European Tour Year in Review 2017
The 2017 European Tour was headlined by Sergio Garcia who shucked his title as best player to never win a Major while also picking up Player of the Year honors. Just a step behind him for plaudits was Tommy Fleetwood, who won the Race to Dubai title in a fight to the finish. Here’s a look at the year that was on the European Tour.
The year started off with an American winning in Australia. Not exactly the most exciting thing for the Tour. The South African trip followed with native son Brandon Stone prevailing at the Alfred Dunhill Championship and the UK’s Graeme Storm at the BMW SA Open.
Fleetwood set his mark early in the year the next week when he won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Coming just a few days after his 26th birthday, it was a thrilling finish for Fleetwood, who finished one stroke ahead of Spain’s Pablo Larrazabal and world #1 Dustin Johnson by firing a 17-under 67-67-70-67 – 271 for his second career title.
Garcia made his entrance at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. It marked his first European Tour win in more than three years. He fired a 19-under, including a first-round 65, to best Henrik Stenson by three strokes. South Africans continued to rule the sub-continent part of the Tour as Darren Fichardt notched his fifth career title by winning the Joburg Open. It was the first win in almost four years for the 42-year-old Fichardt, and he did it with a rain-shortened 66-66-68 – 200.
March saw yet another South African succeed, this time it was first-time winner Dean Burmester at the Tshwane Open. Although the 27-year-old was born in Zimbabwe, he represents South Africa as a golfer. Back-to-back 65s on Saturday and Sunday paved the way to his victory.
The first weekend of April saw the tournament that fans had been hoping for decades – Sergio Garcia on top of the golfing world. In the wonderful poetry that sport every once in a while gives us, the victory came for the Spanish Garcia on what would have been the 60th birthday of the late Seve Ballesteros – Garcia’s hero and the greatest Spaniard to ever play the game. The victory came in his 74th Major appearance – a record for a first-time starter – and after 22 top 10 Major finishes, including three times a runner-up. Garcia was six strokes behind Charley Hoffman after 18 holes, but in a three-way tie with Hoffman and Justin Rose through 36 holes. After 54 holes, he and Rose were tied at 6-under with Hoffman and Rickie Fowler one stroke back at 5-under and Jordan Spieth rising at 4-under
In the final round, Garcia birdied two of the first three holes to get to 8-under, a 2-stroke lead over Rose and Fowler. He stuck at 8-under until No. 10, where he bogeyed back-to-back holes to fall to 6-under, now two strokes behind Rose. E got back to 7-under on 14, then eagled No. 15 to tie Rose at 9-under with three holes to go. Rose birdied 16 to go one up, then bogeyed 17 to make it a tie. Garcia missed a 5-foot putt for the championship on No. 18 and the two European Tour legends went to a sudden death playoff. Rose got in trouble right away, going into the trees while Garcia got within 12 feet on his approach. When Rose couldn’t make his par putt from 14 feet out, Garcia had two shots to win the title, but only needed one, making a birdie.
The rest of the month saw wins by tour veterans Edoardo Molinari, Bernd Wiesbeger and Alexander Levy.
The Open de Portugal returned for the first time in 7 years and Brit Matthew Wallace took the title, his first as a member of the Tour. The 27-year-old fired a 21-under 271 with opening rounds of 63 and 66.
Sweden’s Alex Noren won the BMW PGA Championship, his ninth career title and fifth since July of 2016.
June saw back-to-back first-time winners in Italy’s Renato Paratore and South Africa’s Dylan Frittelli. Paratore won the Nordea Masters with an 11-under 281, edging out Matthew Fitzpatrick and Chris Wood be one stroke. Fritteli took the Lyoness Open by 1 stroke over David Horsey, Mikko Korhonen and Jbe’ Kruger.
Tommy Fleetwood won his third tournament of the season in July at the HNA Open de France. The next week at Rory McIlroy’s annual Irish Open, the hottest name on tour, Jon Rahm, broke through for his first tournament title. Rahm’s success was nothing new. He had been the world’s #1 ranked amateur for a record 60 weeks and was the lowest ranked amateur at the 2016 US Open. He had already won the Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA Tour, finished second at the WGC-Mexico City Championship and again at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. The win in Ireland was a laugher, he finished six strokes ahead of the competition.
The next week saw the Major focus switch to Europe, specifically the Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport. It was a decidedly un-European affair as Americans Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Matt Kuchar led the tournament after one round, all tied at 65. Spieth took the lead on Day 2 at 6-under, followed by Kuchar, Kopeka and the surprising Ian Poulter at 3-under.
Day Three saw Spieth start to put things away, firing his second 65 in three days to reach 11-under, three strokes ahead of Kuchar and six ahead of anyone else. South Afirca’s Branden Grace set a Major record by firing a 62, breaking the existing mark by one stroke. Spieth finished 12-under to win the tournament by three strokes. He became just the second golfer – Jack Nicklaus being the first – to win three legs of the Grand Slam before age 24.
August saw three first-time winners on the European Tour – Spain’s Adrian Otaegui, Australia’s Jason Norris and the US’ Julian Suri. Otaegui won the Saltire Energy Paul Lawrie Match Play while Norris won the Fiji International by 4 strokes with a 14-under. Suri finished 4 strokes ahead of the pack with a 19-under 265 at the Made in Denmark, closing with rounds of 65 and 64.
England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick won his fourth European Tour title by claiming the Omega European Masters. The next three tournaments were all claimed by first-time winners; a statistical anomaly, but not so outrageous given the time of year.First up was France’s Romain Wattel at the KLM Open. It was the first win for the 26-year-old after 187 career European Tour events as he finished 15-under. He was the first Frenchman to win the KLM Open in 84 years. The final week of September, Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard won the Portugal Masters by four strokes over Marc Warren. He eight birdies on Sunday to finish with a 65.
Paul Dunne made it three straight first-time winners by taking the British Masters. It was his 51st career European Tour start. The Irishman recorded a 20-under to defeat Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy by three strokes. His closing two rounds were shot at 14-under, the lowest final two rounds for a first-time winner.
The next two weeks belonged to England’s Tyrrell Hatton, who repeated as champion of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship by firing a 24-under 264, one stroke better than the previous year where he won it with a 23-under 265. He kept the fire going the following week by winning the Italian Open in dazzling fashion, shooting 69-64-64-65 – 263 to win by one stroke. Hatton finished in the top 10 in the final two Majors of 2016, then missed all four cuts in 2017; thus the hot finish was a welcome sight.
Garcia followed with a win at his own Andalucia Valderrama Masters in Spain, but he was eclipsed by the magnificent performance of Justin Rose the following two weeks.
Rose won the WGC-HSBC Champions in China, shooting a final-round 67 to outgun stalwarts Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson and Brooks Kopeka.
Rose was back in the winner’s circle a week later with a 1-stroke win at the Turkish Airlines Open as he closed the tournament with rounds of 64 and 65. South Africa’s Branden Grace took his eighth career title the following week at the Nedbank Gold Challenge. The season concluded with Jon Rahm, who would go on to win European Tour Rookie of the Year honors, winning the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai Rahm finished 19-under, winning by a single stroke.