Bunker Mentality

Bunker Mentality: The best of 2009

Bunker Mentality

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Greatest tournament of 2009: Race to Dubai

After the tedious mess that the FedEx Cup has already become in its first few years, pre-season hopes were suitably low ahead of the inaugural European Tour Race to Dubai. But by refusing to fiddle unnecessarily with the pre-existing formula of the old-style Order of Merit, the European Tour enjoyed a cracking season finale that came down to the back nine on the final day's play before Lee Westwood earned the title. After 12 months of golf and fifty tournaments from Ireland to New Zealand and everywhere in between, you can't say much fairer than that.

Greatest shot of 2009: Angel Cabrera's pitch on the first play-off hole at the Masters

The obvious choice is Yang Yong-eun's sublime hybrid shot to six feet on the final hole to clinch the US PGA Championship ahead of Tiger Woods. But as brilliant as that shot was, BM is going to go for something a little different: Angel Cabrera's recovery shot to stay in the three-man play-off at the Masters. After slicing his drive deep into the woods it looked as if his challenge was over, the more so when his attempted recovery clattered off a tree and into the fairway. But his brilliant wedge to six feet kept him in it - and he won the title on the very next hole.

Person of the year: Rory McIlroy

This time last year, people were queuing up to bash Rory McIlroy. His brilliant appearance onto the scene - first at the 2007 Open, then as he secured a Tour card without the bother of Qualifying School - had turned ever so slightly sour when he missed putts not much more than tap-ins as he let the 2008 European Masters and Hong Kong Open slip from his grasp. Instead of slipping away McIlroy came back brilliantly, winning the Dubai Desert Classic in February to break his duck before finishing the year in the world's top 10 after eight top-seven finishes in the space of nine tournaments.

Surprise of the year: The 2009 Major winners

In 2003 the world of golf was staggered when Mike Weir, Jim Furyk, Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel picked up the four Majors. Never in the history of the modern game had such an unlikely quarter won the biggest titles in golf - but 2009 topped them comfortably. First, one-hit wonder Angel Cabrera added the Masters to his 2007 US Open; unknown journeyman Lucas Glover; good-but-never-great Stewart Cink picked up The Open having missed the cut three times in the previous four years at the tournament; and then Yang Yong-eun became Asia's first ever Major champion. We really will never see a year like this one again.

Disappointment of the year: Tom Watson losing The Open at Turnberry

When Tom Watson started holing putts from everywhere on the first day of the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry, it brought a smile to the face of every golf fan.

Here was a living legend, one of the giants of the modern game, enjoying a last 15 minutes of fame before he shuffled off into quiet retirement. Nobody expected any more than that of a man six weeks short of his 60th birthday, yet Watson kept plugging away, kept holing the putts and kept himself in contention right to the bitter - very bitter - end when a three-putt from the back of the final green and capitulation in a play-off with Stewart Cink robbed us all of witnessing the greatest fairy story in the history of sport.

The true disappointment was nothing to do with Watson's advancing years, however. It was about history: after seeing his career stall catastrophically in 1984 after a confidence-sapping loss to Seve Ballesteros at St Andrews, Watson seemed doomed to fall one short of equalling Harry Vardon's all-time record of six Open titles.

Yet a quarter of a century after that loss he seemed about to put it right: the greatest links golfer of modern times taking his rightful place alongside the greatest links golfer of the early years of the professional game.

Villain of the year: Tiger Woods

It's Woods, yes - but not for the reasons you think.

Frankly, as far as Bunker Mentality is concerned, the man can spend his off weeks screwing the entire NFL cheerleading corps while snorting cocaine and wearing a coat made from giant panda fur.

But what is a lot harder to stomach is his increasing disdain for the general, golf-watching public. The spitting, swearing, and club throwing reached its apogee in Australia when, having been paid $3 million to fly in and take part, he topped all previous ASBO-worthy behaviour by throwing his driver into the ground after a bad shot and being totally unrepentant as it bounced into the crowd and narrowly missed a group of spectators.

Player to watch for 2010: Chris Wood

It's always tempting to pick out emerging amateur golfers who have picked up the odd good result, but when an unknown player picks up two top-five finishes at The Open in the space of two years you really have to sit up and take notice. Step forward English rookie Chris Wood, who challenged almost to the end at Birkdale in 2008 as an amateur, was one bad bounce from making a play-off in the 2009 Open at Turnberry, and has since proven that he is anything but out of his depth in the paid ranks. Expect him to finish in the top 20 in Europe and pick up a first title.

Rule change for 2010: Time for more spin

Forget all the calls for bringing down the distance the ball travels, because hitting it miles always will and always should be one of the game's most thrilling spectacles.

Instead, the R&A and USGA should focus on making it harder to remain accurate while hitting it miles. Next year's regulations on grooves in wedges - effectively meaning players will have less control when playing from the rough - are a step in the right direction to demand greater accuracy and superior ball striking from the world's best, but insisting on golf balls which spin more off the tee would do even more to achieve that goal.

 

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