When Graeme Storm stepped off the last green at Vilamoura in October, having just missed the par putt he needed to retain his European Tour card, his world must have been shattered.
Storm had been among a number of players still vying to make the top 111 on the order of merit – the cut-off point for keeping membership – at the last qualifying event, the Portugal Masters.
That missed par putt meant he finished 112th on the money list, an agonising 100 points behind fellow Englishman David Horsey, and faced the ordeal of qualifying school.
Storm received an early Christmas present from Patrick Reed a couple of weeks later, however, when the American declined to play the required number of events to stay in contention for a card.
Now, just over two months later, Storm is celebrating his first European Tour title for nine and a half years, having seen off Rory McIlroy at the South Africa Open on Sunday.
It is fairytale stuff and I can’t remember something like this happening before. Storm, 38, is a lovely guy and a real journeyman. The dream continues for him and it’s a great, heart-warming story.
He won it really well, too. When Rory took him to a play-off he stuck to his guns, making par at three extra holes until McIlroy faltered.
McIlroy off to a strong start
McIlroy was also excellent and he’ll be delighted with how well he played with his new clubs – a mixture from different manufacturers after Nike pulled out of manufacturing.
His putting was particularly pleasing. He was ranked ninth for putts per round, and that’s a very positive sign.
He mentioned back pain and that is always a concern, but provided it is nothing serious I would certainly be expecting a big performance this week in Abu Dhabi, where he has been runner-up four times.
It didn’t happen for him this time but he was a real gentleman about it. On this occasion, let’s leave the fairytales for Storm.
Thomas cracks art of winning
I was playing alongside the great Tom Watson at Birkdale once when I asked him what the secret was to keeping his motivation.
“At an early age I learned to win,” he said. After his explosive start to the season, I think the same can now be said of Justin Thomas.
The 23-year-old American came close to blowing it at the Tournament of Champions earlier this month before holding on to win his second title of the 2017 PGA Tour campaign.
There were no such wobbles this time, as Thomas made it back-to-back wins in Hawaii with an incredible, record-breaking victory at the Sony Open.
He started with rounds of 59 and 64 and went on to win by seven strokes, setting a new best of 72 holes on the PGA Tour of 253.
Thomas has it all going for him: he is as fit as a butcher’s dog, hits the ball a mile and is good in every department.
He is a friend of Jordan Spieth and I can absolutely see his career going in the same direction as the two-time Major winner. This start opens the door for him to have a great year; let’s see how he does.
Justin Rose got within three or four shots of Thomas on the last round at times and it was great to see him play so well and suffering no obvious effects of his recent back troubles.
With Thomas dazzling, Hideki Matsuyama also in stellar form, McIlroy starting well, Spieth showing signs of recovery and Tiger Woods set to continue his comeback, these are exciting times.
I don’t think the world top 10 has ever been as strong as it is now. Any of that group – which also includes Jason Day, Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson – could realistically be No1.
It’s shaping up to a fascinating year.