THOUSAND OAKS, California (AP) ― Wanting to return among the elite in golf, Graeme McDowell mapped out a plan last fall. He figured out how many ranking points he would need to get back into the top five in the world.
And he went about it the right way. It started with his win at the World Challenge a year ago. He won at Hilton Head on the PGA Tour. He won the World Match Play Championship and the French Open on the European Tour. He was third at World Golf Championships in Doral and Shanghai.
“I’ve got to say, I got pretty close to that target that I set myself,” McDowell said.
Little did he know how much the target would be moving in an extraordinary year for golf.
McDowell ended last year at No. 15 in the world. Now he is all the way up to No. 12.
“I wasn’t really factoring on how many great players around me were going to have incredible seasons,” McDowell said. “So making an impact in that top 10 in the world has been very difficult to do this year because you just get so many guys playing incredibly well.”
Call it bad timing for McDowell, and happy days for golf. Rarely has the golf season ― men and women ― felt so rewarding for so many players. Perhaps that explains why Tiger Woods could win five times ― more than any other player in the world ― capture the PGA Tour money title and the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average, and then listen to people discuss the definition of player of the year and whether he is worthy without having won a major.
Woods won the vote as the best player on the PGA Tour.
He is used to playing under a different set of standards, a victim of his own success. Anyone else with five trophies from the courses where he won ― Torrey Pines, Doral, Bay Hill, TPC Sawgrass and Firestone ― and there wouldn’t be a debate.
But this wasn’t just any other year.
Adam Scott became the first Australian to win the Masters, and along the way earned redemption from blowing the British Open nearly nine months earlier. He had the outright lead on the back nine at the British Open this year before faltering. A month later, he won The Barclays during the FedEx Cup playoffs, arguably one of the strongest fields of the year with the tour’s top 125 players who are all on form.
When he finally went home to show off his green jacket, Scott won the Australian PGA Championship and the Australian Masters, and then teamed with Jason Day to give Australia its first World Cup title in 24 years. He was poised to capture Australia’s Triple Crown until Rory McIlroy beat him on the last hole in the Australian Open.
A better year than Woods? Probably not, though it depends how much weight is given a major. Perhaps a better question: Did he have a better year than Phil Mickelson?
Lefty came within a cruel lip-out of shooting a 59 in the Phoenix Open, which he wound up winning. Showing off a short game like no other, his chip on the 18th hole at Castle Stuart gave him a victory in the Scottish Open. And his Sunday at Muirfield gets little debate over the best round of the year.