European Tour roundtable: Stenson, McIlroy, more
Henrik Stenson wrapped up the European Tour's 2013 season with a DP World Tour Championship win that made him the first to take the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai titles in the same year. But that wasn't the only highlight for the tour – far from it. Here are two of our senior writers, Adam Schupak and Alistair Tait, discussing the season's best as each offers a perspective from a different "side of the pond."
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1. How impressive was Henrik Stenson's season given how low he'd sank on the world ranking?
- Schupak: Stenson kept his accountant busy by winning both money lists, which is a remarkable feat. To do so after coming back from the depths for the second time in his career speaks to how mentally strong an individual he is. It will be fun to see if the Swede can keep it going in 2014. He’s already being hailed as a favorite to win a major title.
- Tait: Stenson’s resurgence was one of the highlights of the European season. This is a guy who sank to 230th on the Official World Golf Ranking, yet has fought his way back to world number three. He was arguably the world’s best golfer for the last half of the year, and I hope it spurs him on to make history in the next few years. No Swedish male has ever won a major championship. Stenson has a great chance of becoming the first.
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2. The Tour's Final Series drew strong criticism from some quarters. Was it justified?
- Schupak: I can’t side with the players on this one. It was longtime PGA Tour pro Jim Colbert who once said that golfers would play on the streets of Laredo for $1 million. That was nearly 30 years ago. Apparently, the money is so big these days that it’s too much trouble to tee it up for a minimum purse of $7 million. I bet when the players who objected to being forced to play in two of the three tournaments leading to the season-ending event were on their way up, they never imagined skipping a chance to play for that type of cash. This is just another example of the entitlement problem that exists in professional golf and the fact that too many paydays now exist on a stacked calendar.
- Tait: Manager Chubby Chandler slammed the European Tour for forcing players to play in two of the three events leading up to the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. Chandler’s player Charl Schwartzel couldn’t commit to two of the three and didn’t play in Dubai. Sergio Garcia and Ernie Els missed out for the same reason. It’s seems absurd to think players can’t find room in their schedule to play eight rounds of golf in three weeks to qualify for the European Tour’s season finale. Els will get no criticism from me given his support for the tour over the years. However, Garcia and Schwartzel are on less firm grounds. They both played in the Nedbank Challenge and the Thailand Golf Championship in the weeks after Dubai. You can bet they were getting appearance fees in Thailand. Maybe Chandler spoke out because he is more interested in making sure he gets his cut of appearance fee money than the interests of the European Tour. However, the real shame is that the negative comments overshadowed a successful first Final Series.
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3. How significant was Rory McIlroy's win in Australia at the end of the year?
- Schupak: It was disturbing to see how quick Rory’s confidence eroded in 2013. While I still expect him to be a world-beater for years to come, his game appears more fragile than I first thought. Expect more highs and lows. The victory to end the season – and the way he overtook Adam Scott in the final round – will make the Christmas ham taste a little better after a forgettable year, but I would like to see more consistent results before I declare he’s back.
- Tait: It might have been the most important victory by a European golfer in 2013. It was no soft win either. He had to overcome Scott in the final round. The season was a write-off for Rory due to a number of factors. Suffice it to say that Rory’s Australian Open victory was timely indeed, and gives hope that Rory’s travails are over. He’s too talented to be playing bit part in the tournaments that really matter. Let’s hope this is the start of a comeback.
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4. Aside from Stenson and McIlroy, who was the surprise package of the 2013 season?
- Schupak: The American duo of Peter Uihlein and Brooks Koepka made quite a splash in Europe. It didn’t take long for more Americans to follow their example at this year’s Euro Tour Q-School. Englishman David Lynn crossed the pond from the other direction, coming to the U.S. for his first full season and showed he’s more than just a merry prankster. He lost a playoff at the Wells Fargo Championship and finished 54th in the FedEx Cup standings. He also went back to Europe and won the Portugal Masters. He wasn’t the only Englishman whose performance was a pleasant surprise. Paul Casey and David Howell both ended victory droughts. But there were also to unpleasant surprises from the Brits: Lee Westwood, after moving his residence to the U.S., went winless – as did Ian Poulter, who failed to build on his Ryder Cup heroics.
- Tait: There were a number of outstanding performances. Matteo Manassero came of age with a huge win in the BMW PGA Championship, the tour’s flagship event. Jamie Donaldson won in Abu Dhabi to prove his 2012 Irish Open win was no fluke. Peter Uihlein won the Madeira Island Open and won the rookie of the year award. However, Joost Luiten was the surprise package for me. The Dutchman won twice to add to his 2011 Iskandar Johor Open. Luiten has a boyish appearance and looks as if he should still be playing amateur golf. Yet he held his own among Europe’s elite this season, finishing 12th on the money list.
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5. What was more impressive, Justin Rose's U.S. Open win or Phil Mickelson winning the Open Championship?
- Schupak: Phil Mickelson finally embraced links golf and it resulted in arguably the most memorable golf of his career. It reminded me of when Andre Agassi won Wimbledon. The experts said that was the major he’d never win. Same with Phil and the Claret Jug. Not to take anything away from Rose, for whom the pieces finally fell in place at Merion. He has the game to win multiple majors.
- Tait: Has to be Rose’s victory. As impressive as Phil was at Muirfield, Rose winning at Merion was bigger. Remember, no English golfer had won the U.S. Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970, while U.S. golfers win the Open Championship with regularity. Phil’s record in the Open hadn’t been the best, but he had posted a second-place finish in 2011. Rose, meanwhile, had missed four of seven cuts in the U.S. Open. He had finished fifth in 2003 and 10th in 2007, but had missed three of four cuts leading up to Merion. Yet his performance was almost Hoganesque, especially the way he played the 72nd hole.