Golf has enjoyed another great year and with 2019 drawing to a close it is time for me to look back on its stand-out protagonists, moments and more.
Player of the year
This is a tricky one, but the world rankings don’t lie: Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy are No1 and No2 for a good reason. Both have been remarkable in their own ways.
You can’t fault McIlroy’s season. He has been brilliantly consistent, winning four events as well as the FedEx Cup – and $15,000,000, the biggest prize in the sport.
The Northern Irishman enjoyed a great season, winning big events – the Players Championship, Canadian Open, Tour Championship and the WGC-HSBC Champions – but he did not manage to add to his four Majors.
Koepka, meanwhile, won the PGA Championship for the second straight year to become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2007 to successfully defend his title at the American Major.
It comes down to consistency against big-occasion play and I can’t separate them, so the two are tied as my players of 2019.
This category is much easier. It has to be Jon Rahm. Many times this year I’ve written of my admiration of the Spaniard, whose star has risen so much over the last 12 months.
Like McIlroy, the 25-year-old claimed four events over the year, with victory at the DP World Tour Championship last month sealing the European Tour’s Race To Dubai crown.
Rahm is a super impressive individual. The way he birdied the 18th hole in Dubai to seal the season-ending triumph showed just how calm he is under pressure.
I am backing him to take the next step and win a first Major in 2020.
First of all I have to give a mention to Europe’s win at the Solheim Cup in September. The closing stages were so dramatic and Suzann Pettersen’s winning birdie putt at the 18th was a wonderful moment which sealed Europe’s first win since 2013.
However, for me there is simply no beating Shane Lowry at The Open. I was commentating at Portrush and the atmosphere was so special.
Lowry’s long celebratory walk up to the 18th green, knowing he had sealed the win, was extraordinary – as was the margin of his six-shot victory.
The Open beats The Solheim Cup to it again. The women’s team competition was out of this world and the last hour was good as any Ryder Cup I’ve ever seen.
But being at The Open made a real impression on me. It is something I will never forget: the perfect story, with an Irishman winning his first Major in Northern Ireland.
The tournament is the pinnacle for European players and the way Lowry did it was phenomenal.
The FedEx Cup was over by the end of August this year and that really helped the end of the European Tour season to reach a dramatic climax.
With no American events to play in, the world’s biggest players were free compete elsewhere and their involvement helped enhance the back end of the European Tour.
Prediction for 2020
I think next year could be the one where we see Europe’s top two players take over. Koepka missed the Presidents Cup last week because he is recovering after having stem cell procedure on his knee, so he might take a while to get up to speed.
That could leave the way open for McIlroy and Rahm in the Majors. Both have enjoyed brilliant years and I think they can cash in next year.
Finally, I believe Padraig Harrington will prove to be a fantastic captain for Europe at the Ryder Cup in Whistling Straits next September. Next year is certainly looking bright from a European perspective.