Chipping away at the leaderboard

 
 

Despite the relatively modest success of Ireland’s golfers over the weekend, Stephen Devine suggests that this golden era for Irish golf will only get better

With two Irish players situated within the top ten world golf rankings, it is a good time for Irish golf. Despite the current financial issues faced by many golf clubs around the country, the standard of players produced is still high enough to compete at the top level.

In the past week, Graham McDowell has moved ahead of the legendary, but albeit out of form, Tiger Woods to take third spot in the rankings. The Portrush man reached the final 16 of the World Accenture Match play, eventually losing out to Yang Yong-eun of South Korea. It marks the culmination of a great year for McDowell, as this time last year he was ranked 50th.

The 2010 season saw him being the first Irishman ever to win the US Open at Pebble Beach, ending a 40-year drought for European players at the event. Following on from this, he was also part of the victorious European Ryder Cup team who reclaimed the trophy in October. It was, rather fittingly, McDowell who was left with the winning putt for the European side.

At the tail end of last year he even beat Woods in the playoff of the Chevron World Challenge, the event which Tiger himself hosts as part of his charity foundation. This result coupled with his poor performance in the last week has led to the American’s lowest ranking in 13 years. He is winless from the last 18 tournaments since the Australian Masters, in November of 2009.

Woods lost his number one title to Lee Westwood on October 31st 2010, after holding the spot for 281 weeks straight. Many golf commentators have speculated that Woods may never again regain the top spot and that the troubles in his personal life over the past year have signalled the end of his career.

However, it would be foolish however to write off someone with so much natural talent despite his prolonged drop in form. It was McDowell himself who summed it up best in the past week when he said: “I’m perhaps a better golfer than him over the last twelve months, but he’s definitely the greatest player that’s ever lived.”

Speaking of natural talent, Rory McIlroy is only 21 and already people are questioning how long it will be until he wins a major. The Holywood native had a memorable 2010, securing his first PGA victory at the Quail Hollow Championship and setting a new course record in the process. Like McDowell, he too was part of the victorious Ryder Cup team, describing it as the “best event in golf by far”.

Despite these victories, commentators (and even Rory himself) have pointed out that he is yet to reach his potential. Despite his poor performance in the past week, it promises to be a good year for McIlroy with much expected of him. He has recently hit out at criticism over his struggling short game, claiming that it is not the most important area of the game. However, if he can improve his putting, McIlroy will become the complete package and more success will certainly follow suit.

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