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Thursday 31 July 2014

2013 has been a disappointing year for the Irish golfers on Tour

Published 18/12/2013|05:36

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Rory McIlroy on the 18th green during the Irish Open Golf Championship 2013. Carton House, Maynooth, Co. Kildare. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

As the year draws to a close it is maybe time to reflect on the world of professional golf and how the Irish fared overall. For the purposes of this article when I mention Irish players I'm talking about players from the island of Ireland, unlike the PGA who prefer to use the term 'Northern Ireland' for players from across the border. In a newly published list of world rankings, there are only six Irish players inside the top 300.

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Graeme McDowell and Simon Thornton were the only Irish professionals to actually move up the world rankings in the past 12 months.

McDowell, who won three times in the past year, improved by one from the previous year from 15 to 14, while Thornton, who recorded his maiden victory on tour in 2013 in France, improved by a whopping 230 places to move up to number 297.

For the rest of the Irish, 2013 will go down as a poor year indeed and I suppose the most high profile name to suffer was Rory McIlroy who endured a torrid year on and off the course. Enough has been said and written about his woes and while he did manage to finally win at the end of the season, he fell from world number one to number six.

Michael Hoey, who did manage a win at the Russian Open, suffered badly all season with inconsistency and fell down 109 places to 247th, while Shane Lowry failed to make the expected move into the top 50 and fell from 52nd at the beginning of the year to 76th after an inconsistent season also.

Darren Clarke seems to be still suffering from the effects of winning the Open Championship in 2011 and fell 151 places down to 296th.

Pádraig Harrington dropped 72 places down to 131st with Harrington's fellow Dubliner Peter Lawrie also in free fall dropping down 155 places to number 300.

Tiger Woods, of course, reclaimed the number one spot but, for me, the professional golfer of the year worldwide was Henrik Stenson.

The Swede, who is European number one, was recently described by Ian Poulter as "probably the greatest golfer on the planet right now" and it's hard to argue with that. I'm just glad he is on our side for the Ryder Cup next September.

Another player who caught the eye during the year was the young Irishman Kevin Phelan who played Walker Cup in September and then joined the professional ranks where he is off to a good start and is certainly one to watch for the 2014 season.

Time waits for no man and I suppose the likes of Harrington, Clarke and McGinley have had their day and will ease gently towards the Seniors Tour when their turn comes.

It may be a long way off yet but it's hard to see any of the three making an impact anymore.

McGinley has the Ryder Cup to think about in his role as Captain next September and with four European Tour wins and over £11 million in prize money over his career, I don't see him chasing around Europe and Asia for much longer.

Clarke, a larger than life character, had the world at his feet but, for me, he never realised his potential as a player. His fondness for the party life style saw to that but he is hugely popular among the players and the fans and everybody was pleased to see him finally win a Major in 2011. Fourteen wins and over £20 million in prize money in Europe alone is a fair return for someone who possibly spent more time in the bar than on the practice fairway and with the Seniors Tour just four years away, Clarke can afford to relax and take it easy also.

Padraig Harrington, what can you say about him? 28 professional wins and more than £35 million in prize money is a decent career in anyone's language and in terms of Major wins he is undoubtedly Ireland's greatest ever professional, but should he have won more events?

Definitely, I would say, but he has a horrible habit of tinkering with his golf swing in search of perfection, which has resulted in his total loss of form since he won his last Major in 2008.

He also has the unenviable record of finishing second more than 20 times in Europe and if he had converted just half of those second places into wins, he would be up there with the likes of Ballesteros as an iconic figure.

He has a long wait for the Seniors Tour, which he is not eligible to join until 2021 and I fully expect him to keep at it tinkering away with various coaches until then.

Clarke, McGinley and Harrington kept Ireland to the forefront of world golf for the past twenty years or so and their contributions to the Ryder Cup are legendary, but maybe it's now time for the younger brigade to take up the baton.

Kerryman

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