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Ten reasons to be cheerful about 2010

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Iain Carter | 14:42 UK time, Monday, 21 December 2009

There should be no doubt that 2010 has the potential to be a vintage year for golf. Forget for a moment the credit crunch, the gaps in the calendar, the tournaments under threat and the sponsorship deals still to be done.

Leave aside the current troubles of the sport's top player and instead look ahead to what should be a fantastic twelve months for golf fans. Here are ten reasons to be cheerful in 2010:

1. New rules on groove size and shape: This will add a fascinating dimension to the new season. Groove edges in the professional game will have to be more rounded and will have less depth. The result should be less control on shots from the rough so there will be a greater premium on finding fairways from the tee. "As much as it won't suit my game, it is a good decision," says three-time major winner Padraig Harrington. The feeling among the pros is that the move will put the onus on skill and accuracy and courses will be able to chop back some of the rough that has become such a negative aspect to course set-up in recent years. Seems like a win, win situation, while there is plenty of grace time for the rest with the new rules not kicking in until 2014 at elite amateur level and 2024 for the rest of us.

2. The Ryder Cup: 2009 didn't lack for excitement or drama, but Ryder Cup years always seem to have that extra dimension. Yes we over obsess on this biennial clash between Europe and the US but the intrigue of the qualification period provides a strong narrative for the season and the match itself never fails to deliver. The October date at Celtic Manor provides concern over autumnal conditions in the Usk Valley but this already feels as though it will be a very special match, especially with Europe so desperate to recapture the trophy. Judging by the 2009 year end rankings we will be watching the best players in the world, Europe and America each have 11 players in the world's top 30. The captains, Colin Montgomerie and Corey Pavin are such strong competitors they will be their own sources of interest throughout the year and once again golf will be able to transcend and attract general sports fans as well as die-hard golf enthusiasts. Bring it on.

3. The Return of Tiger part 1: Who knows when it will happen, but when it does it will be one of THE sports stories of 2010. Speculation is rife as to what "indefinite" means. Some say he will skip the entire year, but that seems unlikely. The odds are more likely on a return in time for the Masters. The carefully managed media side at Augusta would make the first major of the year an attractive idea for Woods (TMZ would struggle for accreditation), but he would surely want some competitive action before continuing his quest to overhaul Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 big ones. Could his season start at the Match Play as it did in 2009? What would be the message of returning at an event backed by one of the companies that dropped him from their sponsorship roster in the wake of the revelations about his private life? A trip to Uncle Arnie's place at Bay Hill is another option, but in reality how could we possibly know where Woods will tee up next when in all probability he has no idea? What is certain is that when he does come back golf will immediately jump towards the top of the sporting agenda.

Tiger WoodsTiger Woods is taking an "indefinite" break from golf following revelations about his private life


4. The return of Tiger part 2: Quote of the year in 2009 came from Johnny Miller ahead of the final round at Bay Hill: "When you are paired in the final group with Tiger Woods you are the butter and he is the sun." Opposition has nearly always melted in Woods' presence if he has a sniff of a title. That's why YE Yang's US PGA victory was so special at Hazeltine, prompting "the end of an aura" type headlines. Well that message has been trotted out plenty since Tiger's troubles showed him to be as prone to human frailties as anyone else. So will the opposition continue to be as meek on a Sunday back nine as it has been throughout much of Woods' career? He needs five more majors to overhaul Nicklaus. As Peter Alliss recently said if Woods wins those the size of that achievement would dwarf anything he has already done in his glittering career. In any case when he does come back the competitive story will be strong enough to have us talking golf far more readily than the stuff that's been dominating the winter agenda so far.

5. Lee Westwood: Europe's number one doesn't believe much in mind gurus, the chaps who encourage clients to set their goals and keep them secret. We know the targets Westwood has in his sights and he is happy to tell us. Immediately after winning the Dubai World Championship he was discussing how he can use this success in his bid to win the Masters in April. For the Englishman it's simple. The one thing he hasn't won is majors and everything will be pointed at satisfying that aim. Emboldened by his recent wins in Portugal and in the desert, having finished the year as world number four and with the best caddie in the business, Billy Foster, on his bag 2010 is surely the year for the big breakthrough. He is now ready to seize the moment. He had the opportunity to do so at Turnberry and couldn't manage it. Expect him not to make the same mistakes again given the chance in 2010. Remember the groove factor too - Westwood is long but accurate from the tee a quality that should now have a higher premium.

6. Rory McIlroy: 20 years old and already a member of the world's top 10 and he looks at home there. His stats bear a striking resemblance to those of a 19-year-old Seve Ballesteros in 1976 - when the Spaniard won once en route to taking the Order of Merit crown - though the golfing world was a somewhat different place then. Only Westwood's brilliance denied McIlroy the Race to Dubai crown and the teenager will have learned plenty from the way the experienced Westwood bullied his way past him in Dubai. Mark O'Meara, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Ian Poulter were all among those who sang loudly McIlroy's praises in the course of 2009. From tee to green there are few better and only with the short stick is there much room for improvement. So long as he ensures he has the right voices around him on and off the course, 2010 could prove his lift-off year that should include a Ryder Cup debut.

7. Padraig Harrington: The man who shattered the glass ceiling that had frosted over European golf for far too long had a relatively quiet 2009. But from the moment he surrendered his Open title at Turnberry the Irishman appeared to have turned a significant corner, though uncharacteristically ruinous final round visits to the drink did for his chances at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and US PGA. He was, though, a consistent performer in the second half of the year and while the economic downturn hit some of his investments hard, Harrington appears in the mood to challenge at the majors in 2010. He also has a point or two to prove at the Ryder Cup having failed to fire in the two previous matches. Another big year would mean plenty of visits to the interview room and so an enlightening year for those of us sitting listening.

8. Pebble Beach: The iconic home of the US Open, it is 10 years since America's national championship was last played on this special piece of California coastline and so anticipation could not be higher for the second major of the year. We'd be feeling the same about our own Open being played at St Andrews if the R&A could bring themselves to limit the number of times they use the Home of Golf, but that's another matter and this is supposed to be an upbeat piece. We remember Watson's chip in at the 17th to defy Nicklaus, Kite flying in the wind to deny Monty and Woods winning by fifteen shots a decade ago. Pebble never fails to deliver.

9. The extended Road Hole: Opinion is split on the putting back of the 17th tee on the Old Course at St Andrews by 35 yards. A collective groan often meets news of a course being extended to cope with the distances travelled by the modern day golf ball. But if this move makes the famous Road Hole once again the most feared par 4 in the game at this year's Open then it should be welcomed. We want a player with a two-shot lead not to feel comfortable until this hole has been completed. But here's also a chance to get rid of the rough down the right-hand side which was a blight on this majestic hole.

10. Chris Wood's headgear: Or rather the lack of it. How refreshing to see a top player rejecting the opportunity to use his head as an advertising hoarding and here's hoping he continues with this policy in 2010. Think of the greats of the past and how distinctive they were in the absence of standard issue hats or visors - Nicklaus, Seve and co. Those who chose to wear hats had their own style - Watson, Trevino and Hogan for example. Too many of the modern players look too similar and the peaks of those caps obscure too much of their personality. Wood has been the exception and long may it continue. He climbed 120 places in the rankings in 2009 and now into the top 75 the eilte leading 50 spots in the rankings is surely within touching distance. Hats off to Wood!

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Cant wait for golf next year. I fancy Harrington for another major. He really improved his game in the second half of the year and contended most weeks in the states. Plus McElroy plaing in the states next year should be a joy. This guy is the real deal and if he can just concentrate more when he's putting he will comtend every week. Tiger will come back for The Masters I am sure but I dont reckon he will be the same player for a while. I reckon Harrington will win The Masters, Westwood The US Open, St. Andrews is a putting competition and there is no one better than Stricker who will win that and The US PGA-well who would bet against McElroy? As for The Ryder Cup-well it's always hige isnt it. Can't wait!

  • Comment number 2.

    There is lots of potential for the Europeans.....oh yes like every year and still the Americans come up with the Majors. To even think Europeans will win the Majors is foolhardy and doesnt bare any resemblance to what we have witnessed in recent years which has been pretty poor - Fisher and Westwood at this years Open...although Fisher I would have a quiet bet on.
    As for Harrington....extremely fortunate to have won the Majors he has and you know who wasnt present of course.. we now know what he was getting up during his 'recovery' last year :)
    I know this is negative and I know this will get challenged but the Noughties have not been good for European and English Golf in the Majors and until the 'Potentials' deliver the goods I cant get excited like I did as a Kid in the later 80's/Early 90's.

  • Comment number 3.

    How can you say Harrington has been lucky? Woods played in the 2007 British Open which Harrington won. He wasnt here in 2008 but do you remember the conditions at Birkdale in 2008? Harrington won because the wind blew. Woods hates it when the weathers bad-he would not have lived with Harrington. The PGA could have gone either way but Woods does not win every major he plays in or hadnt you noticed? Europe now has 9 players in the worlds top 18. The US only has 7. Its the strongest europe has ever been. I think europe will dominate the majors next year.

  • Comment number 4.


    Miltonfast: "oh yes like every year and still the Americans come up with the Majors."

    Can I just point out to you that over the last three years, Majors have been won twice by an Argentinean, three times by an Irishman, once by a South African, Once by a South Korean and only 5 times by Americans.

    So to suggest that Americans always win majors is a weak point at best.

    I believe we could have a good chance of a British or European winner in 2010, 5 player in the Top 10 would suggest so especially if Mr. Woods stays a home for a while.


  • Comment number 5.

    2010 is going to be a fantastic year for golf, mainly, it goes without saying, due to the return of tiger woods. No matter what is going on in his private life, tiger woods was born to play golf, and in a year when the US Open and The Open Championship return to venues at which he has won convincingly, to say the least, in the past, it will be fascinating to see how he competes.

    Personally, I think we may well see a Tiger Woods more determined than ever to win golf tournaments. He will have had time to think about his problems and hopefully resolve them, and he will come out a better man, with a clearer mind, and 100% focussed on the job at hand - golf.

    It would not surprise me to see him win at least 2 majors in 2010 - I think the Masters would be asking too much considering the lack of margin for error at Augusta, especially off the tee, arguably the weakest part of Tiger's game. However, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews hold fond memories for Tiger, and this will inspire him yet more to perform at his devastating best.

    I cannot wait for 2010 and look forward to viewing some spectacular golf.

  • Comment number 6.

    It will be the most interesting year in golf since 1997 and Tiger's arrival. He will be back for Augusta by the way. Westwood will win it, Mcilroy the US Open, Tom Watson at St. Andrews by 10 shots and Monty and the USPGA just in time for the ryder cup. I'm off down the bookies.

  • Comment number 7.

    Re: No 10. I almost assume that if a player isn't wearing a sponsor's name on his cap then no-one bought the space.

    If Chris Woods does reject it by choice then what is the exact reason? Think Ryan Moore on the PGA Tour doesn't do sponsored logos by choice. Good young player too although he's got a swing that looks like the last girl left in the disco.

    I've always thought that if racing is the sport of Kings then golf is the sport of businessmen so it's nice to some players out of that box.

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    Just to come back on some of my challengers above...
    Harrington was extremely lucky in the 2008 at Carnoustie when Sergio -the best Iron player gave him the title !!

    As for the Americans - there are still more in top 20 than UK folk.

    We all know the Europeans have good 1st,2nd and even 3rd rounds and then falter ! Look at Westwood he should of least made the Playoff at this years Open !

  • Comment number 10.

    I'm sorry, but I don't share Iain's enthusiasm about the forthcoming Ryder cup. This event is fast becoming a biennial bore, and if the truth be known, the top echelon of players now regard this non event as an inconvenience. Most golf fans know how many majors Nicklaus and Woods have won. How many Ryder cups have they played in? Who cares? In the same way Sky can build up a Bolton v Hull game, they will bombard us with over hyped Ryder cup nonsense for the next 9 months. Roll on The Open!

  • Comment number 11.

    miltonfast,
    9 Europeans in the top 20, 8 Americans; let's hope this is a foretaste of what is to come in the Majors. The rest of your stuff is as factually challenged as it is gramatically flawed.

    Iain,
    To what extent do you think the PGA Tour is trying to undermine the Ryder Cup?
    What with holding the Coca Cola finale to the FedEx the week before, to affiliation with Asian tournaments just after, it does seem the Ryder Cup has the potential to become marginalised as yamser43 suggests.
    After all, the PGA Tour has nothing to gain from the Ryder Cup - perhaps it could become bigger to fans than it is to players?
    Finchem (and Tiger Inc) is all about money; perhaps the events of the past month have shown that there should still be room for integrity and tradition?

  • Comment number 12.

    Well I better reply to Kwiniaskagolfer...

    There is nothing unfactual about the fact that the Europeans are way behind the Americans in terms of major championships. Stewart Cink at the Open last year was a casing point... he was able to hold his nerve Westwood could not.

    Have we forgot in the late 1990s how hyped Sergio was ? Ten years on we are still waiting for him to make the breakthrough and likewise Westwood. I fear Rory Mcilroy may go the same way...although Tigers dominance may be declining.

    Until we get the 'breakthrough' of the Potentials winning Major Championship they can't hold a carrott to Faldo, Lyle, Woosnam and Olazabal !!

  • Comment number 13.

    I do not see any evidence that the Ryder Cup is becoming marginalised and the suggestions that it has become boring or that the top players see it as an inconvenience are quite simply laughable. Certainly on the European side you cannot read any interview with a leading player at the moment without him mentioning Ryder Cup qualification as a major goal for 2010. In terms of interest around the world I would contend that is bigger than any of the individual major tournaments.

    My big golfing hopes for 2010:
    1. Europe wins back the Ryder Cup
    2. Europeans (don't care where they come from) win at least one Major.
    3. I get my handicap back down to 7 or better.

  • Comment number 14.

    Milton, Let's start with Harrington/Carnoustie/2008 and you can figure the rest out.

    golferHH,
    Wasn't saying the Europeans are dissing the RC, but that the PGA Tour appears to me to be marginalising it. Frankly, there's no incentive for them to do otherwise, no money to the Tour, nothing really except team pride in an individual sport. FedEx dollars will trump American pride/tradition any day of the week.

  • Comment number 15.

    The Americans don't give one about the Ryder Cup, and to be honest when I see an interview with Monty 12 months before the event which only lasts for 3 days it suggests the Ryder Cup is being overhyped AGAIN. There is a lot to happen before the RC and to talk about it already is ridiculous. It gets boring listening to the European press talk about it so much so far away from the time. As seen in the past, when the USA actually try they tend to win it anyway. Don't get me wrong the golfing spectacle is amazing and I will look forward to it after the USPGA but for now, lets talk about the upcoming golf schedule. Interesting to read on Oli Wilson's Twitter that the groove change won't make a difference because the rough is too thick anyway

  • Comment number 16.

    Miltonfast-First of all lets clear one thing up-Harrington's 2008 Open win was at Royal Birkdale not Carnoustie. 2007 was Carnoustie-and where was Wodds in 2007? No where. As for saying not holding a candle to greats like Lyle (2 majors), Olazabal (2 majors) and Woosnam (1 major) Harrington has won 3 majors ad as such will always be considered a better player than those 3.And if you followed golf in the second half of the year in the US-Harrington was contending every week. He has most definately put his problems behind him and he has the priceless attribute of knowing how to win a major.

  • Comment number 17.

    Harringtons Majors will always have a asterisk as Tiger was not present.

    as for the rest of the European charge for Majors no where.

  • Comment number 18.

    I have long held a "bet" with my mates that Sergio will never win a major because quite simply he can't putt. Yes he can get streaky but it never holds under pressure. Putt on last at Carnoustie.

    This is a similar discussion that Ernie is a choker. Brilliant brilliant player who one the US Open against Monty, The Open in a play-off against Levet et al after trying to lose it, and has put so many in the water on the 72nd hole I've given up counting. Gutted for him as he's a top bloke and a brilliant player but he should have won more majors.

    Rory will not be like Sergio because quite simply he has gone to be taught by the best putting coach in the land Dr Paul Hurrion. The same bloke that made Padraig the putter he is.

    Of course ball striking matters hugely but what matters most is technique on the greens under the severest of pressure. Come on Rory!

  • Comment number 19.

    Harrington is clearly a great golfer, but is just another foreign golfer in my book. Both McIlroy and McDowell decided to play for the Irish Republic in the recent World Cup at Mission Hills in China, instead of their native Northern Ireland, which puts them in the same boat. Their choice, of course, but they can't have it both ways (but apparently they can where golf is concerned?). I want to see a major won by an Englishman. Casey or Westwood seem to be the most likely to mount a serious major challenge, but Rose, Donald, Woods and Poulter could also feature. One thing is for sure. England has a great crop of golfers at the moment and I can only see that continuing into the future.

  • Comment number 20.

    longshanks,

    There is no Northern Ireland in international golf, nor is there a Republic of Ireland, there is only Ireland. This article explains it to some extent, and also points out that McIlroy has gone on record as saying that he would 'probably' choose to represent Great Britain in the Olympics.
    http://www.breakingnews.ie/sport/?c=golf&e=examiner&jp=kfaucwcwkfid

  • Comment number 21.

    Thanks for the link. The article makes interesting reading, as it demonstrates the writer's complete lack of understanding of the geography of the British Isles. Rory McIlroy does not have a British passport, he has a United Kingdom passport. And Great Britain does not compete at the Olympics, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (to give its full title) competes at the Olympics. McIlroy is a cracking lad and a great golfer to boot. Unlikely to make the Diplomatic Corps any time soon though. I enjoy watching him play, but would sooner see an Englishman (any Englishman) win whatever the competition.

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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