Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Solheim Cup success - what we learned in 2019

It has been an exceptional year for golf. Tiger Woods, the greatest player of the modern era, won a major and amid tumultuous scenes, the Open triumphantly returned to Northern Ireland after an absence of more than six decades.

A raft of new rules were introduced, including freshened terminology. Important moves to maintain the sport's appeal are happening and Europe recaptured the Solheim Cup in sensational style at Gleneagles.

Here are 10 things we learned in 2019.

Fearsome but fragile Tiger

Woods was imperious in winning the Masters for the fifth time and claiming his 15th major title - his first for 11 years. It was a victory to suggest Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors may be within reach. But we were also reminded of Woods' physical frailty. He needed more knee surgery before recovering to win in Japan and tie Sam Snead's record of 82 PGA Tour victories.

Then came glorious playing captaincy at the Presidents Cup where he was largely magnificent. But he missed Saturday's play because of fitness concerns. Since the US win, Fred Couples revealed Woods told his assistants: "Guys, my body is not going to let me go. I'm not going to play this afternoon."

In 2020 expect Woods to play sparingly, but when he does to be dangerous.

Rory's major malaise needs sorting

Rory McIlroy is rightly proud of a brilliant season, rising from eighth to second in the world rankings. He was the PGA Tour's player of the year, winning prestigious Players and Tour Championship titles. But in the majors he struggled.

He had a chance going into the final round at the US Open but quickly faltered. At the Masters and PGA, the Ulsterman was not a factor. Most damagingly an eight on the first hole at Royal Portrush led to a missed cut at his first Open in his native Northern Ireland.

It was the biggest tournament of McIlroy's life and the moment got to him. "If I was any other golfer who did what I did this year, then I don't think there would be that tinge of disappointment," he told the BBC. But his exceptional talent means he is judged differently.


The Solheim Cup still sparkles

There have been dark days for women's golf in Europe, so Solheim Cup victory for its team, brilliantly led by Scotland's Catriona Matthew on home soil, was most welcome.

Even more was the manner of the win, with Suzann Pettersen holing the final putt at the last seconds after Bronte Law had won a vital point on the 17th at Gleneagles. Europe needed to win both matches and they did amid magical scenes.

Pettersen, a wildcard who had barely played for two years, promptly retired and Matthew has been rightly reappointed for the 2021 trophy defence. They need to play more quickly, though.

New hope Europe's women can properly capitalise

The new strategic alliance between the Ladies European Tour (LET) and the LPGA is long overdue. At last there is a chance for women's pro golf in Europe to make the most of their Solheim Cup win.

Linking up with their prospering rivals in the United States makes so much sense. It should open up new sponsorship and media deals providing much firmer foundations than the old LET regime could ever muster.

Evolution not revolution is the way forward

It is a safe bet the bosses at the men's European and PGA Tour took note of the alliance forged in the women's game. They also know of outsider plans for a world golf tour along the lines of Formula 1 with $20m (£15.5m) prize funds. The established order would take some toppling, particularly a PGA Tour bolstered by extended TV deals with NBC and CBS said to be worth $700m.

Nevertheless, to repel challenges to their position as the preeminent circuits, the PGA and European Tours may decide they are better together. It would not be a massive surprise if another strategic alliance evolves next year.

Classic courses still matter


A sensational Open was won by an inspired Shane Lowry. But the real star was the Northern Irish venue. Royal Portrush was a spectacular, genuine test of the best. Remodelled to accommodate Open demands, it was a fair but challenging layout that required the highest calibre shotmaking.

A delight for spectators and players alike, it generated a unique atmosphere that Ireland's Lowry rode to perfection. Such golfing architecture is vital for the game. We saw it again at glorious Royal Melbourne for the Presidents Cup. The authorities must ensure such places are never rendered obsolete by the ever increasing distances modern golf balls travel.

New rules have worked

A string of new rules greeted all golfers in 2019. There was initial anger as pros fell foul of updated regulations on caddies standing behind their boss's line and players dropping from the wrong height.

But they soon settled down and it feels as though rounds are now marginally quicker. Putting with the pin in the hole certainly helps us get on with it.

New terminology is alright

This will upset traditionalists furious at being told matches are "tied" rather than "all square" and that "hazards" are "penalty areas". But anything that makes the game more easily understood by the wider sporting population should be embraced.

This is more important than preserving the ways of the past. I will still say "all square" and "hazard", occasionally, but the new terminology will also be part of my commentary. There are bigger things to worry about.

Harrington welcomes unusual away venue

Europe's Ryder Cup captain, Padraig Harrington, is convinced Whistling Straits, the venue for next year's match, will not give massive advantage to his American opponents.

The Irish skipper says he "knows for a fact" that American players detest the choice of course. It sits on the banks of Lake Michigan and is susceptible to varying weather. He believes it cannot be set up with the lightening fast greens the US team enjoy so much.

Harrington is determined to capitalise and force the first away win since the "Miracle at Medinah" in 2012.

MacIntyre is the real deal

Winning the European Tour's Rookie of the Year award is no guarantee of future success. Just ask 2010 winner Matteo Manassero, who has lost his card and beat only two other players while missing the cut at Q School.

But Bob McIntyre, the 23 year old from Oban, offers real hope for Scottish golf. The genial left-hander began the year 247th in the world and now stands 66th, tantalisingly close to eligibility for all the biggest tournaments.

He was sixth on his major debut at The Open. It was among seven top 10s including three runner-up finishes.

"There are going to be goals that are beyond what I thought I could achieve early on," MacIntyre told the BBC. "If we can keep improving then Ryder Cups and top 50 in the world are all achievable."


----By Iain Carter

BBC golf correspondent