europe pulled off an unlikely victory there in the 1995 Ryder Cup while Shaun Micheel in 2003 and Jason Dufner in 2013 have won the most recent majors there. The US Open crosses to the west coast and Los Angeles Country Club, a venue more famous for its snooty attitude than the course itself.

The Open, meanwhile, returns to Royal Liverpool in Hoylake. Since it returned to the Open rota it has seen Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy triumph which suggests it identifies high class winners. The Northern Irishman will be desperate for a repeat.

Ante-post selection

It’s difficult to see much value ahead of next year’s career-defining events but there might be some in Irishman Shane Lowry who is currently 40/1 for the Masters. Close observers will be aware that he’s a favourite of this column in the majors but for good reason: he’s done well for us.

He said last year: “I love major championships. I love big weeks.” He added: “I know what happens. You have tough runs. You have good runs. When you have the good runs you have to make the most of them, take advantage.”

In the 2021 Masters he finished 21st and said: “I played great.” 12 months on he was third and said afterwards: “The big thing I can take away from the last two days being in contention around here is how comfortable I felt on the golf course.” I don’t think he is finished with winning majors and he will be a little irked that he didn’t perform at his best in them in 2022, even more so given that in 22 stroke #play starts in the year he finished outside the top 25 on just five occasions. His victory in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth was a neat reminder of what it takes to win. He can take aim at a green jacket in April.



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Matt Cooper
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