The European Tour Season Review – Who Took a Major Leap in 2018?
Published on November 10, 2018
The Race to Dubai is going to culminate next week at the DP World Championship. That means the 2018 season of the European Tour is about to come to a close, and what a past 12 months it has been.
When the players leave the wonderful Jumeirah Golf Estates on November 18th, many will head directly to Hong Kong Golf Club to kick off the new campaign.
So as one season ends and another one begins, I’m looking back at which European golfers took their games to another level and emerged as stars.
Who really elevated their games in 2018?
I’m not talking about a world-beater like Justin Rose, who has bounced around from #3 to #1 in the world over the past several weeks.
As good and consistent of a year as “Rosey” has had, he was already the 6th-ranked player on the planet when 2017 concluded.
Even studs like Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton had already blossomed into household names this time a year ago.
I want to take a look at the players who accomplished things in 2018 that have changed their perception and the way they are viewed by their peers.
Who took massive leaps in the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) and will now have to reset their goals and raise their level of expectation?
I can think of five guys right off the top of my head who did extremely well for themselves this past year.
Take a look.
Francesco Molinari is the one guy on my list who was already established as a legitimate threat on the European Tour before 2018 arrived.
But now that the year has mostly passed, Molinari is no longer just a legitimate threat. “Franny” is a major championship winner and became the first European golfer to ever go 5-0 at a single Ryder Cup.
So you could say that Francesco had a great year, but that would still be a severe understatement and wouldn’t justify how incredible his achievements were. We can start with the 2018 BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club in England, the flagship event on the European Tour schedule.
Starting the final round tied for the lead with Rory McIlroy and four shots clear of the field, the soft-spoken Italian went toe-to-toe with “Rors” and took him down, capturing the title in the process.
And if you are wondering if that win gave him any positive momentum to propel him to continue playing great golf, just keep reading.
Molinari’s runner-up finish the following week at the Italian Open set the stage for what would be the most dominant single month any player encountered last year on any tour. Francesco participated in three golf tournaments during the month of July.
Here’s how he fared.
|7/1||Quicken Loans National||67-65-65-62||1st|
|7/15||John Deere Classic||65-66-70-64||2nd|
|7/22||The Open Championship||70-72-65-69||1st|
So not only did Franny win Tiger’s tournament by a runaway eight shots, but he battled Tiger Woods on the back nine at Carnoustie and never batted an eyelid.
In fact, Molinari played bogey-free the entire weekend at the 2018 British Open, capping off his brilliant performance with a birdie on the 72nd hole to claim the Claret Jug.
His historic display in Paris that led the way to the Euros drubbing the Americans in a landslide was the storybook ending to a thrilling year.
Now firmly entrenched as a top-ten player in the world, Francesco can add “2018 Race to Dubai champion” to his illustrious resume if he can hold on these last two weeks.
So don’t ask yourself who had the best season on the 2018 European Tour, because that title belongs to no one other than Molinari.
Eddie Pepperell is a unique individual and has become quite the “character” on the European Tour.
Eddie likes to post indifferent comments on Twitter, and his messages aren’t always about golf. He has been in the news for things other than his play on the links and is never shy to tell the camera what he really thinks.
A hungover Eddie Pepperell is hanging around near the top of leaderboard after 67:
— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel)
That clip of Eddie’s post-round interview after finishing sixth at this year’s Open Championship tells you all you need to know about the 27-year-old Englishman.
But I don’t want this segment to be about how much Eddie drinks or what his hobbies are when he isn’t competing. Allow me to focus this discussion on his play, as he was way down at #133 in the OWGR when 2017 ended.
And after slipping to #154 early on, things finally clicked for Pepperell in Doha at the end of February. Eddie won the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters to jump inside the top 100 in the world, but he was just getting started.
His runner-up finish at the Scottish Open followed by his T-6 at the Open Championship pushed Eddie up the board and into the top 60.
A couple more top tens and a second-place finish in Portugal meant that Eddie Pepperell was now a top-50 player in the world, despite all of his unconventional behavior.
But it was his that now has Eddie positioned as a force to be reckoned with as we embark on 2019.
I’m sure we’ll see plenty more amusing posts appear on Pepperell’s social media, but I’m sure we’ll also see a couple more trophies make their way onto Eddie’s mantel at home as well.
Don’t pass over Thorbjorn Olesen when pondering which European golfers seriously lifted their level of play in 2018. Because few men took as big of positive strides forward as the 28-year-old Danish golfer did in the last several months.
Olesen had dipped all the way down to 129th in the world at one point in 2018, but that’s actually the very instant he turned the tide. , beating tournament-favorite Francesco Molinari by a single stroke.
Beginning day one back of the lead, Olesen fired a bogey-free 64 on Sunday to capture his first win on the European Tour since the 2016 Turkish Airlines Open. And Thorbjorn wasn’t done climbing the world rankings.
A runner-up finish at the BMW International Open set the table for a sixth and a twelfth at the Irish Open and Open Championship respectively, but it was his third-place finish at Akron at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational that really bumped Olesen up the OWGR.
A fourth-place showing at the Nordea Masters got Thorbjorn as high as #38, and his T-7th in Shanghai at the WGC-HSBC Champions has him poised to continue trending in the right direction.
And with all that being said, I think where Thorbjorn gained the most confidence in his abilities was during his Sunday singles match against Jordan Spieth at the 2018 Ryder Cup.
Not only did Olesen beat Spieth, but he drummed him soundly 5&4. The Golden Child was five down through just nine holes and seemingly never had a chance.
Talk about perseverance; here’s a guy who aspiring golfers can look up to when things aren’t exactly going their way. You don’t have to ask what kind of grit and determination Lucas Bjerregaard has, because he has shown it time and time again.
The most recent obstacle that the 27-year-old Danish golfer had to overcome was the utterly disastrous start he got off to in 2018.
After missing the cut in his first tournament, Lucas finished 69th and 61st to cash a couple of small checks. But then he missed his next four cuts in succession, plummeting all the way down to 239th in the Official World Golf Rankings.
A sixth place finish at the Volvo China Open marked the beginning of a major turnaround for Bjerregaard. He was then able to parlay his good play into a top-five at the Sicilian Open, clearly showing that he had turned the corner.
A Sunday 65 at the BMW Championship gave Lucas a top-three finish and allowed him to rise 70 spots in the OWGR.
His T-5 at the BMW International Open the following month only helped his cause, and he’s since added four more top-tens! None more important than when Lucas beat an absolutely stacked field to win the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in October.
It’s safe to say that his one-stroke victory over Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton has given Bjerregaard the belief he’ll need moving forward to contend in major championships.
Don’t be shocked if that happens as early as 2019.
Matthew Wallace is a 28-year-old Englishman who attended Jacksonville State University but has yet to make a name for himself in the American golf community.
He did make a splash during the 2018 PGA Championship, notably for during Saturday’s third round while playing alongside Jordan Spieth.
Wallace’s 19th-place finish at Bellerive was the first time he cashed a check in a PGA Tour event after failing to make the cut in the previous two tournaments he had entered (both major championships).
So while the 2016 graduate of the Alps Tour might be foreign to serious success in the United States, Wallace did plenty of damage in Europe in 2018.
to where he is today is an awesome story and one that you should read in full if and when you have the time. The experiences and knowledge he has gained throughout his travels playing golf for a living will only bode well for his future in this game.
After coming oh-so-close to making the 2018 Ryder Cup team, I wouldn’t be surprised if Matt is a captain’s pick in 2020. Because the current trajectory he is on tells me he might just qualify for that squad on his own.
As we inch closer to the start of the 2018/2019 season the European Tour, the play of the five men I unveiled in this article will undoubtedly inspire some other young Europeans to do the same thing.
Which guys who aren’t currently on the radar of the average European golf fan will develop their games and approach that upper echelon?
Personally, I’d be watching out for a couple of studs like Sam Horsfield and Brandon Stone.
Both of these men have immense talent and plenty of experience. I think they each achieved milestones in 2018 that will thrust them into doing great things in 2019, but like anything else, only time will tell.
As far as the Europeans who I think have the best chance to capture majors in the upcoming year? Well, that list runs fairly deep, my friends.
Clearly, Rose and Molinari have been in peak form all year, and it’d be silly to think they let up in ’19. I expect Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm to deliver better results than they did over the past calendar year, but I’m sure everyone else does, too.
But I’m looking at Tommy Fleetwood as the guy who we could be talking about 12 months from now as a top-five player in the world, as he has “winning a major championship” written all over him.
Tommy possesses no flaws and minimal weaknesses, and his official “breaking-out party” will come in a matter of time.
If you’re following the European Tour intently like I will be doing, then none of us will miss out!