European Tour Year in Review


European TourPHILADELPHIA -- The coveted Order of Merit title brings many things with it, including a lengthy tour exemption. In 2005, Colin Montgomerie claimed his eighth Order of Merit crown.
The battle for that title in 2006 was long and intense. As the battle wound down to the final few weeks, there were four players battling for the top spot and it came down to the final tournament of the year to determine a winner.
Paul Casey
Paul Casey didn't win the money title, but he did enough to earn Player of the Year honors.
Like the Order of Merit title, there were four players at the top of the charts for Player of the Year -- Robert Karlsson, David Howell, Paul Casey and Padraig Harrington.
Karlsson needed at least back-to-back top-5 finishes in the final two events on the 2006 schedule, but shared eighth and 21st instead. That left him in fourth place in the Order of Merit race.
Howell opened the 2006 International Schedule by out-dueling world No. 1 Tiger Woods for the HSBC Champions Tournament title, which gave Howell the early lead in the Order of Merit race.
The 31-year-old Howell maintained that lead into early September thanks to another win at the BMW Championship. A shoulder injury slowed Howell towards the latter part of the season and that cost him the Order of Merit crown.
With his win at the HSBC World Match Play Championship, Casey knocked Howell out of the top spot in the Order of Merit race. In the end, however, Harrington inched passed Casey for the Order of Merit title after sharing second place at the season-ending Volvo Masters.
Many would consider the Order of Merit winner, Harrington, the Player of the Year. However, Casey gets the nod here.
It comes down to a few simple things.
Casey won three times during the '06 season. He opened the 2006 International Schedule with a playoff win at the season's second event, the Volvo China Open.
Casey later picked up wins at the Johnnie Walker Classic and the HSBC. For the season, the Englishman posted 11 top-10 finishes in 25 starts.
Harrington was nearly as good with a win (dunhill links championship), three second-place finishes and eight top-10s in 20 starts. The tie breaker was Casey's performance in the Ryder Cup.
The Europeans rolled to a huge win for the second straight Ryder Cup and Casey was one of the main reasons for that. He posted a 2-0-2 record that included a hole-in-one to win his Saturday foursomes match.
Casey gets the nod over Harrington thanks to two more wins, one more top-5 finish and three more top-10 finishes than Harrington. Also because the Irishman struggled to an 0-3-1 mark at the Ryder Cup.
The tournament of the year, of course, includes world No. 1 Tiger Woods. With a leaderboard dotted with top players -- Ernie Els, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Retief Goosen, Darren Clarke and Paul Casey -- it was Woods who battled through the stellar field to come out on top.
Woods was still shaking off the rust of a six-week layoff when he headed to the United Arab Emirates for the Dubai Desert Classic. Granted, Woods was coming off a playoff win at the PGA TOUR's Buick Invitational, but the field in Dubai was poised to give him a battle.
Playing for the second straight week, Woods again needed an extra session to earn the title. Els, at the time ranked fifth in the world rankings, closed with a 5-under 67 to end at 19 under par.
Woods needed to finish birdie-birdie to force a playoff, and he did just that. Not only did he join Els at minus-19, but Richard Green was just one stroke behind that duo, while Anders Hansen and Jimenez finished two back at 17 under par.
The playoff between Woods and Els did not last as long as their epic playoff at the 2003 Presidents Cup. Els found the trees off the tee, then water with his second shot.
Woods managed to knock his second shot onto the back of the green and got down in three for par.
Els took his drop from the water and found the putting surface with his fourth. He missed his par putt and yielded to Woods, who finished off his 25th European Tour win. Woods has claimed four more European titles since then.
The loss for Els was especially hard to take since he had played the par-5 18th in minus-5 through the four rounds of regulation.
The Shot of the Year was also a tough choice. Though it did not happen in a regular-stroke play event, maybe the most stunning shot of the year was Paul Casey's hole-in-one at the Ryder Cup.
That ace closed out a 5-and-4 win for Casey and Howell over Americans Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson. It was the sixth ace in Ryder Cup history. On Sunday, American Scott Verplank aced the 14th to help him beat Padraig Harrington.
Once again, though, we will yield to the top player in the game for the shot of the year.
While en route to successfully defending his crown at the British Open, Tiger Woods drained the longest eagle of this year's Open Championship at Royal Liverpool. Sure, plenty of long eagle putts were converted, but Woods didn't have his putter in hand when this shot dropped.
Standing in the middle of the 14th fairway during Friday's second round, Woods could not even see the flag stick. The 30-year-old pulled his four-iron out of his bag and took aim.
'I never saw it. I didn't see the flag,' admitted Woods, who had won his first two British Open titles at St. Andrews. 'Just left of the TV towers was where I was aiming. I was trying to hold it on the wind. I hit it pretty good.'
Woods' approach shot landed some 15 feet from the hole and bounced a couple of times. Once it got rolling, the ball tracked right into the cup for the eagle. It was one of several eagles on the week for Woods.
Nonetheless, it was important, as Woods need every shot he could pull off. He eventually fended off Chris DiMarco by two strokes for the win.
Two of the top three choices for Rookie of the Year entered the winner's circle in their inaugural campaign on the European Tour.
Ross Fisher had a flying start with four top-10s in his first eight starts before ending 66th on the Order of Merit. Spaniard Alejandro Canizares won the Russian Open in only his fourth start on tour, but still could not manage to crack the top-100 on the Order of Merit.
Rookie of the Year goes to Marc Warren, the Scotsman who won the Scandinavian Masters title to go along with two other top-5 finishes and four top-10s overall.
Warren showed some inconsistency as a rookie, making just 12 of 28 cuts, but he played well enough in those 12 events to earn enough money to finish 42nd on the Order of Merit.
The aforementioned race for the Order of Merit involved four golfers who had good years -- Robert Karlsson, David Howell, Paul Casey and Padraig Harrington. Casey and Harrington's exploits were discussed.
Howell won twice and claimed seven top-10 finishes en route to finishing third in the Order of Merit race.
Karlsson started the year off slowly with three missed cuts in his first 12 starts and had just one top-10 finish. In his final 17 events, Karlsson posted seven top-10s, including a win at the Wales Open.
On the strength of three victories, Johan Edfors soared to a career-best 10th place finish in the Order of Merit. His wins came at the TCL Classic, the British Masters and the Scottish Open. Edfors did have just one other top-10, but three wins is a solid season for almost anyone .
Jeev Milkha Singh did miss five cuts in 2006, but he owned the Volvo tournaments. He claimed the Volvo China Open in April by a stroke over 2005 Rookie of the Year Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.
At the season's final tournament, the Volvo Masters, Singh held off the likes of Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington to win for the second time on the season.
A year after a career-best third place finish in the Order of Merit, Paul McGinley struggled to a 52nd place finish this year. The Irishman had more missed cuts (four) than top-10 finishes (three).
Kenneth Ferrie missed nine cuts and had to withdraw from the British Open, as he tumbled to 54th in the Order of Merit one year after finishing 11th on that list.
After nine straight years finishing in the top-75 in the Order of Merit and a failed attempt in 2005 at joining the PGA TOUR full time, Phillip Price returned to the European Tour in 2006.
He didn't find much success, either. He struggled to 11 missed cuts, while earning a third-place finish at the Madrid Open. That was just one of two top-20 finishes on the season for the Welshman.
If you scroll way down the Order of Merit, you'll eventually run into Marten Olander. The Swede started 25 events during the 2006 season, but made the cut just three times.
Olander finished the year by missing 11 straight cuts. He also missed the weekend 17 of the last 18 times he teed it up in '06.
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