2018 proved to be a year of big upsets and surprise winners in golf.
It was also a year of firsts with Patrick Reed and Francesco Molinari winning their first Majors.
In the World Golf Championships (WGC), Justin Thomas and rookie Xander Schauffele also won their first WGC events.
Elsewhere, in the team competition Europe produced the biggest shock, beating the hotly-fancied US in the Ryder Cup.
It was also a breakthrough year in the women’s game for Britain’s Georgia Hall, Pernilla Lindberg and Angela Stanford, who all secured their first Majors.
The biggest surprise story of 2018 though was undoubtedly Molinari.
He started off the year in style by winning the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May, and recorded his first PGA Tour victory at the Quicken Loans National at TPC Potomac, Maryland, in June.
He then made history by clinching the Open Championship at Carnoustie the following month by two strokes over Kevin Kisner, Rory McIlory, Justin Rose and Schauffele, finishing on eight under, thus becoming the first Italian to win a Major.
Benefitting from a more powerful approach to his game introduced by his coach Denis Pugh, Molinari put in a career-best performance, first overhauling the leader McIlroy and then holding him off on the final day to lift the Claret Jug.
The win also moved him up to sixth in the Official World Golf Ranking – the highest position of his career.
He followed that up two months later by helping Europe to a comprehensive Ryder Cup victory over America in Paris, becoming the first player to win all five of his matches.
First teaming up with Tommy Fleetwood in the famous ‘Moliwood’ partnership, they won all four fourball and foursome matches, before Molinari went on to beat Phil Mickelson in the singles.
He rounded off the year by winning the Race to Dubai title on the European Tour.
Another player to upset the form book in 2018 was Reed.
Leading going into the final round of the Masters in Augusta, Georgia in April, he held off strong challenges from the favourites including McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler to take the Green Jacket by one shot.
A year of firsts
Thomas also achieved another first in 2018, winning his first WGC event at the WGC-Bridgestone International in Ohio in August by four shots.
Playing in front of his grandfather, who himself competed in the 1960 PGA Championship at Firestone, he held off nearest challenger Kyle Stanley to win with a final round of 69.
In October, Schauffele upset the odds to win the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, clinching victory on the first sudden death play-off hole against Tony Finau.
Tied on 13 under after 72 holes after Finau had led by three shots going into the final round, Schauffele secured victory with a birdie.
With Tiger Woods’ remarkable comeback year and America dominating the top 10 world rankings, the US were widely tipped to win the Ryder Cup.
But they didn’t account for Europe’s fighting spirit, led by fine performances from Molinari and Fleetwood.
Despite a flying start in the opening round of four fourballs, by the afternoon Europe had turned the tide, winning the foursomes with a clean sweep – the first in Ryder Cup history – to put them 5-3 in front.
They continued to dominate the second day and went into the final day with a commanding 10-6 lead.
But the US closed the gap to just one point, winning three of their top five singles matches with Thomas defeating McIlroy, Webb Simpson beating Rose, and Finau triumphing over Fleetwood.
However, rookie duo Thorbjørn Olesen and Jon Rahm stepped up to take the scalps of Spieth and Woods and give the hosts a three-point cushion before Ian Poulter defeated world No.1 Dustin Johnson to set up Molinari for victory, which he duly wrapped up when Phil Mickelson found the water on the 16th.
To add injury to insult, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Alex Noren all won their matches and despite Reed beating Tyrrell Hatton, Europe closed out comfortable victors by 17-and-a-half to 10-and-a-half.
In the women’s game, Hall put herself on the map by beating Pornanong Phatlum by two strokes at the Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes in August.
Earlier, in March Lindberg also secured her first major victory at the ANA Inspiration at Mission Hills Country Club, California after a play-off against Inbee Park and Jennifer Song, jumping 61 places in the world ranking to a career-best 34.
After coming close in several Majors, Stanford made her breakthrough at the Evian Championship in France in September, winning by one stroke over a chasing pack of four.
If 2019 is anything like 2018 then we could be in for another year of the underdog.