It was unquestionably the most memorable week of the year thus far. Rory McIlroy continued to dominate in Dubai, Brooks Koepka claimed his maiden victory in the States, and the remarkable Lydia Ko ascended to the summit of the world on the LPGA. Oh, and what about Tiger?
With that all being said, let’s recap the week.
Dubai Desert Classic
In Dubai, as was widely expected, Rory McIlroy reaffirmed his status as the best player in the world (by a country mile) by clinching the Desert Classic for the second time in his career.
Six years ago, a 19-year-old McIlroy made the European Tour’s oldest and most iconic Middle East event his first professional title, and he returned in 2015 to claim his 16th – extending his advantage at the summit of the world rankings.
And he made it look so easy. A 72-hole total of 22-under was compiled in the most effortlessly brilliant fashion. At key moments, he seems to play a game beyond every other player in the game. On Sunday, as he shot a final round of 70 to complete a three-shot victory, you were left with the impression that McIlroy could have moved up a couple more gears if he was required to.
That is an illustration of just how good he is. It was tremendous to watch.
Of course, the one caveat for McIlroy is his upcoming court case in Dublin against former management company Horizon. A potentially costly (emotionally as well as monetarily) experience, the 25-year-old’s appearance in the dock could put a sour note on what has been an incredible 12 months for the Northern Irishman. Time will only tell.
Waste Management Phoenix Open
Over in Arizona at the raucous and unique Phoenix Open, over half a million spectators witnessed a fascinating and climactically thrilling event. In the end, it was Brooks Koepka (highly touted by many) who saw off the challenge of Bubba Watson, Hideki Matsuyama, Martin Laird and Ryan Palmer to clinch the first of what will surely be many titles on the PGA Tour.
The powerful 24-year-old took the unusual route (for an American) by establishing his professional career over in Europe. Starting on the Challenge Tour – where he won four times in under a year – the Floridian progressed onto the European Tour with a maiden victory coming at the lucrative Turkish Airlines Open back in November.
Now with victories on three Tours in two years, Koepka has moved to a lofty 19th in the Official World Golf Ranking. 2015 promises to be a further breakthrough year for the American – with this being just the start.
The LPGA’s season opening Coates Championship was one of those events where the winner isn’t actually the biggest story of the week. But it was Na Yeon Choi who clinched her eighth victory on the Tour in Florida. The 2012 US Women’s Open champion benefited from a poor finish from teenage sensation Lydia Ko, who would nonetheless emerge as the story of the tournament.
The 17-year-old may have failed to win a ninth professional title, but her tie for second place finish was enough to see the Korean-born New Zealander ascend to the summit of the Rolex World Ranking. Now the youngest world number one in the history of golf, this truly astonishing talent looks only set to amaze us throughout 2015 in what should be another compelling season on the resurgent LPGA.
Panama Claro Championship
On a week dominated by the young players of today, it was vaguely comforting to see a 40-year-old triumph on the Web.Com Tour. Matt Goggin, the likeable Australian, won for the fifth time on the second tier of American golf in Panama. In the end, a final round of 67 to complete a four shot victory, with the Tasmanian now in strong position to make a return to the PGA Tour next season.
Oh, and a piece of trivia for you. Who partnered the legendary Tom Watson in the final round of the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry? The answer is Matthew Goggin.
Undoubtedly, the biggest talking point of last week was the horrific showing of Tiger Woods in Phoenix. Expectations were comparatively low for the 14-time major champion entering his first official event since the PGA Championship, but few could have expected to see a performance so utterly bereft of quality, cohesion and direction. It was sad to watch.
A second round of 82 (worst of his storied career) saw him in finish at the bottom of the 132 man leaderboard. The score was startling enough, but the manner in which it was compiled was even more alarming. His chipping woes have been well documented, but he quite simply looks lost on the course. Technically and mentally.
Tiger will compete this week at one of his favourite playgrounds – Torrey Pines – but it’s hard to see anything but another long (or short) week for the former world number one who has now fallen out of the world’s top 50. It’s a long way back for Woods.
Everyone will have their ideas on what Tiger has to do in order to recapture some semblance of form, but does anyone really know? The worrying thing is that Tiger doesn’t seem to know. That’s his biggest problem.