Rory McIlroy crowned a magnificent year when he was voted RTÉ Sports Person of the Year for 2014 last night. But it was also a positive day in many respects for Darren Clarke as he notched his best finish of a trying season in Dubai.
The 46-year old might have been disappointed to end up tied for 15th in the Asian Tour's inaugural Dubai Open following a closing 72, but having missed 13 cuts in his previous 25 events this year with a best finish of tied 18th in the Italian Open, it was a positive week.
Just a stroke off the lead following an eight under 64 in the third round, Clarke was never a factor on the final day as he made three birdies and three bogeys at The Els Club and ended up seven shots behind India's Arjun Atwal, who ended a frustrating four-year title drought by winning by one stroke after Korean teenager Wang Jeung-hun bogeyed the final hole.
Atwal, a former Asian Tour number one, trailed by one heading into the par five 18th hole at the magnificent Els Club Dubai but emerged victorious with a closing birdie while a nervous Wang posted a six following a wayward second shot which ended in a bush.
The 41-year-old Indian, one of four overnight leaders at the final tournament of the 2014 Asian Tour season, ended the day of high drama by signing off with a six-under-par 66 and a winning total of 16-under-par 2727 while Wang carded for a 67. Scotsman Simon Yates took third place following a 68.
Clarke will end 2014 ranked 425th in the world, a fall of 129 spots. But as he said in the build up to the event, he will never stop trying to conquer the game:
“In terms of what I want to do, I want to play," he said. "I love the game and I hate the game. Of late, I’ve hated the game a bit more than I love the game but that’s the game of golf. That’s professional sport.
"It’s not always pitching up in beautiful venues such as here and going out and having a good time on the golf course. It’s our job and sometimes we love it and sometimes we don’t.
"You play well and it’s brilliant; if you struggle a little bit, it’s not so much fun but you have to keep battling on for the good times. That’s why I’m still doing it because I love the game and I always will love the game."
McIlroy has had one of the greatest years in the history of the game, winning the Open and the USPGA not to mention the BMW PGA at Wentworth and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron.
He also returned to world No 1 in 2014 and while he was somewhat surprisingly denied the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award last week, he won the public vote in the RTÉ Sports Person of the Year award for the second time since 2011, beating off competition from the following:
- Niamh Briggs – Top points scorer at Rugby World Cup. Player of the Year nominee.
- Seamus Coleman – Everton’s Player of the Season & PFA Team of the Year.
- Briege Corkery – All-Ireland winner with Cork camogie & Ladies football.
- Mark English – European bronze medallist, 800 metres.
- Carl Frampton – IBF Super Bantamweight world champion
- Michael McKillop – Double European Paralympic gold medallist.
- James O’Donoghue – All-Ireland SFC champion & Footballer of the Year.
- Jonny Sexton – 6 Nations champion (Ireland) & IRB Player of the Year nominee.
- Jason Smyth – Double European gold medallist.
- Richie Hogan – All-Ireland SHC champion & Hurler of the Year.
- Katie Taylor – World and European women’s boxing champion.
"As Johnny [Sexton] just said there, you never set out in a year to achieve these awards or think about these awards but it is really nice," said McIlroy, who gave golf its seventh win since the award was created in 1985, which is two more than any other sport.
"It is really nice to be recognised for all your hard work and your achievements throughout the year. When you think about some of the people who were nominated for this award as well — world champions and people that excelled at their sports — it's a great honour."
Looking ahead of 2015 and the Masters, he said he was already thinking of the green jacket and completing the career Grand Slam.
"I think it is hard not to," McIlroy said in accepting the award. "As soon as I won The Open Championship in July, that's where my attention turned to because that's the one that's missing from the trophy cabinet or from the mantelpiece, or from the wardrobe I guess.
"I will give myself a little downtime over Christmas and the New Year and work hard to try and get to Augusta in the best possible shape to try and win a green jacket in April."
As for Irish professional golf in 2014, there were 11 wins worldwide. Apart from McIlroy's four stellar victories on the US and European tours, Padraig Harrington won for the first time since 2010 (Indonesia Open), Graeme McDowell retained the French Open, Richard O'Donovan from on the Pro Golf Tour in Germany (Preis des Hardenberg), Seamus Power won twice on the eGolf Gateway Tour in the US (Cowan's Ford Open and Southern Open) before winning his Web.com Tour card in style.
Ballyliffin's Brendan McCarroll won again on the Alps Tour (Peugeot Open) and Muskerry's Niall Turner (Jakarta Open) won back his Asian Tour card by finishing in the Top 5 on the second tier Asian Development Tour.
Irish golf's Top 20 via Official World Golf Ranking
Rank (end '13)
- 1 (6) Rory McIlroy
- 15 (14) Graeme McDowell
- 44 (76) Shane Lowry
- 207 (247) Michael Hoey
- 265 (131) Pádraig Harrington
- 341 (338) Damien McGrane
- 425 (296) Darren Clarke*
- 427 (968) Niall Turner
- 449 (390) Gareth Maybin
- 506 (996) Kevin Phelan
- 510 (297) Simon Thornton
- 585 (412) Paul McGinley
- 718 (368) David Higgins
- 735 (544) Gareth Shaw
- 895 (300) Peter Lawrie
- 930 (1508) Ruaidhri McGee
- 1001 (791) Alan Dunbar
- 1061 (1152) Niall Kearney
- 1152 (1181) Jonny Caldwell
- 1430 (1181) Dermot McElroy (am)