Ireland's finest fall short of sky-high standards
Majors elude our star performers as McIlroy and McDowell end year with mixed emotions -- and plenty to prove
IRELAND has feasted on such a rich diet of success in recent years that a season which yielded six victories by Irish professionals in the international arena will be little more than a footnote in history.
For only the second time in seven seasons since Padraig Harrington's breakthrough at the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie, no Irish player managed to win a Major.
So, unfortunately, this year is likely to be remembered more for Rory McIlroy's astonishing implosion.
The Holywood native was still at No 6 when the final rankings for 2013 were issued yesterday. Despite his dramatic recent win over Adam Scott at the Australian Open, McIlroy fell further down the charts than any other injury-free player who has entered the year at No 1.
Greg Norman tumbled out of the top 10 in 1998 after leading into the new year, but the Great White Shark underwent shoulder surgery that April. With the exception of a widely publicised toothache at the Honda Classic, McIlroy had no such excuse.
Having achieved three of Ireland's six wins in an astonishing 12-week stretch after the Masters, Graeme McDowell stands head and shoulders above his peers as the Irish golfer of the year.
So great are 2010 US Open champion McDowell's expectations these days that even he waved a less-than-ecstatic farewell to 2013, vowing to work Trojan-like over his extended winter break in an effort to boost his performance at the Majors next year.
McDowell failed to make the weekend at April's Masters and June's US Open, two of five missed cuts which, incredibly, came cheek-by-jowl with his victories in the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town, the Volvo World Match Play at Thracian Cliffs in Bulgaria and the French Open at Le Golf National.
IRELAND'S TOP PERFORMERS ON TOUR IN 2013
World ranking: 6th (2012: 1st)
Misery, thy name was McIlroy for much of 2013 as he became a dark, brooding shadow of his former self until the latter part of the year. Victory over Scott in Australia was vital, but the 24-year-old's confidence is fragile after a season of confounding inconsistency on the course and unyielding controversy off it.
Tournaments: 25 ranking events, including one win, eight other top-10s, four missed cuts and one walk-off (at Honda).
US Money List: 41st ($1.802m)
Race to Dubai: 35th (€862,177)
World ranking: 14th (2012: 15th)
With his new bride Kristin on his arm, three victories in the bag at the Heritage, Volvo World Match Play and French Open and his 'Nona Blue Bistro' getting good reviews, G-Mac had much to celebrate. Yet he entered his eight-week winter break insisting "I'm not in control of my swing" and vowing to pull out every stop to become a contender once again at the Majors.
Tournaments: 28 ranking events, including three wins, five other top-10s and seven missed cuts. US Money List: 28th ($2.175m)
Race to Dubai: 4th (€2.442m)
World ranking: 76th (2012: 52nd)
It was a tantalising 'coulda, shoulda' season for Lowry. The Clara native got so close to an all-important breakthrough into the world's top 50, particularly at the Dunhill Links, where he led with six to play but stumbled down the stretch. Still, at 26, time is very much on his side.
Tournaments: 26 ranking events, including 5 top-10s and 7 missed cuts.
Race to Dubai: 36th (€834,043)
World ranking: 131st (2012: 59th)
The bedrock upon which his stellar career was built fissured over the past 18 months as Harrington lost his 'Picasso' touch around the greens and once invincible putting.
As he fell to his lowest world ranking since his rookie season in 1996, the Dubliner even sought respite in the belly putter for 11 events this summer. Yet recent word from the camp is encouraging. At 42, Irish golf's greatest warhorse ain't finished yet.
Tournaments: 28 ranking events, including four top-10s and 10 missed cuts (his most as a pro in one season).
US Money List: 116th ($711,244)
Race to Dubai: 68th (€484,326)
World ranking: 247th (2012: 138th)
On his day, the Ballymoney native is a match for anyone, as he showed by romping to a four-stroke victory at July's Russian Open, his fifth win on the European Tour. Yet Hoey (34) is unerringly inconsistent. When hitting it straight and true, he's irresistible but any perceived imperfection seems to throw him out of kilter.
Tournaments: 24 ranking events, including one win, no other top-10s and 11 missed cuts.
Race to Dubai: 92nd (€318,960)
World ranking: 296th (2012: 145th)
A cursory glance at Clarke's results in 2013 could lead to the erroneous conclusion that, at 45, the former Open champ is sated. Yet ambition smoulders within, as evidenced by his decision to take full membership of the US Tour in 2014. Clarke endured injury problems earlier this year, then was driven to near despair by poor finishing, but whenever the going got tough, the fighter reappeared.
Tournaments: 17 ranking events, including one top 10 (tied 2nd at the Nanshan Masters) and seven missed cuts.
Race to Dubai: 121st (€195,130)
World ranking: 297th (2012: 527th)
Aged 36, married with two kids and trying to eke out a living on the Challenge Tour, Simon Thornton last spring considered another line of work. Weeks later, he achieved a life-changing victory at St Omer, clinching main Tour credentials for 2014. A seven handicap when he became an assistant to Kevan Whitson at Royal Co Down in 2003, this talented late-developer has come a long way.
Tournaments: 17 ranking events on the Challenge and European Tour, including one win, one other top 10 and seven missed cuts.
Race to Dubai: 126th (€176,689).
World ranking: 300th (2012: 155th)
Since winning Rookie of the Year in 2003, Lawrie enjoyed a relatively lucrative and stress-free time on Tour; until June, when his top 10 at the Irish Open was followed by eight missed cuts in 10 events. The Dubliner (39) clinched the 110th and final card for 2014 with a last-gasp 18th place in Perth.
Tournaments: 27 ranking events, including one top 10 and 16 missed cuts.
Race to Dubai: 110th (€233,630)
World ranking: 338th (2012: 351st)
A season of two distinct halves for the Kells native, who banished any doubts about his prospects of holding onto his Tour card with some classy performances, not least in September when McGrane (42) followed a fighting sixth at the Welsh Open with a tie for third at the KLM Open.
Tournaments: 29 ranking events, including two top 10s and 12 missed cuts.
Race to Dubai: 82nd (€342,166)
World ranking: 368th (2012: 755th)
Despite showing class in an impressive tie for second at September's Italian Open, the Waterville man failed by €18,274 to retain his card, then missed out at Q-School. Though he banked €22,612 in Hong Kong and at last week's Nelson Mandela, Higgins (41) sadly will find Tour opportunities hard to come by in the new year.
Tournaments: 23 ranking events, including one top 10 and 10 missed cuts.
Race to Dubai: 115th (€215,356)
World ranking: 390th (2012: 525th)
Another enigmatic performer, Maybin (33) gives the impression of being on the verge of something really big but then slips back. After a decent showing on the Desert Swing, for example, he made just two cuts in 12 before picking up lucrative back-to-back top-10s in France and Scotland. Baffling.
Tournaments: 27 ranking events, including two top 10s and 16 missed cuts.
Race to Dubai: 95th (€300,912)
World ranking: 412th (2012: 292)
McGinley's appointment as European Ryder Cup captain was one of the highlights of the year. A classy player, the inspirational Dubliner (47) is happy to be performing decently enough (and to have a Career Money exemption) to compete alongside potential team members in 2014.
Tournaments: 18 ranking events, including one top 10 (tied eighth in Wales) and eight missed cuts.
Race to Dubai: 127th (€177,096)
World rankinging: 544th (2012: n/a)
Lurgan native Shaw (28) gave a headline-grabbing display with a fighting fifth place finish at the Irish Open in Carton, followed a week later by a share of 13th in France. He has no card for 2014 but the €116,654 banked in just five full appearances on the main Tour last year is encouraging.
Tournaments: 20 (15 on Challenge Tour), including one top 10 and four missed cuts.
Race to Dubai (just five appearances): 146th (€116,654)
World rankinging: 996th (2012: n/a)
After making the cut as an amateur at June's US Open in Merion, Phelan (23) from Waterford, shone at the Walker Cup, then turned professional and won his European card at Q-School. A very tidy player and mentally strong enough to prosper on Tour.
Tournaments: Five ranking events played in 2013 (three as a pro). Made three cuts, including June's US Open.