While the eyes of the golf world will soon be fixed on the Ryder Cup in France, the 2018 PGA Tour season has reached its conclusion. With it comes a number of things to take away, both on the positive and negative end.
It was a revival season for arguably the greatest golfer of all-time. The stunning consistency from Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson will certainly help define the season, as will the brilliance of Francesco Molinari and Brooks Koepka.
On the negative end, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy — two of the game’s heir apparents — struggled.
With the season completely in the bag, these were the top takeaways from the year in golf.
Justin Rose rewarded for incredible consistency
Rose has won four times since the 2017 Tour Championship. He’s also missed only one cut since failing to play the weekend at the 2017 PGA Championship. That helped him add $10 million to his bank account with a FedEx Cup championship. It also helped Rose briefly hold the No. 1 ranking in the world, though Dustin Johnson did win it back after the Tour Championship. But earning that spot to begin with, and of course winning the FedEx Cup without actually winning a playoff event, shows what a model of consistency Rose has been.
Francesco Molinari leaps to stardom in career year
We’re not surprised that Molinari won in 2018. We’re not even terribly surprised that he won the British Open. What’s surprising is that at 35, Molinari enjoyed what was, by far, the best year of his career. The Italian won three times. More than that, he was a prominent part of essentially every tournament he played in throughout the summer. We’ve seen these kind of runs before. But they usually don’t come from players with Molinari’s track record at this stage in their careers. Molinari provided a great deal of inspiration for journeymen golfers everywhere. It’s never too late to take your game to new heights.
Rory McIlroy leaves something to be desired
McIlroy just didn’t answer the bell in his final round pairing with Tiger Woods at East Lake. On one hand, a bad round can happen to anyone, especially given the massive crowds that were following that group. The problem is that it happened to McIlroy at other points of the year, most notably when he was paired with Patrick Reed for the final round of the Masters. He’s had some good rounds in 2018 and even won a tournament. But generally, McIlroy had a hard time putting four good rounds together. That’s something we normally say about older golfers. But McIlroy is 10-15 years from that point.
Breakout campaign for Bryson DeChambeau
DeChambeau will no doubt be somewhat disappointed about finishing third in the FedEx Cup after winning the first two playoff events. But that can’t put a damper on what a tremendous year it was. DeChambeau finished his first event of 2018 as the No. 94 ranked player in the world. When the Tour Championship concluded, he had not only earned a spot on the stacked American Ryder Cup team, but was also ranked No. 7 in the world. That’s what three wins and five other top-10 finishes will do for you. Keep an eye out for DeChambeau in 2019 and beyond.
Rock solid play keeps Dustin Johnson at No. 1
Looking at Johnson’s game, he seems like the kind of golfer who would go on streaks. But in reality, he’s the most consistent golfer we’ve seen in a long time. In 2018, he won three times, had a runner-up, eight other top-10 finishes, and only one missed cut. So, while he’s yet to a major trophy to his case to accompany the 2016 U.S. Open, Johnson has been the No. 1 ranked player in the world for most of the last two seasons. He regained the ranking at the Tour Championship, a ranking he’s held for all but six weeks since claiming it for the first time in February, 2017.
Year of disappointment for Jordan Spieth
Spieth will not look back at 2018 with a lot of fondness. Even at his best, Spieth has always been somewhat prone to a missed cut. But he’s always balanced out the missed cuts with wins and other high finishes. He didn’t do that in 2018. Spieth had only five top-10 finishes, his lowest total since turning pro. Additionally, for the first time since turning pro, Spieth failed to win — or even finish second place — in a single tournament. Much like McIlroy, he had a hard time putting four good rounds together. We can’t press the panic button. But he definitely has a lot of work to do if he’s going to find his old form in 2019.
USGA problem can no longer be ignored
The U.S. Open is, by far, the biggest event that the USGA puts on every year. As one of the four majors, it’s also one of the biggest events of the PGA Tour season. But four years in a row, the USGA has managed to completely mess this up. In 2015, 2017, and 2018, the USGA completely lost its course. In 2016, the course setup was adequate but a stupid ruling (and an even worse application) put a cloud over the whole event. One of those mistakes can be dismissed. But at four years in a row, that gets harder to do. Serious changes need to come about well before the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
The career grand slam can’t be taken for granted for anyone
The brilliance of Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger must be recognized after 2018. And we say this not because of what they did, but what three other great players have all failed to do. McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, and Spieth were all only one major short of the career slam entering the year. A terrible Sunday knocked McIlroy to T-5 at the Masters. Mickelson’s U.S. Open will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Spieth finished T-12 at the PGA, eight shots behind Brooks Koepka. Winning any major is not easy. But winning the slam is a different animal. This season reaffirmed that.
Brooks Koepka owns the big stage
Koepka was absolutely unflappable on the game’s biggest stages in 2018. He won the U.S. Open, becoming the first repeat champion in 29 years. Then, Koepka rolled into Bellerive to win the PGA Championship, his second major of the year and third in two years. As if that wasn’t enough, he held off a hard-charging Tiger for good measure. That will probably earn Koepka player of the year honors, despite the fact that he missed much of the early season with an injury. We’ll remember 2018 for a lot of reasons. But Koepka’s brilliance should be high on everyone’s list.
Tiger Woods is back
Tiger’s comeback season was a clear success before he ever teed it up to East Lake for the Tour Championship. Heck, it was a clear success before he even qualified for the Tour Championship. Then he showed up to East Lake and won. Were it not for a birdie on the 18th hole from Rose, Tiger’s Tour Championship win would have given him his third FedEx Cup title. Regardless, it put an exclamation point on a fantastic comeback season from Woods. The eyes of the golf world will be firmly fixated on Tiger when next season rolls around.