An all-star cast list made it another memorable year, with a European Ryder Cup victory at Le Golf National undoubtedly one of the highlights. With the year drawing to a close, looks back on some of the finest moments, from first wins to new formats.
The remarkable rise of Matt Wallace shows no sign of losing pace. After raising eyebrows with five consecutive wins on the satellite Alps Tour in 2016, the Englishman won on the European Tour at the Open de Portugal at Morgado Golf Resort in May 2017. The challenge was to kick on the following season and he did that in some style.
He gave Thomas Bjørn food for thought when the Dane made his Captain’s Picks for The Ryder Cup in Paris, something unimaginable when the last edition took place across the Atlantic. The sky appears to be the limit for a player whose performances continue to impress.
The saying goes that it’s not about falling down, but getting back up. This could have been the mantra for many of last season’s winners. Shubhankar Sharma missed the cut at European Tour Qualifying School in November, but refused to let that define his next 12 months. The Indian qualified for the Joburg Open by virtue of national/regional Order of Merit category, before going on to win by three strokes in South Africa.
He followed it up with the Maybank Championship title in February, before earning an invite to the Masters Tournament. A whirlwind five months showed what’s possible when you refuse to back down.
Tom Lewis also recorded a significant win at the Portugal Masters. Lewis had won the same event in 2011 before enduring a challenging seven years as he attempted to follow up on that breakout win. He finished three clear in the Algarve in September to end a long wait for that seemingly elusive second trophy.
The year 2018 was one of affirmation for Lee Westwood. Despite having 23 European Tour wins to his name, the 45 year old had gone four years without tasting victory. Eager to end his wait for a first title since the 2014 Malaysian Championship, Westwood produced a super Sunday to win the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player in November.
The Englishman cut an emotional figure post-round, delighted to have quashed the seeds of self-doubt that creep into all players after a barren spell. Westwood exuded confidence following a runner-up finish at the Made in Denmark, but the walls came down and the tears arrived after getting over the line in South Africa. That Sunday at Sun City, Westwood described his approach on the 17th as “one of the best shots” he’d ever struck on the way to victory; a fitting reminder of the ability he still possesses in the age of the modern golfer.
Francesco Molinari’s status as one of the world’s top players was already common knowledge. If any doubts lingered, they were extinguished in devastating fashion with his performances in 2018. He joined the decorated list of Rolex Series winners by winning the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, before becoming the Champion Golfer of the Year at Carnoustie. His Open Championship triumph made him the first Italian to win a Major Championship and he rounded the year off with the Race to Dubai crown.
The man from Turin went on a superb run of worldwide form after his win at Wentworth that read – 1st – 2nd – T25 – 1st – T2 – 1st. Molinari also enjoyed a surge up the Official World Golf Ranking and will see in the new year in seventh place. Bellissimo, Frankie.
There have been some special European partnerships down the years. From Seve and Olly to Stenson and Rose, there have always been pairings that show golfers don’t just thrive in an individual arena. The latest duo to add to that list is the aforementioned Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood, or the moniker they’re now better known as: Moliwood.
An incredible 100 per cent record at this year’s Ryder Cup helped Europe to win back the trophy from Jim Furyk’s United States side. A seriously impressive 5&4 win for Moliwood over Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas in the Friday foursomes put Europe into a 3-5 lead heading into the weekend, where they picked up two more points as a pair, before Molinari beat Phil Mickelson in the singles to claim the winning point. From there, Moliwood went viral. The images, interviews and videos of the deadly duo will immortalise the week one of the greatest Ryder Cup partnerships was born.
The Rolex Series may only be in its early years, but the events have already provided us with drama and excitement of the highest order. Molinari got 2018 proceedings under way in style at the BMW PGA Championship, with Thorbjørn Olesen following his future Ryder Cup team-mate up seven days later at the Italian Open. Molinari almost went two-for-two after draining a stunning putt on the 18th, but Olesen held on for a first Rolex Series victory at Gardagolf.
A three-week stretch in the summer saw Alex Noren win his second Rolex Series event at the HNA Open de France, Russell Knox edge out Ryan Fox in a play-off at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and Brandon Stone claim the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open with a final round of 60. The final three events of the season may have spanned three continents, but they had a very English feel to them. Justin Rose successfully defended the Turkish Airlines Open, Lee Westwood claimed his 24th title in South Africa and Danny Willett produced a stirring victory in Dubai after two years of struggle. 2019 has a lot to live up to.
Few golfers can match Eddie Pepperell for insight into the life of a professional golfer. Always candid and never one to sugar-coat a situation, Pepperell has been a firm fan favourite for several years, but went into the 2018 season still looking for a first win. The old phrase about London buses comes to mind. The Oxford-native won the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in February and added a second title at the Sky Sports British Masters eight months later. Pepperell might just remember the second victory more than the first, following an outrageous hole-in-one at Walton Heath.
Success will have been all the sweeter for the hardship he had to endure. Pepperell finished 113th on the Race to Dubai in 2016 and came through six rounds of Q-School to win his tour card back. He couldn’t have believed that two years later he’d be heading into the winter break on the back of two victories and a place inside the top 40 in the OWGR.