Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Hoopy's 2013

A champion of genuinely great character, personality and ability. A genuinely global golfer who has won on every continent, won his national Open, The Tour Championship, The Players Championship, a World Golf Championship and now a Major Championship. 

Social media was abuzz with congratulatory messages for Adam Scott but a tweet by Jay Coffin, who is the Editorial Director of, really really got me annoyed. “He globe-trotted for the first decade of his career, chased the money. Now, it's about majors and he's limited his schedule to focus.” Adam Scott did not chase the money, Adam Scott took exactly the same route to the top as his idol and hero Greg Norman. He played on the European Tour and played in Asia, he won his first tournament in 2001 at the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa and duelled Justin Rose on Sunday for the title and he won tournaments in every year apart from 2009 somewhere around the world coming into the 2013 season.

Scott the led the Open Championship during the final round before missing out narrowly in third place, and finished in fifth place at the USPGA Championship.

He claimed his second win of the season at The Barclays Golf Tournament, narrowly triumphing over Tiger Woods at Liberty National. 

In November he returned to Australia as a national hero and with the Australian Triple Crown in his sights. He completed the career version by winning the Australian PGA at the RACV Royal Pines Resort in Queensland. Then he defended his Gold Jacket in the Australian Masters with a 1 shot win over Matt Kuchar at Royal Melbourne. Then, with the pressure on and the eyes of a nation on him he dominated the Australian Open for 71 holes, only to be denied by a resurgent Rory McIlroy. Starting with a four-stroke lead the home favourite Adam Scott was clearly set to win a second Australian Open and conclude the calendar year Australian Triple Crown, but a resurgent Rory McIlroy was never going to lay down and make it easy for The Masters champion. Scott made bogey at the first hole to reduce his advantage but immediately regained the 4-shot lead with a birdie at the par five second, it would remain the same until McIlroy caught fire on the par four fifth hole. A birdie there was followed by a typical McIlroy moment at the 7th, the kind of shot which emphasises his unique ability, a high floated long iron straight at the pin which landed softly on the down-slope and ran some 8 feet past the hole giving him an eagle chance.

A slight right to left break was navigated with ease as his ball found the centre of the cup and the deficit was down to 1 stroke. The former world number one would then draw level with the 33-year-old former champion with a birdie at the 8th and the atmosphere was ramped up. Scott then pulled ahead once more with a birdie at the 9th hole and the dream of a second Australian Open title was still alive. The pair then matched each other on the back nine, with pars at every hole aside from the par five 13th and despite missing several chances to extend his lead Scott took a 1 stroke advantage to the 72nd hole.

Playing a pair of 2-irons off the tee both Scott and McIlroy split the fairway and the Australian had the advantage of playing into the green before the Northern Irishman, an advantage he would not take. His wedge flew too far and took a hard bounce, the ball rolled off the back edge and down into a hollow some 20 yards from the hole. In contrast McIlroy played his ball to 15 feet short of the pin on the correct level, giving himself a last chance for birdie. A play-off loomed large.

Scott's dream began to turn into a nightmare with a poor pitch which flew too far and rolled to the front edge of the green on the lower level. 2 putts later The Australian PGA and Masters winner posted a bogey and a round of 71, a four-round total of 271 17-under-par.

This was McIlroy's moment.

A moment to end a 12-month winless drought which has seen him fall from number 1 to 6 on the world rankings.

"I just made my normal stroke, I didn't think about winning or anything" said the 2-time Major champion. The ball rolled into the middle of the hole and he lifted his arms in exaltation and sighed a huge sigh of relief, the toughest year of his stellar career was over, and so was Adam Scott's Triple Crown dream. 
The commentators on Channel 7 could hardly hide their disappointment, despite the praise they gave McIlroy and Scott admitted that he was "gutted". Rory's victory has echoes of Lee Westwood's defeat of Greg Norman in 1997 at the Metropolitan Golf Club, Norman was bidding for a sixth title to tie Jack Nicklaus. McIlroy is the second European golfer of all-time, after Westwood, to win the Australian Open.

Earlier in the year at the Irish Open McIlroy admitted to feeling "lost" but the lost boy was found again on Sunday afternoon at Royal Sydney. The swagger, the strut and the ridiculous ball-striking was back and he was holing putts again. Something which has never changed in McIlroy is the humility, the class and dignity, even in defeat. He had this to say about the home favourite he had so dramatically defeated. “He's had a phenomenal year. Masters champion, he won one of the FedEx Cup play off events. He came down here to Australia, won the Aussie PGA and then the Aussie Masters. Then World Cup last week and here,” he said. “He's a true gentleman and he's a credit to the game but he's also a credit to this country. I was just lucky to be able to come out on top today.”

This will go down as one of the most memorable Aussie Opens in recent times and maybe all-time, it was a classic featuring two of the star acts in golf today. It might not yet be back to where it was in the 1970's but the Australian Open is back as a significant tournament in the world game.

Scott also won the PGA Grand Slam of Golf and in the week preceding the Australian Open he came third in the individual section and was part of the winning Australian Team in the ISPS Handa World Cup of Golf. Six wins overall in a year which saw him rise from fifth to second in the Official World Golf Rankings. Australia has yearned for its heir to Greg Norman's Throne - it now has it.

There are many thousands of golf shots hit in each tournament, several are very good, some are excellent or exceptional, some are great. But very few will be remembered for all time. 

Had this shot been hit on Thursday, Friday or Saturday it would have probably been cheered loudly and got shot of the day.

The atmosphere was electric after Adam Scott had holed his birdie putt across the green to take the clubhouse lead, the pressure was on. It was birdie or bust for Cabrera. The conditions were heavy with rain, what followed was one of the iconic strokes in Masters history. A piece of genius, inspiration and an example of gutsy golf under the highest of pressure.

"Good heavens! How about that?!" was the reaction of Sir Nick Faldo in the CBS commentary position on that Sunday in April. It will surely rank alongside any of the memorable shots in golf history, and despite the fact Cabrera didn't win his second title it is without question one of the moments of the golfing year. 

"He loves it, he loves it! What a wonderful shot, absolutely stunning." were the words of Ken Brown on the BBC.

The 2013 Masters will go down in history, it was historic, memorable, heartbreaking, heart-warming and controversial. Golf's First Major was everything that everyone in golf would wish to see, four days of drama came to an epic conclusion on a sodden April afternoon in Augusta, Georgia and those who watched on television or were there in person will never forget what they saw

Sky Sports ran a theme throughout their coverage featuring a book of The Masters and this tournament, this Major Championship, had enough storylines to write three feature films as epic as the Lord of the Rings, it was truly unpredictable and almost fairytale stuff from beginning to end. It was almost so unbelievable that you couldn't write it.

The week's first chapter was written by a star from the east, a star that will be burning bright for many, many years into the future. Tianlang Guan, a 14-year-old from Guangzhou, China, winner of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship last year became the youngest ever participant in The Masters Tournament and coming into the event he was given no chance by anyone of breaking 80, let alone making the 36-hole cut. Not only did Guan stun everyone with rounds of 73 and 75 to make the cut via the 10-shot rule he made no worse than a bogey on any hole throughout the week and had no more than two putts on any of the 72 greens, his four-round total of 300 was 12 shots over par. The child prodigy will have another chance to earn an invitation to The Masters in 2014 when he competes in the 2013 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship later this year, his achievements will surely inspire many young people in China to take up the game.

By comparison Rory McIlroy is a veteran at the age of 23, 9 years older than Guan, and following a confidence-building week at the Valero Texas Open was one of the favourites coming into the week, but once again this year it was a disappointing week for the world number two. Rounds of 72 and 70 put the PGA Champion in position to attack the lead on Saturday but a round punctuated by a treble and double bogey on the back nine took him right out of the picture as he slumped to a 79 and for a third successive Masters his challenge would be de-railed by one disastrous round. With the pressure off on Sunday McIlroy made four birdies with one solitary bogey to post a round 10 shots better in the final round and finished the tournament at 2-over-par, 11 shots off the winning score.

The story coming into 2013 was all about Rory's rivalry with Tiger Woods, but they have had polar opposite seasons with McIlroy struggling and Woods winning three times and Woods was the overwhelming favourite to win The Masters coming to Augusta. A round of 70 was a solid start for the world number one as he sat 4 shots behind the first day leader Marc Leishman, and birdies on 5, 7 and 8 put him right in contention for a fifth green jacket. Following a pushed drive on the fifteenth Woods was in the trees and had no option but the lay up and try to make birdie the hard way, with a wedge shot remaining over water Tiger looked primed to take the lead and his approach arrowed at the hole but unluckily glanced off the pin and spun violently back off the front edge of the green into the water. It was a desperately unlucky break for Woods and a lesser man would have lost his composure and made 7 or 8, but Tiger composed himself and dropped the ball and played a fine approach to set up a bogey. He went on to three-putt the last hole and post 3-under-par for the first two rounds, 3 behind and in with a great chance of winning at Augusta for the first time in 8 years. When I woke up on Saturday morning I checked twitter and started seeing rumours about Tiger possibly being disqualified. I then tuned into Sky Sports Masters breakfast and sure enough the rumours had foundation, incredibly and quite blatantly Tiger had taken an illegal drop. He had decided not to play from the drop zone and keeping the point where the ball crossed the hazard and the point at which he played in line with the hole he returned to drop the ball as close as possible to the point on which he played the original shot.

The problem was he didn't play the ball from as close as possible to the original spot from which he played the shot, and admitted so in his post-round interview on Friday evening. He admitted to dropping the ball 2 yards further away so that he could land the ball short of the hole. David Howell and Billy Foster, speaking on Masters breakfast, both said they saw no possible way Tiger Woods could remain in the tournament, and EVERY professional I have seen speak or write on social media, many of which I know personally, said that Tiger must be disqualified. But in a week where Tianlang Guan was harshly penalized for slow play the rules of golf were at the centre of outrage once again. Allegedly the Augusta National Golf Club tournament committee had reviewed the incident prior to the completion of Tiger's round, but mysteriously they had not informed him or anyone else of this and waited until Saturday morning to make any sort of announcement. Because they had reviewed it and because of a little-known rule change in 2011 Woods survived disqualification and was penalized 2 shots after signing for a round of 71. Even then it can be argued strongly that Tiger Woods should have been disqualified for signing for the wrong score, it was quite remarkable that the 4-time Masters champion was allowed to play on.

He was and straight away on Saturday Woods bounced back with birdie at the first hole and further birdies at 7, 12, 13 and 15 to reach 3-under-par, the same score he was on prior to the penalty. He ended round three some four shots behind the joint leaders Angel Cabrera and Brandt Snedeker and the possibility of a charge for the title on Masters Sunday was still alive for the 14-time Major Champion. Going into the final round there were 13 potential winners all within five shots of the leading duo, two of those were legendary figures of European golf, one of which was still waiting for a Major title in his 61st appearance in golf's grand slam championships.

At the end of 2012 my favourite to win The Masters was Rory McIlroy but with his poor start my eye started to drift to an Englishman who has a great record at Augusta and played superb golf in his first start of the year in Dubai. Lee Westwood finished in fourth place at the Emirates Golf Club in February and with his move to Florida I had a great feeling that he would be better equipped to get the job done on Sunday, and following rounds of 70, 73 and 71 the former world number one was 5 shots back, the same as Nick Faldo in 1989. He began with a par at the first following finding the bunker off the tee and then played a stunning second shot on the par five second hole to set up an eagle chance, he two-putted for birdie and moved to within four shots of the lead. And another birdie at the 7th, very much a bonus on a tough hole, certainly got me excited about his chances. But despite his short game being much improved it definitely cost him the chance of a second nine charge as he missed a very presentable chance for birdie at 8 and he screwed up the ninth hole and made a bogey when the likes of Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods would have made par. Effectively dropping two shots on 8 and 9 meant he was in need of a miraculous last nine holes and help from the leader, and despite birdieing the fifteenth hole he could not take advantage of the opportunities that his fantastic long game presented. It is now 61 chances that have come and gone for the Englishman and you have to wonder how many more times he can continue to contend and come up short without losing the plot. It must be so incredibly frustrating to continually get so close and not finish it off, he has now finished in the top ten on 15 occasions including 3 of the last 4 Masters Tournaments and 7 of the last 13 Major Championships.

Westwood was playing with a legendary figure of European golf who has tasted success in the Majors, the first world number one Bernhard Langer rolled back the years with birdies on the first three holes to get to within 3 of the lead but back-to-back bogeys on the 6th and 7th stalled his challenge and back-to-back double-bogeys on 12 and 13 ended it completely. It was fun while it lasted and for a time was one of several compelling storylines, in a week when a 14-year-old stunned the world and made the cut a 55-year-old was making a charge at the leaders on Masters Sunday. Only in golf can there be these incredible stories.

Another remarkable story was the comeback of Denmark's precocious young talent Thorbjorn Olesen. Shooting 78 on Thursday and beginning with a bogey on Friday he was a full 13 shots behind the leaders and on course to miss the cut but with birdies at 2, 8, 11, 13 and 18 the Dane made the cut at 4-over with the help of the ten shot rule. He took full advantage, making 14 birdies and an eagle in the last 36 holes to finish on 4-under and book his return to Augusta National Golf Club for 2014 with a tie for sixth place.

Several players featured in final round at Augusta, but it came down to five of the last six starters on Masters Sunday.

Australia has been cruelly the denied in The Masters over the years and just as in 2011 they had three players in contention on Sunday as the country looked to exorcize the demons of Greg Norman in the 1980's and 1990's. Two of them were playing together in the final round, first round leader Marc Leishman and 2011 runner-up Adam Scott, by the time they were on the course their fellow countryman Jason Day had made a storming start rolling in a putt for birdie to move one behind at the first and then outrageously holing from the front greenside bunker at the second for eagle to take the lead. Masters Sunday had begun.

Scott began exactly in the way you would not want to start your Masters final round when chasing the lead, with a bogey. He bounced back at the third with a birdie but he was now two behind Day and overnight joint leader Brandt Snedeker, who rolled in a putt at the first for birdie. Many good judges picked Brandt Snedeker as the man that would be wearing the green jacket but once again under the unique pressure of a Major he wilted in the heat of battle, bogeying the 4th and 5th holes to fall two shots behind and despite making a birdie at the 8th he would fall away on the back nine with four bogeys to finish the day 3-over-par and -4 for the tournament.

Jason Day would bogey the 6th and 9th to fall back to 6-under and the Argentine Angel Cabrera looked a good bet to claim a second green jacket following a birdie at the 7th hole which moved the 2009 champion to 9-under-par and clear of the field as the Masters reached the second nine on Sunday. Both Cabrera and Snedeker missed the 10th hole wildly to the right into Bubba Watson country, it would cost both a bogey and Cabrera's lead was down to two shots on Scott and Day. Australian Marc Leishman would join the conversation at the 11th with a birdie to take him to 6-under and tied with Scott, Day and Snedeker, two shots behind the Argentine. Another who was still in with a chance despite his “mistake” at the 15th on Friday was Tiger Woods and birdies at the 9th and 10th hauled him to within five of Cabrera, he would birdie 13 and 15 to reach five under and finish in fourth position. Thankfully for golf Tiger Woods did not win this Masters otherwise the tone of this blog and many others would have been very different indeed.

The complexion of the tournament then changed on the back nine when Cabrera reached the 13th and his tee shot found the pine straw on the right side of the hole, for some reason when he did not need to go for the green he took the shot on and found the creek, it would cost him a bogey and would hand the ascendancy to Jason Day. The 25-year-old runner-up in 2011 birdied 13, 14 and 15 to reach 9-under and at that point held a 2 shot lead which looked like being enough to give the talented Australian a first Major title and just his second PGA Tour win. But just as he did on Saturday evening Day demonstrated that he is not comfortable in the heat of a major right at the end and bogeys at 16 and 17 saw him finish on 7-under-par. With Scott making birdies at 13 and 15 and Cabrera rolling in a putt at the 16th for birdie there was briefly a three-way tie on 8-under with two holes to play before Day's error on 17.

With Day in the clubhouse on 7-under Scott knew he just needed to par in to finish as the leading Australian and maybe become The Masters champion, but he knew a birdie at the 18th could give him the title outright, and he played his approach out to the right side of the green to benefit from the slope and the ball came to rest in a familiar position on Masters Sunday. As Faldo, Tiger, O'Meara and Singh had faced before Adam Scott had what he believed could be the putt to win The Masters on the final hole from the right side of the green. He drained the putt into the centre of the hole and the reaction was euphoric, the mild-mannered Aussie roared “C'mon Aussie” and punched the air twice before a massive high-five with caddie Steve Williams. It was a magical Masters Moment.

But what followed was every bit as good, maybe better. On a day, a week, of storylines Angel Cabrera, the world 269 and 2009 Champion with son Angel caddying for him played what I have to argue is one of the greatest shots of all time. It reminded me of Shaun Micheel's winning approach to the final hole at Oak Hill 10 years ago in the PGA Championship, and it set up a stunning birdie to take the tournament to a playoff for the fourth time in a decade. Scott now had to compose himself for what could be a life-changing and career-defining hole or two.

The rain got steadily harder on a day which was overcast from the start and in a week where the course conditions changed on a daily basis. With the rain heavier than at any point and the light fading the two headed back to the 18th tee to begin the playoff. You could excuse both if their play in the playoff didn't live up to the finish in regulation, but these two are genuinely great golfers and they both found the centre of the fairway with superb drives up the hill again. Playing into the green first Scott's approach came up marginally short of pin-high and rolled back off the front edge of the green, Cabrera incredibly followed suit and both faced chips from the front edge to save par and remain in the tournament. Cabrera's chip burned the edge of the hole and set up a certain par. Scott came up slightly short but rolled in a three-foot putt to take the playoff to the tenth hole, the same hole on which Cabrera was victorious in 2009 and on which Bubba Watson played his miraculous shot from the trees.

Scott elected to use his driver off the tenth tee and found the down-slope of the fairway to gain extra yardage and leave himself a shorter approach, it was a perfect pressure drive on one of golf's great holes in golf's greatest arena. Cabrera incredibly followed with a nailed, low drawing iron to match the drive of the Australian. Playing first the Argentine's approach found the heart of the green, leaving himself an uphill putt for birdie, Scott responded. His approach was perfect for length and he would have a putt at birdie.

Cabrera borrowed ever so slightly too much and the ball agonizingly missed on the high side, leaving Scott a putt for history and the whole of a nation held its breath. The atmosphere was electric and for those who were in the gallery on Masters Sunday it was a moment never to be forgotten. Scott admitted in his post round news conference that the fading light was making it very difficult for him to see the line and trusting the judgement of caddie Steve Williams he rolled the putt into the hole and this time the euphoric reaction was because he had made history. The cheers rang up along the tenth hole back to the top of the hill for Australia's first Masters champion Adam Scott.

And so ends one of the most remarkable, dramatic, historic and controversial major championships of all-time. This Masters Tournament had it all.

The category of newcomer really was a no-contest. Jordan Spieth became the youngest PGA Tour winner in over 80 years and had a consistent season which saw him record 12 top ten finishes, 10 of them on the PGA Tour. He rose from outside the world's top 300 to 22nd on the official world golf rankings at the end of the year.

This year's Open Championship and US Open Championship were both dramatic, decided in the closing stretch and both featured Phil "The Thrill" Mickelson. Both playing short because of the conditions, but both with hazards aplenty to test the best, it was the creative skills of the American which saw him finish second to Justin Rose in the US Open in June and triumph over Stenson in July at The Open Championship.

A win which puts him within touching distance of the career grand slam.

Merion was being lambasted, a winning score of double-digits under par was being predicted by many, but the old lady bit back. The USGA should be applauded for their vision in taking this massive event back to magical Merion. The set up of the golf course was not extreme but despite its lack of length a score of 1-over-par won the championship.

Muirfield had the look of an old-style links course, featuring burned fairways and the hard and fast conditions meant the players had to be creative and strategic. Eventually this played into the hands of one of golf's greatest ever players, and certainly the most creative since Seve. This win put Mickelson level with the great Spaniard on five Major wins. He adds his name to an iconic roll of honour at Muirfield, a testament to the strengths of the magnificent links east of Edinburgh.

The year began with anticipation of an event in the middle east like no other before. Here are some excerpts from my special report at the start of the year on the 2013 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship:

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship's status as one of the premier events in golf was elevated further today with the first of two major announcements, the second comes tomorrow in the shape of the 2014 European Ryder Cup captain, but the first was one of global significance and one which brought the world's eyes to Abu Dhabi. I can reveal that one of my sources told me that this was going to happen some time ago, a long time before any speculation in the general golfing media, but it was confirmed at a spectacular announcement that Rory McIlroy was to become the newest Nike Golf Athlete.

McIlroy will wear Nike apparel and head-wear and use the following ball and clubs:

Driver: VR_S Covert Tour 9.5-deg, neutral
Fairway Woods: VR Pro Ltd Ed 3-wood/15-degree and 5-wood/19-degree
Irons: Nike VR Pro Blades (3-PW)
Wedges: Nike VR Pro 54-degree and 60-degree
Putter: Nike Method 006 Prototype
Ball: Nike 20XI X

Click here to view McIlroy Nike press conference in Abu Dhabi

Details of the contract were not revealed but speculation has swept the media and needless to say it makes McIlroy one of the world's highest paid athletes, but this deal is much more valuable to golf and McIlroy than pure cash. A short video was played during the press conference showing famous Nike athletes welcoming Rory to the Nike family; Wayne Rooney, Roger Federer and Tiger Woods all featured and it was then that it was clear, this deal confirms Rory as one of the world's most high-profile sports stars and means that Golf now has two of the pre-eminent sports stars. 

Around half-a-century after the Big Three of Palmer, Player and Nicklaus burst onto our screens at the dawn of the television age, we now have two golfers that have the ability to transcend the sport to a fan-base truly global in nature and diverse in its demographic.

Within minutes of the announcement I saw comments on social media saying “McIlroy had sold his soul” and that it was “bad for golf”. I say, what planet do these people live on? McIlroy is the undisputed world number one, he has won two majors by record-breaking margins, he is 23 years of age, and is dating a beautiful and talented tennis player. He is the future of the game, and as such would be completely foolish to turn down the opportunity to earn money comparable to the world's greatest sportsmen and women. It raises his profile and helps him transcend sport, and will help him raise awareness and money for his foundation helping children across the world.

It is great for British, Irish and European sport. We now have without doubt one of the world's sporting icons, and it should be celebrated, not criticized. This is a great day for golf all over the world and it is a great start to a week which will set the tone for the 2013 season.

McIlroy's Nike colleague Tiger Woods ascended to World Number Two this morning without hitting a ball, didn't notice any of the ridiculous hype over this in comparison to Lee Westwood when he became number one in October 2010. Regardless of this it does mean that the world's top two golfers will go head-to-head in Abu Dhabi this week.

After weeks, days and hours of intense speculation and conjecture, and a meeting which went late into the evening in Abu Dhabi the European Tour Tournament committee have voted unanimously to make Paul McGinley the Captain for the European Ryder Cup team for the 40th Ryder Cup matches, at Gleneagles in 2014. “It never came to a vote” said Tournament committee chairman Thomas Bjorn, despite it seemingly being so clear cut the meeting took over 2 hours and McGinley was joined by Colin Montgomerie, Paul Lawrie, Sandy Lyle and Miguel Angel Jimenez as those under consideration to lead Europe in Scotland.

McGinley came into the room wearing a beaming smile as wide as the Irish sea, a clear indication of a man who feels he has fulfilled a lifetime dream to lead Europe in the Ryder Cup. At the end of the news conference a tweet from USA Captain Tom Watson was read out congratulating McGinley, he was visibly moved and it is quite clear Europe has a leader who is as passionate as any to have ever held the role. It was a unanimous decision in the committee meeting and he had the overwhelming universal support of the players likely to be in contention for his team in 16 months time when the race reaches its crucial last four months. 

As much as I was fully behind Colin Montgomerie to take the reins in his homeland, there can be no doubting the credentials of the eventual successor to Jose Maria Olazabal. He has played in three Ryder Cups, a member of the two greatest European teams ever in 2004 and 2006. He holed the winning putt under the highest pressure in 2002 at the Belfry, and he has coped with the pressure of the patriotic home support, the kind of which Europe can expect in 2014. McGinley has the universal respect of the players so his job will be much easier and he has experience of captaining teams in the Seve Trophy, including leading teams involving Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy. “He is the best captain I have ever played under” the World Number One Rory McIlroy said yesterday and today, it was almost as if he was campaigning for the Irishman to be captain. But it didn't need McIlroy's endorsement for McGinley to be chosen.

I believe it is actually a very brave decision by the tour to select McGinley ahead of a big name to take on a United States Ryder Cup team lead by the iconic Tom Watson, they could easily have gone for Monty but they actually did the sensible thing and selected the man that has the full backing of the players and that will do things in his own way. The Donegal man may not have the record of a Montgomerie or the high profile, but he does have the passion for the Ryder Cup and there can be little doubt that it is the right decision.

I for one will now look forward to 2014 more than most, with Europe being led by a golfer who grew up playing on a golf course I have caddied on (Dunfanaghy, County Donegal), over a course which I have played many times at a resort I have worked at. Gleneagles 2014 was always going to be special and now the countdown is well and truly on. In the red corner is the United States of America, led by golfing icon Tom Watson, and in the blue corner is Europe, with its Irish talisman at the helm. The Greatest Show in Golf is coming.



During the press conference Rory was asked whether he had the option to use his Scotty Cameron Putter at all. For the majority of Tiger Woods' time with Nike he continued to use the Scotty Cameron and only since the 2010 Open has he used the Nike putter, and the questioner was suggesting a possible similar scenario for Rory. He said that he was really happy with the way the ball was rolling off the club-face and was going to use the Nike Method putter, but it was an answer shrouded in uncertainty, he didn't seem convincing in his delivery. 

And, I can exclusively reveal that the option is on the table. Sources tell me that Rory has 3 months and 6 months respectively where he can return to using the Scotty Cameron Putter and the Titleist Ball. It seems that the Number One ball in golf and the Number One player in golf could, just maybe, still have a future together. 

This sort of thing happens regularly as players try to adapt to a new putter, with the putter and the ball being a very particular piece of equipment for a top professional it is certainly not uncommon for players to outwardly promote a product whilst using one that they are more comfortable with. McIlroy has used the Titleist putters and balls for his entire career including amateur competition, so despite practising with the Nike 20XI X it would be of no surprise to anyone if the World Number One used the Titleist ball again, especially if things don't go as planned over the next few events.

I can also reveal that the spectacular advert launched by Nike featuring Rory and Tiger took place with the wonders of modern technology, as both filmed the ad at separate times to each other. The combination of the underlying contract issues and the fact that the ad is digitally enhanced makes it all seem something its not quite as rosy as it seems on the outside, but these things do tend to go on with every new deal between a company and a major star.


McIlroy joined Tiger Woods and Justin Rose for a special launch photo-call for the 2013 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship this morning in Abu Dhabi and Woods and McIlroy will play together for the first two rounds along with 3-time champion Martin Kaymer, they will tee-off at 7.40am local time on Thursday from the 10th tee (3.40am GMT, 10.40pm EST). Jason Dufner, Francesco Molinari and Branden Grace will precede the star pairing at 7.30am (10), Justin Rose will be joined by Ernie Els and defending champion Robert Rock in the star group of the afternoon starting at 12.05pm local time (8.05am GMT, 3.05am EST).

The prospect of McIlroy, Woods and Kaymer playing together is one which should excite everyone in golf and especially the European Tour as it makes the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship the centre of global golfing attention, launching a series of tournaments comparable with any in the Florida Swing on the PGA Tour. The global nature of the field is confirmed by the 120 players representing Argentina, Australia, Austria, Chile, China, Denmark, England, Spain, Finland, France, Germany, India, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, New Zealand, Paraguay, Portugal, South Africa, Scotland, Sweden, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, United States and Wales – 27 countries from 6 continents.

It is 3.30am GMT, it is pitch black outside and the lights are out in here. I am sat in bed with my laptop ready to watch golf online, madness? Not to me. Wherever, whenever and whatever, I am watching. Golf is like a drug to me, just like it is to a Football fan, which I am but nothing compares to golf for me. And on this freezing January morning I am up to watch what promises to be a special first day's play in the 2013 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship with Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Martin Kaymer taking the attention on the opening morning of the European Tour's Middle East Swing. There was a small but knowledgeable gallery on hand to see the star group start their rounds at 7.40am local time, but the crowd was expected to swell as the morning went on.

The first hole of any round is important, it can set the tone for the round. All three of the leading stars made par at the par five tenth to open their seasons in quiet but steady fashion. Players of all levels are nervous starting out and perhaps even more so when using new clubs in competition for the very first time, and that did show with McIlroy missing the fairway on his first two holes. Despite finding the fairway bunker at the eleventh hole McIlroy made par and was matched by Woods, but Martin Kaymer edged ahead with a nice birdie to move to 1-under after two holes. For Woods and McIlroy it was a quiet start with them really just finding their pace on the greens and their confidence with the longer shots. There is plenty of sand around the National Course at Abu Dhabi Golf Club and Rory McIlroy had found most of it over his first few holes, pushing his tee shot at the short twelfth into the greenside bunker.

Early in the day the course was playing difficult with the lead at 1-under and only three of the first 23 players on the course starting under par for the first few holes. OK this is the middle east but it could quite easily be Palm Springs or Florida, the greens are fast and smooth and the fairways are narrow and flanked by thick, juicy rough. Despite a three-win season and a full year working with a new swing Tiger Woods still doesn't look confident in what he is doing and to be honest his swing looks ugly. Following pars at the twelfth for all three Woods missed the fairway terribly at the short par four thirteenth, in contrast to McIlroy who split the fairway with a stunning drive. Woods was left with no option but to tap his second shot into the sandy waste area after his drive came up against a nasty looking bush, and this led to a bogey for Tiger. Following his super tee shot Rory found a 20 foot putt to record his first birdie to move into a share of the early lead.

McIlroy's early progress was illustrated with misses to the right on several occasions, but this is not something that can be purely attributed to an equipment change as his miss does tend to be to the right. His worst miss to the right came at the par three fifteenth hole, costing the Ulsterman a double-bogey on a hole which Martin Kaymer birdied following a stunning tee shot to less than a foot and Woods matched the German with a fabulous 25-footer. Kaymer then made his third birdie of the round to move to 2-under on the par four sixteenth, stealing the limelight from Woods (PAR) and McIlroy (+1) through the first seven holes.

Throughout the front nine it was clear that the relationship between Woods and McIlroy is genuine, chatting when walking down the fairway and it just totally different to the rivalry and relationship Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have “enjoyed” in the last 17 years. Two birdies in three holes (6 and 8) moved Tiger under par and two strokes clear of the world number one. The birdie blast clearly gave the 14-time Major champion confidence as he unleashed his drive down the fairway at the par five eighteenth hole, out-driving his younger counterparts by a considerable distance.

And it was noticeable that with the new VR_S Covert driver McIlroy was shorter than Tiger throughout the front nine holes. McIlroy played first on the 18th from the fairway and produced a terrible low hook into trouble, the PGA Champion was almost incredulous at hitting such a poor shot and I am sure there will be critics already sharpening their pencils to write about the equipment change, but that was just a very bad swing. In contrast Woods played a fine 3-wood from the fairway into the heart of the green to set up a two-putt birdie to complete nine holes in 34 strokes.

Hands on hips, stood behind the hospitality pavilion McIlroy cut a frustrated figure as the front nine just didn't go as he had hoped or anyone had anticipated. Following a drop the world number one played a fine recovery shot to rescue a par five and complete nine holes in a 1-over-par 37, three behind Woods and Kaymer. The back nine began in quite astonishing fashion for Woods and Kaymer following their fine front nines. Tiger hit an horrendous snap hook with his driver, catching the ground before contact with the ball and it barely made it past the ladies tee some 50 yards ahead of the championship tee. The German followed his American counterpart with an equally awful shot 30 yards offline onto the rocks and into the water down the right, costing him a bogey, and Woods matched Kaymer with a bogey five. In contrast McIlroy played two lovely shots to set up a par which he probably felt should have been a birdie.

2012 Irish Open Jamie Donaldson took the lead after the morning session with a fine five-under-par round of 67 which featured six birdies and one bogey. Donaldson is looking to follow Robert Rock by making the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship his second European Tour title.

The afternoon was predicted to be at least a shot harder because of the traditional wind increasing in strength from around 11.30am, but that certainly didn't stop the third highest ranked player in the field from making a charge at Donaldson's lead. The world number five Justin Rose began with a bogey at the par four first hole but bounced back with six birdies in the next nine holes, before finishing with eight straight pars to tie Jamie Donaldson as the first round leader.

But inevitably all of the talk centred around Rory McIlroy and those Nike clubs.

The world number one said that he felt he hit his irons well but wasn't feeling confident off the tee, McIlroy sighted being a bit rusty after the off-season and said that it was the case of adjusting to the new equipment and the fact he didn't swing as well as he had hoped. The media though have already begun to discuss the new equipment and unless he comes back with a decent round tomorrow the debate will intensify. So Friday is a huge day for Rory McIlroy, he first needs to ensure he makes the cut and then he needs to produce a performance that will convince the media, the fans and most importantly himself that he is on the right track with the new equipment. But I think it is fair to say that one or two rounds, or even one or two tournaments will not provide a conclusive answer.

The wider tournament promises much for the days ahead with five shots covering the top 51 players going into the second day in the desert.

Rory McIlroy slumped to a missed cut in his first tournament of 2013 just days after being revealed as a Nike Athlete on Monday night. I exclusively revealed on Tuesday that McIlroy had the option to use his Scotty Cameron Putter and on Friday he indeed did use his trusty stick, although with very little success.

But back to the golf from day two in the Middle East and I awoke to scenes out of a Christmas card today, with deep snow blanketing the country here it makes watching the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship even more pleasurable even if it's just for the sunshine. It certainly wasn't for watching Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods. The 2013 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship was hyped around the Woods-McIlroy rivalry but unfortunately the only things they were contending for over these first two days was a place in the field over the weekend. Before I go on to write the remainder of this blog I will not be blaming new equipment for the performance of the World Number One, many other players in the field have changed equipment over the winter. McIlroy missed the cut by three shots and as usual was humble, open and honest about where it all went wrong.

Rory admitted that he didn't drive the ball well at all and was struggling all week with his swing, hitting the ball out of the heel and said that he needed more work on the range. The Ulsterman claimed that it was “more the Indian than the arrow” as a reason for his failure to make the cut after two rounds of 75, but he also said he needed to find a driver that he was more comfortable with. The fact that he must have been bitterly disappointed with his performance did not stop him from speaking to the waiting media in a gracious manner and it allows the unique appeal of Rory McIlroy to grow, despite his well below-par performance he will continue to make friends across the world. 

While McIlroy's demise was unexpected and very disappointing it could not compare to the incredible dramatic and shocking manner Tiger Woods exited the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

Having finished his round and posted rounds of 72 and 73 he was set to play the weekend, at just nine behind the leader it seemed that he was back in contention if he could shoot a good score on Saturday. The Sky Sports coverage went to an ad break and returned, as usual, to David Livingstone, he started by saying “let's quickly go live to Tim Barter, who has Tiger Woods with him”, for what I thought was an interview with him to reflect on his battling display and thoughts on making the cut. Astonishingly he started by saying what had happened and then preceded to ask him for more details. European Tour referee Andy McFee had notified Woods that he had taken a drop for his ball being embedded in a sandy area, and this had broken the rules and as such carried a two stroke penalty, this meant that Tiger had posted a 75 and was 3-over-par for 36 holes, above the cut line of 2-over-par.

The incident happened on the fifth hole where his ball went into an area of foliage which was in a sandy area, he sought advice from playing partner Martin Kaymer and then dropped the ball and played out into the fairway. He went on to make a bogey five. But on review the tour officials decided that this was not in accordance with the rules and the score was changed to a triple-bogey seven and Woods was informed after the round. 

"I called Martin over to verify the ball was embedded. We both agreed, but evidently it was sand," he explained. "It's tough. I didn't get off to a very good start and I fought hard. I battled back and got it to where I thought I could play the weekend, and thought I might have a chance, just post two low rounds. But I won’t be able to do that.”

Yet another example of players respecting the rules and the spirit of the rules of golf, and this is just one example of golf, its values and the spirit of sportsmanship within the game. Martin Kaymer attempted to honestly assist Tiger with the issue on the course, but unfortunately the pair reached the incorrect decision and instead of protesting aggressively about his misfortune Tiger accepted the decision with dignity. I will be covering this subject in a Blog next week (see at the bottom of the page for future blogs).

With 2 or the 3 headline golfers gone the role as lead act in Abu Dhabi fell to Justin Rose, and so far he has taken the chance to shine. The WGC-Cadillac Champion holds a one stroke lead as he goes for his first title in the middle east and first win of what he hopes will be another great year. The Englishman added a round of 69 to his opening 67 to play the first two rounds at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club to lead at 8-under-par, one stroke ahead of Jamie Donaldson, Thorbjorn Olesen and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.

Martin Kaymer was the only one of the big three players in the McIlroy-Woods group and he sits four shots back in his attempt to win the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship for a fourth time. Five shots cover the leading 23 players going into the weekend, and with Rose leading and Kaymer in contention we are still looking at several world-class players competing for the first event on the 2013 Middle East Swing.

It is of course deeply disappointing for everyone involved that the world's top two golfers have missed the cut, but it shows just how strong the game is and how many top golfers there are in the game, and in this tournament. They have both given great value to the organisers and McIlroy's presence has brought true global attention to the tournament and the destination with the Nike announcement on Monday. The weekend is for the some of the best of the rest to battle it out for the title in a championship that has arrived at the top table of golf events.

I have to admit that half-way through this final round I was looking ahead to writing my blog with stories in my head about David Howell winning for the first time in 7 years. He had hit the top of the leaderboard with 5 birdies and 6 pars in his first 11 holes to be 13-under and 1 ahead of Justin Rose, but unfortunately disaster struck the former Ryder Cup man in the shape of a shocking four-putt at the 13th hole. The treble-bogey seven followed a bogey four and took the former HSBC Champions winner out of contention, but a top-ten finish will give him more confidence ahead of the upcoming Qatar Masters and Dubai Desert Classic, events he has finished in 2nd and 1st positions respectively.

Following the exits of both world number one Rory McIlroy and world number two Tiger Woods Justin Rose assumed the mantle of star player in the field and he held the lead by two shots coming into the final round and the new, mature Rose was expected to see the job out. A birdie at the par five second hole consolidated his lead early on, but a bogey at the fifth coupled with Howell's early birdies saw the 2012 Ryder Cup hero fall one behind. Going into the back nine the chasing pack had Howell in their sights, but Rose struggled to get a run together to re-establish his lead and birdies at the 11th, 14th and 15th following two on the front nine gave Welshman Jamie Donaldson a two-shot lead at 15-under-par. Donaldson was looking to replicate his good friend Robert Rock's achievement from 12 months ago.

Donaldson's pars at the 16th and 17th saw him take a 2-shot lead to the 72nd hole, his drive found the left hand rough forcing him to lay up. His approach to the green spun back away from the hole which was positioned towards the back left of the green, leaving himself two putts to almost certainly win for the second time. But it was a tricky two-putt, and the Irish Open champion's first putt ran some six feet above the hole. With both Thorbjorn Olesen and Justin Rose tied at 13-under back in the fairway it was vital that he didn't give any hope to his two nearest challengers. However he started the putt just slightly outside the right edge and it didn't come back, meaning a bogey six and he posted a 14-under-par total of 274 and giving both Olesen and Rose one last chance to either overtake him or tie. Both contenders had to lay up and give themselves a chance of a birdie to tie Donaldson.

A week that started with everyone talking about Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods and featured the unveiling of Europe's new Ryder Cup captain has ended with another European Tour star of the future upstaging the best golfers in the world. Donaldson's first win, with respect to Rock, was the Irish Open in front of 100,000 fans and not the Italian Open. He has consistently knocked on the door for wins every season and when it mattered most he performed and converted his opportunity into a massive win, he will now certainly qualify for The Masters via his world ranking and a place in the WGC-Accenture Match Play, WGC-Cadillac Championship, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and WGC-HSBC Champions. The Welshman stands on the verge of joining an illustrious band of British golfers at the top level of the game, competing for the biggest titles in the game, and it is a fact that he already can claim to have won two of golf's top titles in the Irish Open over a Major Championship course and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship against a truly world-class field.

This event proved that the European Tour can compete with the PGA Tour and put on a show to rival any in sport. It was the strongest field outside the Majors and WGC's on the schedule and it had everything a world-class event should.

The 2013 Waste Management Phoenix Open lived up to the hype and justified the enormous crowds which flocked to it. A record 179,022 people attended during the third round and over half a million in total for the week. Phil Mickelson gave them something to be wowed by with a round of 60 on Thursday and he went on to win the tournament by four shots from Brandt Snedeker to claim a third Phoenix Open title, to the delight of the crowds.

I attended the Ricoh Women's British Open as an accredited journalist for the first time for St Andrews Golf Magazine in August, and what a superb event! The action on the golf course was unbelievable, especially on the Sunday and the finish will rank alongside any ever seen on the Old Course. But the organisation, the professionalism and the facilities for the media were outstanding. I had heard previously that this event was small, the 2013 event belied the critics and proved beyond doubt that it is a major event in all departments. The girls of the LPGA and LET proved to be more accessible than their male colleagues and I thanks all that were interviewed for giving me the time of day let alone the time you did.

The week ended with the announcement of the two Solheim Cup teams and the sun shining brightly over the magnificent old links. It was the best week of my career to date.

The Johnnie Walker Championship and Alfred Dunhill Links Championship were both smaller scale events but equally as well run and the way the media were treated by Richemont during the week of the Dunhill was utterly fantastic. A buffet meal and drinks in the Alfred Dunhill Pavilion on Wednesday and a meal in Ham's Hame and tour of Hamilton Grand on the Friday. All three tournaments were among the most dramatic I have ever seen and certainly the most dramatic I have ever been to.

Stacy Lewis won the Ricoh Women's British Open by birdieing the 17th and 18th of the Old Course; Tommy Fleetwood won the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles in a three-man play-off after one of the most remarkable final days ever seen on the European Tour, defeating Ricardo Gonzalez and Stephen Gallacher (Gallacher eagled the last in regulation) for his first European Tour win; David Howell defeated Peter Uihlein in a sudden-death play-off over the 1st and 18th of the Old Course to win the Dunhill, his first win in over 7 years.

All three events were remarkable, and that is what 2013 has been for me.


I started it unemployed, living at home on £72 a week for job-seekers allowance. I was continuing to write my blog, it became more and more popular. I approached a friend with an idea for a golf magazine in St Andrews and now after nearly 12 months I am in a full-time job which is enabling me to fulfil my dreams and forge a career as a golf journalist and business owner.

It has be a thrilling year, not without a few setbacks but in the main 2013 has been a year never to be forgotten for myself.

I played the Old Course for the first time ever, shooting 85 with a double and treble bogey on the front nine.

I have interviewed many famous names in the game and published our first edition of St Andrews Golf Magazine and now the blog is approaching 17,000 views. 2014 is set to be an epic year with the Ryder Cup at my former workplace, Gleneagles; I am hoping to attend the BMW International Open in Germany, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and of course the Alfred Dunhill Links in my new home town of St Andrews.

Just like Adam Scott I have had my annus mirabilis.

Thankyou to the following people for making my memorable year possible and enabling me to turn my life around:

Colin Donaldson
Louise Nixon

Stephen Sweeney
Annette Limmer

Mark Richardson
Lena Singer
Sean Singer
Tiago Rodrigues
Richard Ivan
Anne Hervey
Kevin Kirk
Simon Johnson
Mum and Dad
Ben Owers
Matt Hood
Sofie Langenberg
Philipp Mayrleitner

All of you have contributed in many different ways, large or small to me being where I am today, once again. Thankyou.

This is, as some of you will have noticed, the final ever blog to be posted on the blogspot site. Blogger is a fantastic site and the site will stay online but the time has come to have a more professional presentation and easier to access site. will go live on New Year's Day January 1, 2014. Thanks to everyone who has visited the site, today we stand at over 17,000 views from people in over 80 countries across 6 continents. I am hoping by moving sites the blog will become even more popular because of the domain and new presentation. 

Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr and Linkedin will continue to be used to publish the blog to the widest possible audience.

Thankyou for your support.

Matthew Hooper