What does 2018 have in store for the world of golf? Here are my thoughts on what I think could be a very special year for European golf in particular.
Return of a legend
For me, 2018 is all about one player – one who many people thought was done: Tiger Woods. He’s 42 now, and has struggled badly with the back injury that has prevented him from playing for the best part of the last two seasons. But, he’s still Tiger Woods, and that means he has the ability and the fierce competitiveness that only someone who has 79 PGA Tour victories to his name can deploy. He’s making his return to the PGA Tour in January this year at a course that he has already had a considerable amount of success at – Torrey Pines near San Diego. He’s won there before, eight times, picking up seven tour wins and a US Open title, so it will hopefully be a happy return for this legendary player. Fitness has been a huge issue for Tiger recently – it’s been a long time since managed more than 15 starts in a PGA Tour (way back in 2013) – so I’ll be watching him closely this year to see how he gets on.
… and the return of the Ryder Cup
For only the second time in its long and illustrious history, the Ryder Cup will be held on continental Europe. Like most golf fans, I’ve got a real soft spot for this biennial head-to-head between the US and Europe’s best players – it’s thrown up some memorable moments over the years. What sports fan couldn’t fall in love with the game when it gives you drama like Ian Poulter’s five birdies in a row to kick-start Europe’s comeback in 2012. Or, who could fail to be moved by the sight of the recently bereaved Darren Clarke’s emotional round with Lee Westwood, which played such an important role in Europe’s victory that year. The Ryder Cup really is something special, and I’m hugely excited to see what will unfold in Paris this year. The course looks a testing one too – L’Albatros has been described by Lee Westwood as his favourite course in Europe, so it should be a fitting setting for this iconic event.
One to watch
It’s got to be Paul Casey. He’s been away from the European Tour for the last three years, but now he’s back, and that’s great news for Europe – especially as 2018 is a Ryder Cup year. Only players who are members of the European Tour can qualify for the European Ryder Cup team or can be picked for wild cards, so this is a real boost for a team who will fancy their chances in Paris this September. I think this could be a huge year, not just for Paul, who I think could easily pick up his first major, but also for European golf as a whole, with the potential for a big win over the US in Paris. Here’s hoping anyway.
Time for a Grand Slam?
Remarkably, this year could see three different players complete their own career grand slams of major titles. Only five players have done this in the Masters era – Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen – but this year could see those elite ranks swelling. Rory McIlroy just needs to add the Masters, Phil Mickelson the U.S. Open and Jordan Spieth the PGA Championship in order to be ranked along these former greats – and I’m really looking forward to seeing if any of them manage it.
A very special course
I also have a personal golfing ambition this year. You may have seen the recent news stories about the possibility of part of the historic Fanling course in Hong Kong being used to build a new housing development. Of course there are arguments either way on this matter – and the Hong Kong Golf Club’s lease on the course doesn’t run out until 2020 anyway – but I’m going to do my best to play as much golf as I can on this beautiful course over 2018. I’ve made some good friends out on the greens here, and shared some memorable moments on what can be an incredibly testing course. So, I’m determined to make sure that I spend more time on Fanling this year, whether or not its time is running out.