Wednesday, 06 January 2016
  A general view overlooking the 1st tee   (Getty Images)
A general view overlooking the 1st tee (Getty Images)

With a new year of European Tour golf getting under way this week in South Africa, picks out some mouth-watering moments to look forward to over the next 12 months.

The EurAsia Cup

The spoils were shared in the inaugural EurAsia Cup presented by DRB-HICOM back in 2014 when, in dramatic fashion, Thongchai Jaidee’s Team Asia overturned a 7-3 deficit in the Saturday singles matches to secure a nail-biting 10-10 tie with Miguel Angel Jimenez’s European side at Glenmarie Golf and Country Club in Kuala Lumpur.

Two years on from the maiden edition of the team match play contest, and nine months before European take on the United States thousands of miles away at Hazeltine, 2016 European Ryder Cup Captain Darren Clarke leads the line this time in Malaysia against an Asian team skippered by Indian legend Jeev Milkha Singh.

For many, the event will be seen as a testbed for both European captain and potential team members before the revered transatlantic clash in Minnesota later in the year.

With a combined 14 Ryder Cup appearances, the experienced duo of Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood were added as captain’s picks last month, while the uncapped Kristoffer Broberg, Søren Kjeldsen, Bernd Wiesberger plus the English quartet of Matt Fitzpatrick, Andy Sullivan, Danny Willett and Chris Wood will be looking to impress Clarke with eight months left to run of the qualification race.

The potential Ryder Cup rookies only have to look back to 2014 for inspiration; Jamie Donaldson, Victor Dubuisson and Stephen Gallacher all competed in the maiden EurAsia Cup before making their bows in the Big Show at Gleneagles. Food for thought.

The Major season

Or should that read Jordan Spieth versus Rory McIlroy? And don’t you dare forget Jason Day either! Or, for that matter, Branden Grace or Dustin Johnson or Louis Oosthuizen or Justin Rose or a myriad of other players.

In a year-long game of World Number One hot potato, the top spot changed hands no fewer than eight times between Spieth, Day and McIlroy in 2015 – more than any other year in the history of the Official World Golf Ranking – while the battle for golf’s big four events was also as engaging, as enthralling as ever.

This April, McIlroy will once again aim to complete the Career Grand Slam by triumphing in the Masters Tournament with the Green Jacket still the only Major accolade missing from the his mantelpiece. Since letting the title slip from his grasp back in 2011, the Holywood native has finished inside the top ten in each of the last two years while his lengthy and accurate game has long been tipped for success at Augusta National. Could this be his year?

Meanwhile, the world will be watching and waiting to see if Number One Spieth can follow-up his annus mirabilis with a third Major victory in 2016 as the US Open returns to Oakmont in Pennsylvania for a record ninth time (no course has hosted the American National Open more times), The Open heads back to Royal Troon (where six Americans have lifted the Claret Jug starting with Arnold Palmer in 1962), and the US PGA revisits Baltusrol in New Jersey (the site of Phil Mickelson’s second of five Major triumphs).

Elsewhere, will Australian Day find that Major victories are a lot like London buses and bag his second in quick succession after that agonising wait for his first win? Or can big-hitting American Dustin Johnson finally get the Major monkey off his back after ten top ten finishes in golf’s Big Four, including three last year.

Another man to watch out for will be Grace, who sprang to global prominence with near misses at both the US Open and US PGA in 2015, while his compatriot and 2010 Open winner Oosthuizen also claimed two runner-up finishes last year. And we haven’t even mentioned England’s Rose, whose 34 under par cumulative score for the 2015 Major season was the lowest ever by a player who didn’t win one of the grand old quartet. Roll on April.

The 100th Open de France

It is 110 years since the first Open de France, making the historic event the oldest of all National Opens in Continental Europe – and this year the tournament promises to be bigger and better than ever before.

Celebrating its centenary edition in 2016, the 100th Open de France was handed increased prominence when it was decided that the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational – which is scheduled for the same week in early July – would not be sanctioned this year.

A world-class field is expected to assemble at spectacular Le Golf National on the outskirts of Versailles from June 30-July 3, with the tournament counting as two events played in The 2016 Race to Dubai, an enhanced prize fund of €3.5m and an increase in Ryder Cup World and European Points on offer.

The Olympics

The world’s best golfers, competing at the world’s leading international sporting event – it hardly needs any introduction.

Golf returns to the Olympics for the first time in 112 years this summer with excitement already building for Rio 2016 in August.

Think shiny gold, silver and bronze, think national anthems blaring out, think emotionally charged medal ceremonies and, most importantly, think of 60 players all battling for top spot on the podium in a 72-hole stroke play contest across a sporting landscape that will be as exhilarating as it will be unfamiliar. Sounds impressive, right?

The two year qualifying period, which began in July 2014, will see no more than four players from any particular country qualify. Leading American light Spieth has already described the event as like a “fifth major”, so expect to see a mad rush to qualify over the coming months.

The Ryder Cup

There will be contrasting motivations at play when Darren Clarke and Davis Love III lead out their respective European and United States sides for the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National in Chaska, Minnesota come late September.

For Love, the mission is clear: avoid a fate of skippering two defeats in four years and achieve redemption from painful memories of the Miracle of Medinah.

For Clarke, the crux of the assignment will simply be to follow in the footsteps of Colin Montgomerie, of Jose Maria Olazabal, and of Paul McGinley in continuing the rich vein of form which has seen Team Europe prevail in six of the last seven matches.

However, with something of a changing of the guard in progress on this side the pond and the ominous form of the likes of Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Johnson and Patrick Reed and co. on the other, this year’s biennial clash is sure to provide plenty of drama once again. Anyone’s game.

The new Final Series

Turkey. South Africa. Dubai. From four events to three, the cream of the crop from the 2016 European Tour membership will contest in a revamped end-of-season swing, which will see the likes of reigning Race to Dubai champ McIlroy competing for prize funds totalling a whopping $22 million.

After starting at the Turkish Airlines Open from November 3-6, the Final Series will move to stunning Sun City for the second time in this campaign as the Nedbank Golf Challenge joins the elite series of season-ending tournaments for the first time in 2016.

The hugely popular event, which will move from its traditional December spot in the calendar to November 10-13, will provide the prelude to the Race to Dubai finale at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, which will be held once again at European Tour Destination Jumeirah Golf Estates from November 17-20.

Danny Willett pushed Rory all the way in 2015, and with so much talent in the 2016 Race to Dubai, the battle for the Harry Vardon trophy will be as competitive and fierce as ever. Bring it on.

The WGC-HSBC Champions (October 27-30) will no longer be part of the Final Series, with the tournament instead joining the WGC-Cadillac Championship and the WGC-Dell Match Play as part of the regular Race to Dubai season.

And finally…

Some other milestones to look out for in 2016…

· The 10th edition of the Portugal Masters (October 20-23)

· The 25th anniversary of the first Nordea Masters (June 2-5)

· The 30th year of Volvo sponsorship (Volvo China Open – April 28-May 1)

· The 90th edition of the Open de Espana (April 14-17)

· The 70th consecutive playing at Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club (Omega European Masters – September 1-4)

· The 25th Omega Dubai Desert Classic to be played at Emirates Golf Club (February 4-7)

· 25 years since Ian Woosnam won the Masters

· 20 years since Sir Nick Faldo made a famous comeback to win his third and final Masters

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