PGA Tour: 10 Significant Storylines from the 2012 Season
The PGA Tour season is effectively over.
The Fall Series is winding down. All noteworthy trophies were long ago lifted and important titles contended for (no disrespect to the Tyco Skills Challenge).
With this in mind, it’s fitting to look back on some of the most important storylines from a year which featured two first-time major winners, a number of mop tops winning tournaments, an ascendant Tiger and a Junglebird on the loose.
Honorable Mention: Sergio Garcia Returns to the PGA Tour Winner's Circle
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The pouty prima donna of professional golf, Sergio Garcia, inexplicably carded a pair of weekend 66s to win the Wyndham Championship in mid-August. Rather than validating that the 19th-ranked player in the world, the victory doesn’t signify that Garcia is ascendant in any way. Look for continued mediocrity from El Nino in the coming year.
“Winning is always nice,” Garcia said, after the victory. Nice, but not something the Spaniard cares a great deal about, it seems.
The Garcia approach seems to be: Fly to a tournament, play a relaxed practice round or two, spend minimal time on the range, play a few rounds, hopefully collect a paycheck and repeat somewhere else in the world next week. Winning is nice, but not particularly important.
No. 10: The Junglebird Crashes Webb Simpson’s Party
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Webb Simpson had just posted two consecutive rounds of 68 to edge out Jim Furyk and Graham McDowell to win the US Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco when the Junglebird came flying into frame.
The apparent anti-deforestation advocate chose to interrupt Bob Costas and Webb Simpson during the trophy presentation with a series of bird calls. The moment when the Bird first slides into the picture and chirps away was one of the most absurd moments I have ever seen in televised golf.
USGA Director Mike Davis acting as horrified bouncer and yanking the knit-hatted demonstrator offscreen is the icing on the cake of ridiculousness.
No. 9: The Rise of the Duf
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Perhaps he has not yet ascended to the same realm as one Miguel Angel Jimenez, but Jason Dufner is clearly The Dude on the PGA Tour. Sure, the dip-packing Auburn grad blew up on the weekend at Augusta this year, but he got his first two wins on tour, got married and got to hold a koala this year. What could be better?
Dufner has risen 30 spots in the OWGR this year and was one of the few members of the U.S. squad without egg on his face at the Ryder Cup—Dufner beat Peter Hanson 2-up in Sunday Singles.
He doesn’t so much walk the fairways as saunter, with a look that is both cartoonish and pathetic. With an affinity for snuff and an abhorrence of the barber’s chair, The Duf, with his trademark waggle, is a colorful figure on tour and a late-blooming standout.
No. 8: Rickie Fowler “Finally” Gets a Win
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At the Wells Fargo Championship, Rickie Fowler, one of the most heralded rookies to join the Tour recently, secured his first professional victory two years after earning his tour card and 72 starts into his career.
Fowler nearly won his second event on tour, and as the former No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, expectations were high for the Oklahoma State alumnus. By the time that Fowler won in early May, there was much talk about his failure to live up to expectations.
The barbarians at the gate howling about “Fowler the Underachiever” were staved off when Rickie raised the trophy at the Wells Fargo. Whether Fowler has permanently removed himself from consideration as a PGA Tour underachiever will remain to be seen. Multiple wins next year would certainly go a long way.
No. 7: Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy Vie for No. 1
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After his victory at the Honda Classic, Rory McIlroy briefly took over the top spot in the world only to lose it after a T40 finish at the Masters a few weeks later.
Donald and McIlroy traded the No. 1 spot until the PGA Championship. McIlroy’s resounding victory at the Ocean Course brought with it a trophy, significant acclaim and the top spot in the Official World Golf Rankings.
For his part, Luke Donald fell to third place behind Tiger Woods after the Duetsche Bank Championship, where he finished in a tie for 26th place. His T26 finish the next left him stuck in the on-deck circle behind McIlroy and Woods. Donald remains there still, even after a T3 finish at the Tour Championship.
The often-criticized Official Golf Rankings theoretically evaluate who the best player in the world has been over the past two years. Luke Donald has been incredibly consistent, often good, but never really great over the past two years. Indeed, he won only twice on the PGA Tour in 2011 and 2012 combined, whereas McIlroy won five times over the same period of time, including two majors.
No. 6: Eldrick Starts to Look Like Tiger Woods Again
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Entering the year ranked 21st in the world, Tiger is now positioned at No. 2, behind Rory McIlroy. Woods won three times in 2012: at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, The Memorial Tournament and the AT&T National, thus ending a three-year drought of PGA Tour victories.
Of course, Woods failed to finish better than T3 in a major, which will make the year less than a total success for the Striped One. He did, however, play in and make the cut in all four majors, which he didn’t do in 2011.
Additionally, and perhaps most importantly going forward, he appears to have recovered from lingering injuries during the final two-thirds of the season and is expressing a level of comfort and satisfaction with the work he is doing with coach Sean Foley.
No. 5: Nice Guys Finish First…In the FedEx Cup
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The former Public Links champion and PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Brandt Snedeker had a commendable year prior to the Tour Championship: He won once, finished in the top 10 six times and made 19 of 21 cuts. Additionally, he finished in the top 10 of the first two FedEx Cup Playoff events.
Entering the tournament, he was the lowest ranked player who could win the FedEx Cup without help, that is; all players ranked No. 6 or higher had to both win the tournament and have another player finish in a particular position. (ex. Louis Oosthuizen had to both win and have Rory McIlroy finish T2 or worse).
After the win, Snedeker stated (as humbly as one can state) “I am one of the best players in the world.” He also stated, declaratively, “I do not need $11 million. So there are going to be things we can do to really help people. So that's the way I look at it.”
Humble, honest, nice guy….and now a “financially secure” confident finisher. 2013 should be an even better (if less lucrative) year for Sneds.
No. 4: Rory McIlroy Follows 4 Very Bad Months with 2 Months of Superlative Play
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Rory McIlroy didn’t start his 2012 PGA Tour season until the end of February at the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship. He played well, winning once, until the Masters where he finished in a distant tie for 40th.
Following the Masters, McIlroy missed three of four cuts during a stretch (including a missed cut at the U.S. Open) and put together two 73s on the weekend at Royal Lytham for a T60 finish at the Open Championship.
Rory then righted the ship over the next two months, putting all talk of a slump to bed. He won the PGA Championship handily and was victorious in two of the four FedEx Cup events and netted three of a possible five points at the Ryder Cup. The 23-year-old also overtook Luke Donald for the top spot in the Official World Golf Rankings.
Quite the turnaround.
No. 3: Bubba Watson Wins the Masters with Recovery Shot for the Ages
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Having pulled his tee shot right into the pine straw, and with Augusta’s famous foliage blocking his approach to the green, Bubba Watson played an incredible recovery shot under any circumstances.
Given the incomprehensible weight of a Sunday sudden-death playoff to win the Masters which rested on Watson’s shoulders, getting the ball on the putting surface required supreme effort. Prior to the dramatic hook, one would have thought only an act of God could have placed Watson’s ProV1x 10 feet from the hole.
And, well, like they say, an amateur effort in MS Paint is worth a thousand words.
No. 2: Adam Scott Stumbles at Royal Lytham, Opens Door, Els Enters
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As Adam Scott brushed his par attempt on the 18th green past the left edge of the cup to bogey the hole and miss out on a playoff with Ernie Els, he joined Jean Van de Velde as the only player to lead the Open Championship after 54 holes by four or more strokes not to lift the Claret Jug.
Unlike Van de Velde in 1999, who self-destructed in tragi-comic fashion on the 18th at Carnoustie, Scott’s Championship hopes went up in smoke in a slow burn. Four birdies on the four closing holes, four different ways and with them the best chance for one of the best players to never win a major to win one and the return of a lingering question:
Will Adam Scott ever win a major?
No. 1: Team USA Blows a 10-4 Lead, Melts Down at Medinah
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Things were going so well…
When Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson rode the latter’s red-hot PING G5i Craz-E to a 5-and-4 victory in Saturday’s Fourball matches, things were looking pretty good for the American side.
The Europeans, however, won the next seven matches across Sessions Three and Four to back the red, white and blue clad competitors to the ropes. Unable to mount a counterattack through the remaining Sunday Singles matches, the Americans were left sauntering around the greens of Medinah like zombies, wondering why the putts that poured in from all directions for two days no longer wanted to fall.