It’s not often that we can head into a new year thinking that we may be on the verge of a very special year in the golfing world, but 2014 may well be shaping up to be that way.
Seldom has the professional golfing world been in such rude health, with so many genuinely top quality players vying for the top spot in the world rankings.
So could 2014 be arguably the greatest golfing year of the modern era? Possibly so, and here is why:
The Race for World Number 1
Over the past 10-15 years, who the top golfer in the world was at any one point was always pretty clearly defined. Tiger Woods was the top man for the vast majority of the time, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald’s consistency saw them earn top spot briefly as did Rory McIlroy’s brilliance before Tiger reclaimed top spot again.
Now though, there are a whole host of golfers who have genuine aspirations of being World Number 1 in 2014.
Of course, Tiger Woods still holds that position but there are a whole host of talented golfers ready to take over Tiger’s mantle.
For many critics Adam Scott, (ranked 2) has been playing the most consistent golf in the world all season long. The Aussie has broken his Major duck with a win at The Masters in April and certainly he has the all round game to challenge Tiger.
So too does the in-form Swede Henrik Stenson (ranked 3). After a miracle two year period, culminating in a double win of the Fedex Cup and the Race to Dubai, a feat never achieved before in the history of the competitions, Stenson has rocketed up the world rankings and is now a genuine world number 1 contender.
You cannot discount Phil Mickelson (ranked 4) from the position either. Lefty showed his quality winning the Scottish Open and then a week later, the British Open last summer and almost followed that up with US Open success. Mickelson’s game shows no signs of deterioration and he will once be a force to be reckoned with in 2014.
Of the talented crop of English golfers at present, world number 5 Justin Rose is arguably the best placed to challenge for the World Number 1 slot, before Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson’s finish to the season, Rose was touted by many as being the most consistent golfer in the world this year and his US Open win was clear evidence of this.
Then of course, there is Rory McIlroy, the Irishman has dropped to number 6 in the world, but he signs are that he could be getting back on track. A brilliant performance at the Australian Open last week saw him pip Adam Scott to the title, in Scott’s backyard and reminded everyone of just how much potential McIlroy still has. Certainly McIlroy has the quality to earn himself a place at the top of the rankings by the end of 2014.
So that is six top quality players all in with a chance of the top spot, yet you can add to that list the likes of Matt Kuchar, Jason Day, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Dufner, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter (below), Dustin Johnson, Luke Donald, Keegan Bradley, Jordan Spieth, Lee Westwood and more, all of who will have designs of earning a top 10 spot, if not looking towards the top five.
Seldom has the game of golf seen so many top quality players competing for the top spot and all are heading into 2014 on the back of some fantastic performances in 2013.
What is different about this era though than others is that there is a concertina effect in operation. While youngsters like Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Matteo Mannassero, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day are emerging, there is no real drop off in talent at the other end of the scale.
Venerable players who, in the past, may have been frustrated by the onset of age, are now fitter, stronger and playing as well as ever. Veterans like Woods, Stricker, Mickelson, Els, Westwood, Bjorn and Jiminez are still pushing for the top prizes in the big events week in, week out.
The effect of this has been golf reaching a standard that perhaps it has seldom, if ever, seen before.
There are now simply so many great players, not just good, but great players playing the game, that even a modest tour win, can be viewed as a real success given the quality of the opposition.
As for picking a Major winner for 2014, you can make a case for any golfer mentioned here having a great chance of winning one of the big four and that list didn’t include players like Bubba Watson (below), Hunter Mahan, Martin Kaymer, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson or emerging Japanese ace Hideki Matsuyama.
Then add into that the emergence of the talented young players from China such as Guan Tianleng (who at 14 became the youngest ever player to play at and make the cut at Augusta) and 12 year old Ye Wocheng (who was the European Tour’s youngest ever player when playing the Volvo China Open in May) and the scene is set for the next group of super-talented players to emerge.
With all that in mind, a Ryder Cup to look forward to, a burgeoning Seniors and Ladies tour and the prospect of golf once again becoming an Olympic Sport in 2016, 2014 is looking like being one of the best years for golf for a long time.
All Images Courtesy of Each Players Official Facebook Page or Twitter Accounts