So, the 2012 golf season is behind us.
Yes, there are a few events on the PGA Tour Fall Series calendar and there will be some rounds played for television’s silly season, but as they scrub the champagne out of the carpets at Medinah, the next serious golf to be played in this country will be in January in Hawaii.
It was by all accounts a great year. We saw an extraordinary talent come together from Northern Ireland and the resurgence of a man named Tiger. Again, we saw four different players win the major championships and watched Brandt Snedeker surprise everybody and win the FedEx Cup.
There is a lot to remember as we go into next season. Making the Top 125 on the FedEx points list is now the best way to keep your tour card, and there will be added emphasis for those turning pro to quickly make a splash on the Web.com developmental tour.
Besides our old friend Augusta National, the majors go to Philadelphia’s Merion for the United States Open. Murifield gets her turn in the Open Championship rota and the PGA comes to Rochester’s Oak Hill.
So as we move forward, here are five things to file away for next season.
Rory McIlroy, What's Next?
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It would be nearly impossible for Rory McIlroy to duplicate his breakout season in 2012.
McIlroy goes into his shortened offseason needing to address parts of his game and determining just how far he wants to rewrite the history books.
The kid needs to work on his accuracy and his short game from 20 yards away from the hole. He finds the rough way too often and has a tendency to chunk his chip shots well short of the hole.
Also, he needs to figure out in his head where exactly he wants to be in four or five years. He is compared to Tiger at the same age, whether it is a fair comparison or not, and he needs to determine if he wants to have that focus that we saw from Woods 10 years ago.
There is no question that he is the best player in the world and has the best raw talent since Tiger, but Rory seems more grounded in being a complete person rather than being on such an open mission to better Jack Nicklaus like Tiger is.
With that said, he will probably take a major next year and three to five total big tournaments. His putting is improving and he genuinely loves the game.
If he thought the expectations and pressure were bad before his run this year, he has not seen anything yet.
Luke Donald and Brandt Snedeker on the Rise
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We saw something out of Luke Donald this past week that we have not seen in a while. He enjoyed the pressure and expectations put on him as he led off the singles session against a fired-up Bubba Watson, spearheading Europe’s amazing comeback in the Ryder Cup.
Europe desperately needed that point and Donald delivered, fighting hard to keep it.
The former world No. 1 player did not make a serious push in 2012 in any of the majors, but if he has some confidence in his game, his accuracy off the tee gives him a serious shot at Merion and Murifield to break through.
Brandt Snedeker showed that same kind of self-confidence a couple of weeks prior at East Lake when he secured the TOUR Championship and the FedEx Cup.
Snedeker has become an elite putter on tour, which will give him a leg up at the Masters and the U.S. Open. He held the 36-hole lead at the Open Championship this past year as well.
Snedeker was able to break through and win a tournament that finally has risen to a level just below a major with his FedEx Cup victory, and that confidence should carry through into next year.
Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson on the Fall
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Pressure can do funny things to a golfer.
It can destroy three rounds of incredible golf and turn a player into a weekend hacker overnight.
Jim Furyk had two golden chances this year to come back and win big tournaments, only to see them slide away by his own hand on Sunday afternoon. While his shooting himself out of the U.S. Open was tough, it was not as tough as the 72nd-hole double-bogey at the WGC-Bridgestone Championship at Firestone.
He simply threw that championship away, and his loss to Martin Kaymer that allowed Europe to retain the Ryder Cup will haunt his confidence for a long time.
Three crushing losses for one of the sport’s good guys.
For Phil Mickelson, there were times this year where it seemed that he had played too much golf and was playing too poorly to even enjoy it.
While a player can have a full and productive career in golf well into his 40s, Mickelson’s schedule needs to be honed to the tournaments he likes.
There is no getting around the congested schedule we see from August on, but Phil will need to be considerably fresher getting to that stretch than he was this year and manage what he needs to do to be Phil.
Of course, hitting it on the fairway every once in a while would help.
Where Are You, Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler?
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Hunter Mahan beat Rory McIlroy at the WGC-Accenture Match Play and Rickie Fowler won the Wells Fargo on the site of the 2016 PGA Championship. But, both players played themselves out of a Ryder Cup slot this year.
Fowler is still young, but he also has seen young gun Rory McIlroy steal all his thunder. For all the game the Oklahoma State grad showed us in May, it was long gone by the summer and an afterthought come fall.
Mahan’s struggles are more of a surprise. He is the American version of Luke Donald. He is solid, steady, accurate and a player who just is not going to beat himself.
His game also could have appeared on the missing person’s list on the back of an old milk carton this year.
Golf is a game of ups and downs. You can be good one week and just awful the next, and if your putter takes you on, you're through.
These two guys have major championship-caliber talent. They won in 2012 and enjoy being out there. They also just slid down the hill as fast as they climbed it to begin with.
A new season means a new hope for everyone, and the hope is that they both rediscover their game and take it to the next level in 2013. Another bad year may permanently damage their confidence.
Tiger Woods, You Ask?
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We really cannot close the chapter of a season without discussing the most famous golfer on the planet.
We saw a little bit of everything from Tiger Woods this year.
He won three times, including a vintage performance at the Memorial in Dublin, Ohio. He contended in three majors this year. He contended for the FedEx Cup this year, giving himself the chance to win it with a win at the TOUR Championship. We saw him smiling and laughing on the course and being a good teammate at the Ryder Cup.
We also saw him not win a major this year. We saw him extremely frustrated at the Masters and we saw him not able to overcome Rory McIlroy or Brandt Snedeker in the playoffs.
His improved accuracy off the tee was betrayed by his inability to hit precision approaches on command. Add the fact that he had a very hard time putting together four consistent rounds, and you have a golfer who is still having mental issues with his game.
Older golfers that can pull things together like Vijay Singh this year ultimately lose because of the mental grind to do it for 72 holes.
Tiger’s biggest fans will tell you that it is just a matter of time before we see another Tiger run of old. His biggest detractors will tell you his mental game is gone and that it won't come back.
The truth is that when he is on, he still is one of the very best in the business. The difference between now and 2001 is that he is not head and shoulders above everyone else in the business. When he found his game during the run-up to the TOUR Championship, there were others that were better.
Most of Tiger’s game is still there. Where he comes back to the field is his putting. That magic touch has not returned, and unless it does, he still only contends at Augusta and wins a couple of times a year.
Great for most, but not for Tiger.