Even the best in the world need constant motivation and stimulation and there's no doubt that Rory McIlroy got that in spades 2015. The impressive way he closed out his third Race to Dubai title in four years by winning his DP World Tour Championship marks him out as a special talent. The arrival on the scene of Jordan Spieth and Jason Day can only be good for McIlroy. But the fact that he mentioned "putts" or "putting" some 16 times in his post Dubai press conference is certainly an indication of his mindset.
"For me, it seems like the more pressure I'm under or the more it means, the better I putt, which is a nice thing to have," he said. "I feel like my game and my putting has been gradually progressing throughout these last few weeks. It was nice to hold (sic) some putts over the weekend there that I needed.
"But I know if I putt like this and I putt like this regularly, this is what can happen, because as I said at the start, my ball-striking has been there all throughout this Final Series, and even before that, even coming back from the injury, my ball-striking was never the thing that I was worrying about...
"I feel like the last few events, I've come off the course a lot of times frustrated because I really feel like I could have done better and I put myself in the position to do better.
"But I guess I saved the best for last. I feel like I finally showed this week what was in there. I just needed to find something to be able to let it out and thankfully this week I was able to do that."
In other words, if I putt well, it's game over folks.
With four wins from 20 starts this year, McIlroy has never had a better year in terms of success rate. That he didn't win one of the three majors he played irked him no end and missing the Open though injury was a blow. That's he's vowed never to become obsessed with his weaknesses is a one thing but he's talking more about his putting, bringing the subject up himself when he putts well and when he doesn't
Had he putted well, he would have won the 2011 Masters by a huge margin and it was a similar story this year, though Spieth was probably untouchable at Augusta. Whatever about his streakiness on the greens, McIlroy's most important number is his scoring average and at his best, he is the best player in the world hands down. Spieth might have the edge in the mental game but McIlroy simply has more game and when he's good, he's very, very good.
Even a talent like Graeme McDowell needs an edge to stay competitive and Graeme McDowell reacted brilliantly to his wake up call this year. Following his win the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, the 36-year old finishing third behind Kevin Kisner in the RSM Classic at Sea Island on Sunday evening to give a horror story a fairytale ending. Everyone needs motivation to perform at a high level and McDowell was in danger of becoming a victim of his own considerable success — beautiful family, money to burn, businesses outside the game, a major on the sideboard and a host of big hitting young guns making life difficult at work. Losing the goose that lays the golden eggs proved to be all the motivation McDowell to get back to basics and reapply himself. The Ryder Cup is on the horizon but McDowell will also be returning to the site of his Open at Royal Troon with a genuine chance of winning this time. Watch this space.
Keith Pelley, the man from the telly
The new European Tour CEO is the new poster boy for the power of positive thinking. With his marketing background, he's creating his message: the European Tour has "wonderful" players and "magical" events that are worth playing even if you are a world star based in the US. Judging by a brief TV interview with Sky's David Livingstone in Dubai on Sunday — "It's only six hours from London" was Pelley's PR hook for anyone thinking of a weekend away — his vocabulary is full of words such as "terrific" (his favourite), "unbelievable", "magnificent", "brilliant" and "incredible," He's finding out what the players want — he says he's spoken to all the players, adding that he's spoke to around "15 players," In the words, he's some to the players who matter and listened to them.
Keith Pelley: "Wentworth is 5.1 million Euros. The event in US that week is 6.1. That's unacceptable. Wentworth needs to be $8-10 million."— Steve Elling (@EllingYelling) November 17, 2015
If they want better tournaments with more money and a reason not to spend that weekend waxing the Ferrari, Pelley says he will make them "wealthier". He wants fans and the media to focus on who IS playing rather than who isn't. In short, he's an energetic Canadian with a sense of humour, a plan, fresh ideas and energy. His style may be a challenge for some of his more traditional staff going forward but as he showed when changing the membership criteria, shaking things up is not a problem for him. He's even spent time chatting to the caddies. Not that really is terrific.
Shane Lowry's Great Expectations
The pride of Clara had a chance to win the Race to Dubai following his WGC-Bridgestone Invitational victory but ended up slipping from third to fifth. That in itself should give him food for thought. It was, of course, a break out year for a great talent and even better person but while he has great people around him, he struggles to get comfortable when he moves up a level. It's happened to him at every stage and it's what makes him human and popular. Having failed to live up to his own expectations on his Masters debut, he refocussed and grabbed a Top 10 in the US Open.
As a result of that he was expected to challenge for The Open at St Andrews and self-destructed under the weight of expectations — his and those of half the country. Then came Firestone. If the boom-boost trend continues, he'll shine in the early season events in the US, where he'll have his future Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington as a friendly travelling companion. As Paul McGinley said recently. 2016 is a year of consolidation for Lowry with the Olympics, the Ryder Cup and the PGA Tour all on his radar.
Paul Dunne and the generation game
The brilliance of Paul Dunne from start to finish this year and the promise of his pals Gary Hurley, Gavin Moynihan and Jack Hume (Cormac Sharvin will probably join them in the pro ranks in May) was a shot in the arm for Irish golf. With Damien McGrane and Peter Lawrie approaching the end, Irish golf needs new blood with Seamus Power, Chris Selfridge, Ruaidhri McGee, Brian Casey, Niall Kearney and Niall Turner all capable of reaching the levels shown by Kevin Phelan, arguably our most talented young player (Dunne included).
With invitations on the Challenge Tour set to flow for the elite few, Ireland can be hopeful that our younger players can gain a foothold in the pro game and avoid the third tier tours.
Padraig and the "old" guard
There's no doubt that Pádraig Harrington knows what he has to do to win another major. He showed he can still win by beating one of the USA's top young guns in a playoff for the Honda Classic. Whether he can execute all the Major moves at the right time is another question entirely, as we saw in The Open, but as we approach the stage when when the original Big Three of Harrington, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley edge a little closer to the Senior Tour, one final moment of glory beckons for one or all next year. With McGinley, a man with fingers in many pies these days, preparing for his final season on the main tour (he's 50 in December 2016) and Clarke set to led a new-look European Ryder Cup team, it's going to be an interesting year for all three.