The European Tour Year in Review

By Sports NetworkDecember 21, 2007, 5:00 pm
European TourWith many of the top players having typically solid years, a one-time phenom broke through to win the Order of Merit.
Justin Rose burst onto the scene as a teenager at the 1998 British Open, but finally broke through in 2007. He claimed two titles and won the Order of Merit for the first time.
Two European Tour regulars broke through with their first major titles as Angel Cabrera won the U.S. Open and Padraig Harrington took the British Open in a playoff.
There were 18 first-time winners in 2007 topped by Pablo Martin, who won the Open de Portugal as an amateur. He became the first amateur to win on the European Tour.
One year after winning his first Order of Merit title, Padraig Harrington claimed his first major championship.
Harrington, who finished third in the 2007 Order of Merit race, won the British Open in a playoff over four-time European Ryder Cup teammate Sergio Garcia.
The Irishman needed 15 strokes to complete the four-hole playoff, one better than Garcia. The Spaniard had held at least a share of the lead after the first three rounds, but was done in by a two-over 73 in the final round.
Harrington fired a four-under 67 to erase a six-stroke deficit and win his first major title. The victory also snapped a seven-year drought for Europeans as Paul Lawrie's win at the 1999 British had been the last major win for a European.
The Open Championship was played at Carnoustie and the last time it was played there was 1999 when Jean Van de Velde had a disastrous 18th to lose the title to Lawrie.
This year nearly saw a repeat of Van de Velde's meltdown. Harrington led by one on the 18th tee, but stumbled to a double-bogey after finding a burn off the tee.
Garcia, playing behind the Irishman, had to wait while Harrington finished and a raker tended to a greenside bunker. Garcia's second found sand, but he blasted to six feet.
The Spaniard needed that for the win, but he missed. Harrington birdied the first extra hole and Garcia made bogey giving the Irishman a commanding lead.
Harrington parred the next two, then bogeyed the 18th, but it was enough to claim major victory No. 1.
The victory at Carnoustie was Harrington's second of the season as he also claimed his national title, winning the Irish Open in a playoff over Bradley Dredge.
Harrington started and finished the season in strong fashion. He began the '07 season with a pair of top-six finishes, then closed with three top-nine finishes.
In between, he missed just one cut the entire season and that came at the U.S. Open, where he missed the weekend at Oakmont by three shots. His season was so strong he only finished outside the top 25 in three of his 15 starts.
His closing push secured his third-place finish in the Order of Merit race. He has finished in the top seven in that race in eight of the last nine years.
TOURNAMENT OF THE YEAR - A return to dominance
Year in and year out the HSBC World Match Play Championship has one of the strongest fields. The two players who make the final have to play four 36-hole matches.
Much like Fred Couples is the king of the Skins Game, Ernie Els is the king of the HSBC World Match Play.
Contested at Wentworth, where Els owns a home, the event may soon be named after Els. Els dominated U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera, 6 & 4, to win the title for the seventh time.
Els and Cabrera both won their opening matches, 6 & 5, while Els cruised past Andres Romero by the same margin in the second round. Cabrera took out 2006 winner Paul Casey, 4 & 3, in round two.
The semifinals saw both Els and Cabrera battle in their closest matches. Els fended off Henrik Stenson, 3 & 2. Stenson had a strong year in match play events as he won the WGC - Accenture Match Play earlier in the season.
Cabrera held off Hunter Mahan, 2 & 1, to get into the finals against his fellow U.S. Open winner.
Els raced out to a 3-up lead after nine holes, but after that his lead never dipped below 2-up the rest of the way. The first turning point came at the 22nd hole when Els scrambled to a par.
Cabrera had a five foot putt to halve the hole, but could not convert and he slid 4-down. The Argentine got back within 2-down after 27, but Els turned it on down the stretch.
Els drained an 18-footer for birdie at 10, then two-putted for birdie on 12 to extend his lead back to 4-up. He two-putted for par at 13, and that was enough to give him a 5-up lead with five to go.
Els knocked his second to 10 feet and the 14th and was conceded the putt after Cabrera missed the green and could not hole his birdie chip.
SHOT OF THE YEAR - Two hops into the burn
I've played golf for about 20 years now and have caddied for about 10 years as well. Needless to say, I've seen a lot of weird stuff on a golf course.
I have witnessed a hole-in-one where my playing partner seemingly snap-hooked his ball well left of the green until the ball ricocheted off a tree before rolling across the green and into the cup.
About the only shot I've have never seen in person is an albatross, or double- eagle.
Every golfer faces pressure at some point in their career. Standing on the 18th tee with a one-stroke lead in a major championship, when going for your first major championship win, has to among the most pressure-packed moments for a professional golfer.
Padraig Harrington faced just such a moment at the British Open, leading by one on the final tee. Harrington pushed his tee ball right of the fairway towards a burn.
The Irishman's ball bounced not once, but twice, on a small bridge and then into the burn. Harrington scrambled to a double-bogey, then defeated Sergio Garcia in a playoff to win the British Open.
As amazing as it was to watch that shot on television, I saw it again just days later.
I played in a golf outing a few days after the British Open and watched a ball bounce past the tee box I was standing on, then bounce four times on a bridge behind the tee.
Unfortunately for that golfer, his ball also found water beneath the bridge. But it didn't matter since the event we were playing in was a scramble.
ROOKIE OF YEAR - A new German power?
Once upon a time, Bernhard Langer was the leading golfer from Germany. That torch has been passed on, but who is the new German star on the European Tour?
In 2007, it was Martin Kaymer. He was the named the tour's Rookie of the Year.
After missing the cut in six of his first seven starts, Kaymer collected five top-10 finishes and finished in the top 20 11 times in 29 starts.
Kaymer, who did not play in any major or World Golf Championship event, closed with two top-seven finishes. In those two events, he collected over 210,000 euros en route to finishing 41st on the Order of Merit.
His main competition for the award came from Alexander Noren and Alvaro Quiros, who won the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa. Noren finished 63rd on the Order of Merit, while Quiros finished 102nd after missing nearly four months with an injury.
Justin Rose - Since bursting onto the golf scene with a fourth place finish as a teenaged amateur at the 1998 British Open, things have not always gone Justin Rose's way. Rose began to fulfill his potential in 2007 as he won two events, including the season-ending Volvo Masters. That also gave him his first Order of Merit title.
Ernie Els - The South African won twice and posted eight top-five finishes while finishing second to Rose in the Order of Merit race. Made some noise at the end of the year when he skipped the Volvo Masters and a chance to win the Order of Merit.
Henrik Stenson - Despite missing the cut in three of the four majors, Stenson finished fourth on the Order of Merit. Picked up back-to-back wins, one on the European Tour and one on the PGA Tour, early in the season and had six top 10s in a limited schedule. Excluding the World Golf Championship events and the four majors, Stenson played just 10 events on 2007 European Tour International schedule.
Angel Cabrera - Picked up his first major title in winning the U.S. Open and took sixth on the Order of Merit despite making just 13 starts on the European Tour.
Retief Goosen - OK, so he finished ninth in the Order of Merit race, but he had more missed cuts (four) than wins (one). After a tie for second at the Masters, didn't have another top-10 finish in a stroke-play event the rest of the year and fell out of the top 20 in the world rankings.
Marcel Siem - This former winner posted just one top-20 finish and that came in his first start of the year. Fell to 129th on the Order of Merit while missing nine cuts.
Gary Emerson - Made 31 starts but finished 220th on the Order of Merit. He was the only player with more than 30 starts to finish outside the top 175 on the Order of Merit.
Jonathan Lomas - The only player to make 20 or more starts and finish outside the top 225 on the Order of Merit. Lomas picked up four pay checks in 20 starts.
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    G-Mac has Ryder Cup on mind with Genesis in grasp

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 2:12 am

    LOS ANGELES – Graeme McDowell is four years removed from his last start in a Ryder Cup and golf is more than seven months away from this year’s matches, but then it’s never too early to start daydreaming.

    Following a third-round 70 that left him tied for third place and just two strokes off the lead at the Genesis Open, McDowell was asked if the matches are on his mind.

    “I feel like I've got a lot of things to do between now and getting on that team,” he said. “Standing here right now it's probably not a realistic goal, but if I continue to play the way I'm playing for the next few months, it may start to become a realistic goal.”

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    McDowell began his week at Riviera Country Club fresh off four consecutive missed cuts and has drifted to 219th in the Official World Golf Ranking. But his play this week has been encouraging and the Northern Irishman has always relished the opportunity to play for Europe.

    “Deep down I know I'm good enough, but I've got to show, I've got to put some results on the board, I've got to take care of my business,” he said. “The greatest experience of my career bar none, and I would love to play another couple Ryder Cup matches before it's all said and done.”

    McDowell does have a potential advantage this year having won the French Open twice at Le Golf National, site of this year’s matches.

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    Bubba on McGrady block: 'Just trying not to get hurt'

    By Will GrayFebruary 18, 2018, 1:56 am

    LOS ANGELES – A detour to the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game didn’t keep Bubba Watson from leading this week’s Genesis Open, although an on-court brush with Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady nearly derailed his chances for a third tournament win.

    Watson enters the final round at Riviera with a one-shot lead over Patrick Cantlay after firing a 6-under 65 in the third round. The day before, the southpaw left the course around lunch time and headed across town to participate in the All-Star festivities, where during the celebrity game he tried to score 1-on-1 over McGrady.

    Watson’s move into the lane went about as well as you’d expect given their five-inch height disparity, with McGrady easily blocking the ball into the stands. According to Watson, he had only one thought as McGrady came barreling towards him across the lane.

    “When I saw him, all I saw was, ‘This is my moment to get hurt,’” Watson said. “This big tank is about to hit me, and I was like, ‘Just knock it into the stands. Just don’t touch me.’ So it worked out, he didn’t touch me so it was good.”

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    Watson’s attempt went against his wife Angie’s advice to avoid the paint area, but it provided a fun moment for a player used to carving up fairways and greens – not to mention the guy who played 15 seasons in the NBA.

    “Well, he’s got like just under 800 blocks for his career, so I gave him one more, you know?” Watson said. “It was just, it was a blast. I wanted to see how good he was, see if he could miss it. He hasn’t played in a while.”

    Watson took some heat on Twitter from his PGA Tour peers for the rejection, but few were still laughing as he rocketed up the leaderboard Saturday with five birdies and an eagle. Now he has a chance to win this event for the third time since 2014 – even if he doesn’t plan to go toe-to-toe with McGrady again anytime soon.

    “Some guys wanted to try to win MVP, so I was trying to pass it and let them have their fun and their moment,” Watson said. “I was just trying not to get hurt.”

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    Spieth on third-round 69: 'Putter saved me'

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 1:37 am

    LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth has spent the last few weeks talking about his putting for all the wrong reasons.

    Two weeks ago when he missed the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open he lost 3.76 shots to the field in strokes-gained putting, and last week he wasn’t much better.

    It looked like more of the same at the Genesis Open when he lost about a half stroke to the field on Day 1 with 29 putts, but since then his fortunes on the greens have gotten progressively better.

    “I thought each day last week I progressed,” said Spieth, who needed just 24 putts on Friday and moved into a tie for 20th after taking 26 putts on Day 3.

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    Spieth said he started to feel things turn around at Pebble Beach after working with his swing coach Cameron McCormick and Steve Stricker, who has become something of a putting sounding board for players on Tour.

    “I got set up really nice. I got really comfortable on the greens even though they were very difficult to putt last week and this week,” said Spieth, who rolled in a birdie putt of 14 feet at No. 12 and a par putt of 35 feet at No. 14. “Any putt, I either made it or I left it just short today. It was one of those days that with the way I struck the ball, it was an off day, but that putter saved me and allowed me to shoot the lowest score so far this week.”

    Spieth’s third-round 69 is his best of the week and moved him to within seven strokes of the lead, which is held by Bubba Watson.

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    Bouncing back: Watson seeks a third Riviera win

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 1:25 am

    LOS ANGELES – Yeah, but can Tracy McGrady smoke a 7-iron from 203 yards to kick-in range for eagle on Riviera Country Club’s opening hole?

    The way Bubba Watson’s mind drifts there’s no telling if, as he began his day at the Genesis Open, he revisited his play from Friday night at the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. If he did, it would have been an apropos conclusion after McGrady sent his weak floater into the cheap seats midway through the second quarter.

    Either way, Watson made it clear playtime was over on Saturday. The eagle at the opening par 4 ½ sent Watson on his way to a third-round 65 and the outright lead at the Left Coast event that’s starting to feel like a second home for the lefthander.

    In 11 starts at Riviera, Watson already has two victories. A third on Sunday could get folks talking about renaming the layout Bubba’s Alley. Or not.

    What is certain is that Watson has emerged from a funk that sent him tumbling outside the top 100 in the world ranking and he’s done it in quintessential Bubba style.

    If Friday’s detour to the celebrity game received worldwide attention it was only a snapshot of Watson’s Tinseltown itinerary. He taped a segment for Jay Leno’s Garage show, visited with Ellen DeGeneres and watched a taping of The Big Bang Theory. You know, L.A. stuff.

    Oh, and he’s curved and carved his way around Riviera with signature abandon.

    “You've got to hit shots from every different angle, you've got to move it right to left and left to right, so it's just fun,” said Watson, who also led by one stroke when he won here in 2016, his last victory on the PGA Tour. “Then the greens are the equalizer so it makes me look like I putt as good as the other guys.”

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    He “hammered” a 7-iron from 203 yards at the first to 1 ½ feet for his opening eagle, chipped in at the sixth to begin a run of four birdies in five holes and played the three par 5s in 3 under to move into a familiar spot after enduring his worst season on Tour in 2017 when he failed to advance past the second playoff event.

    That he’s turned the tide in Los Angeles is as predictable as it is peculiar. Despite Watson’s record at the Genesis Open, Riviera wouldn’t seem to be the tonic for all that ails Bubba.

    Ask a player - any player will do - the keys to playing Riviera and the answers range wildly from it being a bomber’s course to the need for ball-striking precision. But the word that comes up with regularity is "patience."

    “Patience and pretty much just not being stupid, to be honest,” Justin Thomas said when asked the key to his third-round 67 that left him tied for eighth place. “Just stop trying to hit at pins with 5-irons and 6-irons, and when I hit in the rough, realize just try to make a par. When I get in places, when I'm out of position, realize that sometimes even bogey is what I need to make.”

    While that thought dovetails with conventional wisdom, Watson’s not exactly known for his patience.

    “Oh, for sure I do. Haven't you seen me in the last 12 years?” Watson laughed when asked if he had patience on the course. “The tougher the golf course, the more focus I have. The tougher the shot, I've been able to focus better. When I get my mind on something, I can focus and do pretty well at the game of golf.”

    While Bubba drifts between artist and antagonist with ease, both on and off the golf course, his primary challenge on Sunday is the picture of thoughtful composure.

    Patrick Cantlay, who returned to the Tour last season after struggling with back issues for years, began the third round with a share of the lead but quickly faded on the front nine. He rallied on the closing loop with birdies at Nos. 10, 11 and 18, where he capped his day with a 54-footer that assured him a spot in Sunday’s final threesome. Although he’s just 25 and playing his first full season on Tour, Cantlay’s approach to the game is patently different from Watson’s.

    “I feel like if I can just engage and not worry about where I am on a particular hole or what's going on and I just engage and stay present in whatever I'm doing at that particular time, it all turns out better than what you would expect,” explained Cantlay, who attended nearby UCLA and played dozens of practice rounds at Riviera. “Making sure you stay present and having that confidence in yourself that if you just click in and focus, it all will be good and that's kind of the head space I'm in.”

    It will be a clash of wildly contrasting styles on Sunday – Watson, who admitted he “(doesn’t) focus very well,” and Cantlay, whose approach to the mental side of the game borders on the clinical.

    One player relishes the challenge of hyper-focus, the other is Bubba, but that’s not to say Watson is void of patience, only that he needs to be properly motivated.

    “Like last night when Tracy McGrady was coming at me, I was focused on not getting hurt and I didn't, so it worked out,” Watson smiled.

    And besides, T-Mac can’t bomb it like Bubba.