What odds Rory McIlroy going winless and Paul Dunne being the only Irish golfer to win on Tour this past year? Dunne wrapped himself in British Masters glory and ended only his second full season on Tour as the only player among the country’s top-five to improve his World Ranking compared to this time a year ago. Little wonder Dunne was the Irish Golf Writers Association’s clear choice for ‘Male Golfer of the Year’.
Let’s look back on season 2017 and also predict who may do all the barking in ‘The Year of the Dog’.
Rory McIlroy – B Minus
The sight through his shirt of adhesive tape laid-out on his back in his very first event of the year sadly would speak volumes for Rory McIlroy’s 2017 season. McIlroy gamely fought his way into a play-off in South Africa but soon found himself side-lined for some six weeks, the legacy of ‘over-doing’ it off-season in the testing of new clubs.
The Masters came and went with McIlroy left staring at ‘Take 4’ next April in a quest to join five others in golf’s ultra-unique club.
The former World No. 1 got married soon after Augusta in a lavish Adare Manor bash but admitted at the Players he could not get comfortable in bed alongside his new wife, something that had nothing to do with his marriage but more so his continuing ailing back.
After fighting his way to 4th at The Open McIlroy then sacked long-term caddy, J P Fitzgerald and for the remainder of the season McIlroy simply looked as though he was going through the motions. He had been ‘coaxed’ into contesting the British Masters and finished a surprise runner-up to Paul Dunne.
But a decade after the joy of securing Tour membership on the 18th at St. Andrews McIlroy’s injury-ruined year ended close at the furthermost point on the famed Old Course.
McIlroy is now ranked his lowest in seven years but this ‘elderly’ hound, with his beloved dog headcover, heads into 2018 determined to make-up ground on golf’s younger pups.
Best 2017 result – 2nd British Masters. Lowest round – 63, Day 4, British Masters.
Paul Dunne – A
Paul Dunne had heralded his arrival onto the world stage some two years and just over two months earlier in the 2015 Open at St. Andrews.
Then in April the softly-spoken Greystones golfer found himself slightly blinded by the lights, losing out in a play-off in Morocco.
Though Dunne then struck all the right chords, some six-months and a lucky 13 events later by chipping-in at the last to become the new British Masters champion. In the process Dunne posted a sizzling last day 61 to win by denying Rory McIlroy.
Dunne ended the year 16th on the Race to Dubai and banked a cool Euro 1.7m.
Now on the 25-year old’s New Year’s wish list is invitations onto the PGA Tour.
Best 2017 result – 1st British Masters. Lowest round – 61, Day 4, British Masters.
Shane Lowry – B Plus
The fact Shane Lowry had to wait to his very last event for his lowest score of his season and his highest result doesn’t tell the full picture of his year.
A year ago Lowry became a father, but in the intervening 12-months he lost count of the number of times he’d criss-crossed ‘The Pond’ to be by the side of his wife and daughter.
It took a toll on Lowry’s game and then when he did begin to play well, such as seventh in both the Wyndham Championship and British Masters, sharing the lead with a round to play in Turkey and then shooting a 63 to be runner-up in Dubai, his 2017 season was over.
Suffice to say, Lowry will tee-up mid next month having moved his family to Florida for a six-month Stateside-based assault on the PGA Tour.
There’s also ‘that’ event in September on a golf course where Lowry pocketed his first pro career pay cheque.
Here’s betting Lowry won’t have to again journey to Denmark to try and make the team.
Best 2017 result – 2nd DP World Tour Championship. Lowest round – 63, Day 4, DP World Tour Championship.
Padraig Harrington – B-minus
Like McIlroy, Harrington also went into 2017 injured but it was a stop-start season marred by not one injury but two painful set-backs.
In Harrington’s case he was struggling with a trapped nerve in his right shoulder, the legacy of having slept on a ‘bad’ pillow in the October 2016 Olympic Games.
Harrington had sought plenty of medical opinions but after missing his fourth cut in his opening five events the Dubliner flew home to go under the knife.
He returned to play ‘Jack’s’ event in Ohio but then in hosting a corporate outing an amateur struck Harrington on the left elbow which meant missing another month, only to return to miss the cut in the Royal Birkdale Open when he’d won in 2008 along with the PGA Championship.
After ending his PGA Tour season 200th on the money list it means Harrington needs to rely on invitations in 2018 with the first of those at the January 15th starting Farmers Insurance.
But given Harrington’s enormous appeal those invitations should not be in short supply.
Best 2017 result – 4th Turkish Airlines Open. Lowest round – 64, Day 3, Turkish Airlines Open.
Graeme McDowell – C Plus
There’s a line in The Shawshank Redemption where the warden cries out: “Lord! It’s a miracle! Man up and vanished like a fart in the wind.”
Graeme McDowell didn’t vanish but he certainly went missing in 2017 failing to post a single top-10 in 23 events either side of the Atlantic.
GMac heads into his 16th season with his poorest World Ranking since winning his second pro event early in 2004. But then the former U.S. Open champ has never been one to take a backward step and with a new fitness coach in tow McDowell’s determined to correct the slide.
And let’s not forget September’s Ryder Cup showdown in suburban Versailles. It’s a golf course where McDowell won back-to-back French Open titles.
Best 2017 result – T13th Dubai Desert Classic. Lowest round – 66. Day 1, Qatar Masters & Day 1, Dean & Deluca.
Irish Golfer World Ranking Standings – As at 31st December, 2017 (2016 in brackets)
11 – Rory McIlroy (2nd)
62 – Shane Lowry (43rd)
75 – Paul Dunne (275th)
150 -Padraig Harrington (115th)
185 – Graeme McDowell (185th)
339 – Seamus Power (347th)
350 – Gavin Moynihan (1203rd)
693 – Darren Clarke (1361st)