Retief Goosen and Padraig Harrington both won’t have minded seeing the back of 2012. For the multiple major winners, it was a year probably best forgotten.
Goosen struggled with a lingering back injury and didn’t play a tournament for the last four months following the U.S. PGA Championship.
Harrington’s struggles with his game continued, finishing in the top 10 on the European Tour only four times in 2012 and extending his winless run to four years.
Ahead of the first event of 2013, the Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa this week, both players are showing signs of hope for a happier new year.
Goosen said ‘the back feels great,’ while Harrington was revived this week by his return to Durban Country Club, the site of his first European Tour tournament and first paycheck 17 years ago.
The 33-man field at the Volvo Champions is made up of the 26 winners from the European Tour in 2012 and the first two events of the new season plus places for players who have won 10 or more career events.
That gives Harrington and Goosen a chance for an early start to 2013. Harrington won the Grand Slam of golf in October after replacing injured British Open champion Ernie Els. He played solidly in the majors last year, but still hasn’t lifted a trophy on the European or U.S. tours since his 2008 U.S. PGA Championship victory.
In Durban, the three-time major winner focused on simpler times – like his professional debut at the FNB Players Championship at Durban Country Club in 1996, when he finished tied for 49th.
“I rang home and said, ‘Mum, I’ve just finished 49th, I won 1,480 pounds ($2,370) and I couldn’t have played much worse. They are just giving it away,”’ Harrington said.
“So it gave me great momentum, because having played poorly from tee to green I walked away from the tournament thinking: ‘Wow, I can play a lot better and yet I still made the cut, and I still made some money.’
“I really felt like I belonged. Seventeen years on, it would be great to phone her again on Sunday.”
“I rang home and said, ‘Mum, I’ve just finished 49th, I won 1,480 pounds ($2,370) and I couldn’t have played much worse. They are just giving it away”
Padraig Harrington, on his 1996 debut
Goosen hoped he is finally rid of the recurring back problems that have hampered his game during the past few years and said he’s ‘very excited about the new year.’
“I’m not sitting here expecting to win but, you know, the last three years has been a struggle with my back – and I tried everything,” the 2001 and 2004 U.S. Open champion said.
“Now I’ve had five months without painkillers, which cleans out your system.
“My mind is also clearer. I’ve forgotten all the bad shots and now need to remember some good ones.”
For both Harrington and Goosen, Els is perhaps a good reminder that perseverance can pay off, after the South African’s surprise win at the British Open last year.
“Winning the Open… opened doors for me again,” said Els, who also starts his year at the Volvo Champions, “and I’ve got some really nice years ahead of me now. I’m 43 and time is running out a bit, but to know you can play in all the big events is a great thrill.”
The Volvo Champions offers a $457,000 top prize and also features European Tour veterans Jose Maria Olazabal, Colin Montgomerie and Darren Clarke.
Miguel Angel Jimenez was also going to play until he broke his leg on a skiing trip over the holidays.