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Tiger Woods, Collin Morikawa and Nelly Korda: The 11 golfers who made 2021 a year to remember

What a year, one where history was made at every turn. 

From a man winning the Open on his debut to a 50-year-old winning the US PGA. From Europe’s record defeat at the Ryder Cup to the continent’s stunning success at the Solheim Cup. 

Here are my 11 players who came to define the season.

Collin Morikawa brilliantly won the Open Championship in July on his tournament debut 

1 Collin Morikawa

Who says you have to hit the ball miles and be built like an outhouse to rule the modern world? Give me the best iron player of his generation and a sporadically brilliant putter any day.

It helps, of course, that he’s fearless as well. Fancy winning the Open at your first attempt, and at quirky Royal St George’s to boot. 

Not to mention a starring role at the Ryder Cup and becoming the first American to win the Race to Dubai. 

To think, the members of the PGA Tour voted Patrick Cantlay as player of the year. What a joke.

On Sunday, Morikawa became the first American golfer to win the prestigious Race to Dubai

On Sunday, Morikawa became the first American golfer to win the prestigious Race to Dubai

2 Phil Mickelson

What a time to be old. Bernhard Langer won the Champions Tour at the age of 64. Rory McIlroy played with 78-year-old former US Walker Cup player Vinny Giles a couple of weeks ago and was blown away when he shot 69 off the back tees at fiendish Seminole in Florida.

The golden oldie, however, was Mickelson, who won the US PGA at Kiawah Island to become the first man over 50 to win a major. 

He also won four times on the Champions Tour — when he could be bothered to show up.

Phil Mickelson won the US PGA at Kiawah Island to become the first man over 50 to win a major

Phil Mickelson won the US PGA at Kiawah Island to become the first man over 50 to win a major

3 Tiger Woods

There was a shadow hanging over the season following a dark February day in Los Angeles, when the world held its breath and wondered whether the man who played the game better than it has ever been played would survive an horrific car accident.

Thankfully, the prayers were answered and Tiger has not only recovered sufficiently to become an able parent to his two teenage kids, he posted a video of himself on Sunday hitting a full shot that almost broke the internet. 

There won’t be a dry eye over the Swilken Bridge if he makes the 150th Open at St Andrews.

Tiger Woods posted a video of him hitting balls for the first time since his February car crash

Tiger Woods posted a video of him hitting balls for the first time since his February car crash

4 Leona Maguire

With due apologies to Jon Rahm, the performance of the year by a European arguably came at the Solheim Cup in Ohio from an Irish golfer who left the team in stars and stripes in awe with a record haul for a rookie of four and a half points out of five.

The Emerald Isle has enjoyed plenty of incredible feats by its leading performers over the last 15 years and this one places Leona alongside the legends.

5 Rory McIlroy

If ever a moment summed up the deflating nature of this year’s Ryder Cup, it was the tears that fell freely at the finish from Europe’s talisman. That’s how it’s been for Rory at the events that matter most for way too long now, and maybe he’ll never find the cure.

But from that Ryder reaction to turning down tens of millions of dollars to join the Saudi-backed world tour, it’s hardly surprising that his enormous fan base are sticking by him. Less of the shirt-ripping, though, please. 

That was plain embarrassing.

6 Nelly Korda

Talk about the girl who has everything. The one who looks like she’s stepped off a catwalk with a swing that might be the best in the game. 

Some players never get over the excitement of a first major win. Korda followed it up with Olympic gold.

She also inspired arguably the sports headline of the year: Nelly the Elegant. Take a bow, my Sportsmail colleague who came up with that one.

Nelly Korda followed up the excitement of her first major win by winning Olympic gold in Tokyo

Nelly Korda followed up the excitement of her first major win by winning Olympic gold in Tokyo

7 Hideki Matsuyama

An Asian golfer winning the Masters was perhaps the game’s final frontier, a daunting mental challenge in itself but immeasurably more difficult for any man from golf-obsessed Japan.

Matsuyama’s success produced two unforgettable images. One was the man himself, sitting on the concourse at Atlanta airport waiting for a flight home, looking like any other economy-class punter but for the green jacket by his side.

The other was his caddie on a deserted 18th green following the moment of triumph, facing towards Amen Corner and taking an appreciative bow.

8 Richard Bland

How do you explain the phenomenon of the Southampton golfer, who eclipsed, in one season at the age of 48, everything he had achieved in every other campaign combined dating back to the last century?

A first victory in his 542nd event was startling enough, but he kept going, becoming the oldest halfway leader in the history of the US Open and ending the season in 11th place in the Race to Dubai — the first time he’s ever finished in the top 25. 

The UK golfer of the year, without question.

Richard Bland ended the season 11th in the Race to Dubai – his first ever finish in the top 25 

9 Anna Nordqvist

You can berate the R&A for their part in holding the women’s game back for decades and heaven knows, I’ve done it often enough myself. But credit where it’s due, and how they’re now seeking to make amends.

This year’s Women’s Open was the best yet at Carnoustie, and showcased why this generation are fully deserving of the increased profile. 

On perhaps the most difficult 18th hole in the British game, the cool Swede Nordqvist demonstrated exactly how to win a major.

Anna Nordqvist demonstrated exactly how to win a major at this year’s Women’s Open 

10 Jon Rahm

A first major, a first child, and first place in the world rankings for the Spaniard. Not to mention two bouts of Covid, and two hoots to the American opposition at the Ryder Cup.

Rahm will head into the new year with the breath of Morikawa on his neck. In other words, the sort of thing he relishes.

11 Greg Norman

The story that rumbled under the surface all year finally moved beyond conjecture with the charismatic Aussie named as the face of Saudi golf, with hundreds of millions of dollars at his fingertips as he plans their global tour.

No public signings yet, but let’s just say the Shark is circling around some household names in their mid-to-late 40s, including several Brits, and it may have consequences when it comes to the Ryder Cup captaincy. 

No revolution is ever peaceful.

Aussie Greg Norman was named as the face of Saudi golf and is planning their global tour

Aussie Greg Norman was named as the face of Saudi golf and is planning their global tour

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk