Golf in 2019: Tiger roars back into spotlight
Tiger Woods completed one of sport’s greatest ever comebacks by winning his 15th major title at the Masters in April, before ending the year as a winning Presidents Cup captain.
Ireland’s Shane Lowry won the first British Open to be held in Northern Ireland since 1951, while a potential rivalry between Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy started to emerge.
Here, AFP Sport looks at five talking points from 2019 in golf:
Tiger roars again
— The most memorable moment of the year came back in April at Augusta National when Woods tapped in to seal his first major championship victory since the 2008 US Open. The now-43-year-old has since had to battle personal problems, injury woes and a shocking loss of form.
He surprised the golfing world by returning to the top events in 2018, winning the PGA Tour’s season-ending Tour Championship, before capping his comeback this year in incredible fashion by winning a fifth Masters green jacket.
Woods went on to lift a record-equalling 82nd PGA Tour title in Japan in October, before leading the United States to victory in the Presidents Cup in Melbourne as a playing captain.
Now, the talk of him chasing down Jack Nicklaus’ long-standing record of 18 major wins has been reignited.
Lowry delights Portrush
— Irishman Lowry provided an enthralling finale in a party atmosphere as Royal Portrush staged the British Open for the first time in 68 years.
The 32-year-old won his maiden major title with a dominant six-shot victory over England’s Tommy Fleetwood in difficult conditions on the final day.
“I let myself enjoy it and it was incredible walking down 18, they were singing and going mad. I could not believe it was happening to me,” said Lowry after becoming only the second player from the Republic of Ireland, after Padraig Harrington, to lift the Claret Jug.
Reed ‘cheating’ storm
— Patrick Reed was accused of cheating after being given a two-stroke penalty for twice moving sand behind his ball with his club during the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.
The infraction cost the former Masters winner a place in a play-off as he finished two strokes behind eventual champion Henrik Stenson.
Reed was jeered mercilessly the following week by the home crowd at the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne, despite insisting that he was not a “cheat” and that he broke the rules “unintentionally”.
Spanish star Sergio Garcia also caused uproar over his behavior in a bunker earlier in February, when he was disqualified from the already controversial Saudi International after smashing his clubs into putting greens and bunkers in fits of rage.
‘Phenomenal’ Ko breaks through
— Ko Jin-young produced the biggest breakthrough of the season by winning two women’s majors, four LPGA Tour titles in total and finishing the year as world number one — all in only her second LPGA campaign.
The 24-year-old South Korean won for the first time in the US with a thrilling victory in the Founders Cup in March, before securing her maiden major two weeks later at the ANA Inspiration.
Another followed at the Evian Championship in France, while she also went 114 holes without a bogey — breaking Woods’ record of 110.
“It’s phenomenal,” said Ko’s veteran caddie Dave Brooker.
Tiger signs off in style
— Tiger Woods’ United States produced a stunning turnaround to deny the Internationals a first Presidents Cup in 21 years, dominating the singles on a tense final day that went to the wire at Royal Melbourne.
Veteran Matt Kuchar was the hero, with his winning putt on the 17th in the penultimate match enough to ensure victory, sparking wild celebrations from playing-captain Woods, who set the tone by getting the first point on the board.
“I trusted all my 11 guys. I trusted them implicitly. I told them from the very get go. They went out there and got the points we needed,” said Woods.
What to watch in 2020
Koepka, McIlroy threaten to dominate
— Koepka and McIlroy have pulled clear as the best two players in the world according to the rankings after the American won his fourth major at the USPGA Championship and the Northern Irish star claimed four titles and was named PGA Tour Player of the Year.
“He (Koepka) talked about trying to be the dominant player in the game … and I thought: ‘He’s going to have to go through me first’,” McIlroy said after beating Koepka at the Tour Championship.
But the world number one hit back, saying: “I’ve been out here for, what, five years. Rory hasn’t won a major since I’ve been on the PGA Tour. So I just don’t view it as a rivalry.”
With McIlroy and Koepka the joint-favorites to win April’s Masters, the competition between the two appears set to become fiercer in 2020.