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Howell column: Next year should be even better

p7howellby David Howell

So the 2014/15 season was brought to a close last week with the DP World Tour Championship, which had so many story lines it is difficult to know where to start. So let’s talk about starting, and the retirement of the official starter after 41 years. Yes, Ivor Robson has decided to call it a day after four decades of sending the best golfers in the world on their way in his own inimitable style.

The players held Ivor with a deep affection and he will be sadly missed in the game. He was a man that truly enjoyed his rather unique job, and how fitting that his last announcement should be to send Europe’s best player Rory McIlroy on his way to one of his finest victories, the most fitting finale anyone could think of I am sure.

The season-ender wears two hats of course. It’s a great tournament in its own right with a huge prize fund, masses of ranking points and Ryder cup points to play for too, but it is also the culmination of the year long Race To Dubai Ranking – the winner of which takes home a cool bonus running into the millions of dollars.

Four players had the chance to take home the spoils, but it was Danny Willett’s to win, only having to finish above Rory to complete an amazing year’s golf. Fair play to Danny, he chased Rory the whole week, but alas the former world number one reminded us all why he reached the summit of world golf with a weekend performance that Rory himself will be immensely proud of: 65 66 to reach 21-under-par is golf that blew the rest of the field away… all bar one, England’s Andy Sullivan.

The man from the Midlands never has a smile off his face and has had an incredible year. Three victories for starters isn’t so bad, in fact it’s something not many players ever achieve, so to then go head-to-head with Rory and take him all the way to  the end goes to show he is afraid of no-one and a match for anyone. His second place prize money will give him a great shout of making the Ryder Cup side, and playing like this Darren Clarke will welcome him onto the team with open arms.

It’s a tradition that the CEO of the tour welcomes everyone onto the tee on the final day of the DP World Championship. Keith Pelley was doing this for the first time and I’m sure he can only have left with a beaming smile at the way the tournament panned out this year. Huge crowds followed the action once again; Sunday is a working day in Dubai, but thousands found the time to follow the leaders home. And the best player won, chased home by two new stars of the tour, and all talk of bending the rules for Rory to compete were forgotten with the breathtaking brilliance of his golf.  Plus, an American star Patrick Reid became the first player for years to join our tour and sample what we have to offer. Things are looking good. The tour has a totally different look from ten years ago and I think the next ten could see great change for the better too.

If there was a downside to 2015 it was that it was a Major free year from the European Tour perspective, but the positives are the host of players coming through. The changing of the guard is slowly happening. British golf is in great shape, Justin Rose is still playing great, Rory is back to his best and over his injury, Mathew Fitzpatrick had an amazing ten top-ten finishes this year and a huge victory at the British Masters, Sullivan and Willett we have mentioned and Shane Lowry broke through to win a WGC event, perhaps the best performance by anyone this side of the Atlantic.

Next year of course is Ryder Cup year, and an away match at that. Darren Clarke will have a strong side, but it might well be a side that looks completely different to what we are used to seeing of late.

But one thing is for sure: our young guys by then will be more worldly, they won’t be intimidated and they will bring a new energy to proceedings. And you can bet your bottom dollar that the old guard – the Westwoods and McDowells – will fight tooth and nail to find the form that made them stalwarts of the team. Come September, it could well be a potent mix of youth and experience that lines up for Europe.

Other players that deserve a mention are Branden Grace, who has turned into a big tournament player featuring in a couple of Majors this year, and Soren Kjeldsen, the Dane having his best year for a decade or so, winning the Irish Open and going on to finish in the top 15 of the RTD. As for myself, well, 26th in the list ranks as my second best year in the last eight years so I can’t complain. In fact I can be pleased, but when I sit down to review my year I know I will be frustrated not to have turned one of three good chances to win into a victory.

Winning is still what matters most of course, but it’s not an easy thing to do. Elevating your game over four days to pip the rest sounds easy, so hats off to all those that managed to find their way into the winner’s circle this year. My goal for next year will be to join them.

*This article was originally published in TGP on 25 November.

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