The 10 Biggest Golf Stories of 2012

Fred Altvater@@tolohgolfrContributor IIDecember 17, 2012

The 10 Biggest Golf Stories of 2012

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    Golf fans witnessed another exciting year of golf in 2012.

    Certainly the European Ryder Cup Team overcoming a four-point deficit on Sunday to retain the cup will be remembered for years to come.

    Tiger Woods got back to the winner's circle this year and won three PGA Tour events.

    Rory McIlroy won the Honda Classic, two FedEx Cup Playoff tournaments, the PGA Championship and has a firm grasp on the No. 1 spot on the Official World Golf Rankings. 

    Ernie Els captured his second Claret Jug and Bubba Watson got a new Green Jacket for his wardrobe.

    Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open at Olympic Golf Club using an anchored putter. The USGA and The R&A made a major announcement that has stirred up a firestorm in the golf world. Was this a knee-jerk reaction to Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els winning three of last five majors with the anchored stroke?

    Stacy Lewis is on her way up and Yani Tseng appears to be trending down on the LPGA.

    Staid and conservative Augusta National even made a few headlines in 2012.

    Here is a listing of the year's biggest stories in golf over the last 12 months.

Yani Tseng Is Still World No. 1

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    Yani Tseng has been the most dominating woman in golf for the past three years.  She has won five major championships and 15 LPGA Tour evens all before the age of 24. She is the youngest golfer ever, man or woman, to win five majors by the age of 22.

    Her three wins in 2012 came at the Honda LPGA in Thailand in February, the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup and the Kia Classic, all in March.

    She missed three cuts and did not post a top-10 finish in 11 events from May 21-October 22.

    On the bright side, she is still ranked No. 1 in the world on the Rolex Golf Rankings.  She did have 11 Top-10's to go with her three wins and finished No. 4 on the LPGA money list with $1.4 million in earnings for the year.

    Yani has been ranked No. 1 for 96 weeks, but her lead over No. 2 Na Yon Choi and No. 3 Stacy Lewis has narrowed considerably, and either of these players could overtake her early in 2013.

    She did finish the year on a high note with strong finishes in three of her last five events of the year.

    Yani hit a rough patch this summer protecting her lofty status rather than just playing her game and sought council from former No. 1 Annika Sorenstam.  

    She did not win a major in 2012.  The LPGA will have five majors on the schedule in 2013.

    I would not bet against Yani Tseng winning at least one of them.

Stacy Lewis Wins LPGA Player of the Year

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    The LPGA Tour is truly an international league and has been dominated by foreign-born players over the past decade. LPGA fans keep waiting for the next young American lady to step forward to be a force in the women's game.

    Paula Creamer, Michelle Wie, Morgan Pressel and Christie Kerr have all had chances but have not been able to accumulate the wins, especially in majors, that are necessary to ascend to the pinnacle of their game.

    Laura Davies from England (1), Annika Sorenstam from Sweden (7), Australian Karrie Webb (2), Mexico's Lorena Ochoa (4) and Yani Tseng from Taiwan (2) have won the last 16 LPGA Player of the Year awards.

    Beth Daniel was the last American woman to win the LPGA Player of the Year in 1994.

    Stacy Lewis announced her presence into the LPGA by winning the first LPGA major that she was eligible to enter, the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship.  She held off none other than Yani Tseng and showed the world her determination and steady all-around game.

    Stacy won four events, had an amazing 16 top-10 finishes and earned nearly $1.9 million in 2012.  She was clearly the most consistent player on the LPGA Tour.

    Maybe LPGA fans have found the "One" that they have been looking for.

Ernie Els Wins Open Championship at Royal Lytham

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    Heading into 2012, Ernie Els had fallen outside the Top 50 in the world and was not eligible to play in the Masters

    He was in position for a win at the Transitions but a balky putter kept him out of the winner's circle.  The following week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational he again threatened, but a final-round 75 moved him to T-5 and out of the Masters.

    All of the hard work that he had put in over the winter and early in the year paid off with big dividends as he was able to finish in a tie with Jason Dufner after 72 holes at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans at the end of April.  

    Dufner went on to win with a birdie at the second playoff hole in New Orleans. But Els gained valuable confidence and used that to win 11 weeks later when he shot 67-70-68-68 for seven-under par and a one-shot win over Adam Scott in the Open Championship at Royal Lytham.

    It was his second Claret Jug and the fourth major victory of his career.

    Many felt that at age 42, Els was probably too far removed from his best years on the golf course and his time was better spent fundraising for his philanthropic endeavors.

    Els always knew he had the ball striking capability and distance to compete with the young guys. His putting was the problem.

    That was solved with the belly putter and he went on to win $3.4 million, finish No. 4 in the FedEx Cup standings and move up to No. 24 in the world. 

    Not a bad year for a has-been. 

Bubba Watson Won the Masters

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    Louis Oosthuizen made a double-eagle at the par-five eighth hole on Sunday that moved him to 10-under par and into the lead at the 2012 Masters.

    That didn't stop Bubba Watson from winding up and swinging away as he always does. He posted a final round five-under par 67 that put him at 10-under par.

    Bogeys at Nos.4 and 10 forced Oosthuizen to make birdies at Nos. 13 and 15 to get back to 10-under par and tie with Watson.

    In the playoff both Watson and Oosthuizen made par at No. 10, the first playoff hole. On No. 11 Bubba pulled his tee shot way right into the trees and pine needles. Ending up 160 yards from the green, he hit one of the most miraculous shots ever witnessed in golf history.

    He hooked a 54-degree wedge nearly 30 yards around and over the trees that worked even more left with the slope of the green and gave him a look at birdie.

    After Oosthuizen could only manage a bogey, Watson tapped in for par and won the Masters in dramatic fashion.

    Amid all of the chaos, Watson and his wife were in the final stages of adopting a son, and Bubba, who is a tad emotional at times, couldn't shut off the water works.

    He cried at the awards ceremony. He cried on Golf Channel's Morning Drive and he cried some more on Letterman.

    The fact that a guy named Bubba could actually go home wearing the Green Jacket confounds every principle that the crusty old guard at Augusta National stands for, but it was sure fun to watch.

PGA Tour Announces New Scheduling and Qualification Process for 2013 and Beyond

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    Tim Finchem may be on the back nine of his run as PGA Tour Commissioner, but he has not lost his ambition and drive to leave professional golf in the best shape possible before he decides to retire.

    The PGA Tour made some very big announcements and changes this year that will have a gigantic affect on the tour for many years to come.

    First of all, PGA Tour Q-School as we have known it has gone away. After this year players can only qualify for the PGA Tour via the Tour. In the future Q-School graduates will only earn exemption to the Tour.

    Second, the 2014 PGA Tour schedule will actually start in October, 2013. After the FedEx Cup and the Presidents Cup are over, the six new Fall Series events will award FedEx Cup points and the money earned will be counted toward the 2014 season.

    The tour has gone international in a big way. It has accredited the CIMB in Malyasia, the WGC-HSBC in China and the OHL in Mexico as regular stops on the 2013-2014 schedule.

    The PGA Tour recognizes the importance of the Far East and its massive buying potential and is positioning itself to become even more involved there in the future.

    The PGA Tour also purchased the Canadian Tour and will use it as a developmental tour along with the Latinoamerica Tour. Canada and Latin America will funnel young players into the and provide a minor league of sorts for young unproven players.

    The six Fall Series events that now make up the beginning of the new golf season all feature $6 million purses and award FedEx Cup points. That is $36 million more for tour players to earn and more opportunities to qualify for FedEx Cup Playoff points.

Tiger Woods Has Three Wins but No Majors in 2012

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    Until Tiger Woods won the 2012 Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, he had not won an official PGA Tour event since the 2009 BMW Championship.

    In addition to the Palmer, he won the Memorial where he tied the host, Jack Nicklaus, with 73 career PGA Tour wins. After a total collapse on the weekend at the U.S. Open at Olympic Club, he came back two weeks later to win the AT&T National at Congressional.

    His three wins in 2012 all came on courses that he had won on previously; Bay Hill, Muirfield Village and Congressional. 

    His good play actually started late in 2011 with a third-place finish at the Aussie Open the week prior to the Presidents Cup. Tiger also turned in very solid performances at Royal Melbourne in the Presidents Cup.

    He out-dueled Zach Johnson down the stretch for a win at his World Challenge in December 2011 on Sherwood Country Club, another course on which he is very comfortable.

    His only issues in 2012 were on the weekends at the majors. His short game was not quite where it needed to be to compete at the highest level, and it was exposed under the intense pressure of competitive golf in a major championship.

    Tiger finished the year with nine top-10 finishes in 19 starts. He earned $6.1 million and finished No. 2 in the FedEx Cup rankings. He also moved from outside the Top 50 on the Official World Golf Rankings to No. 3 by the end of the year.

    Since Tiger turned professional in 1997 he has played in 60 major championships. He has won 14 but also has 36 top-10 finishes in those tournaments.  

    Although Woods did not win a major in 2012 his game has definitely improved and we can expect to see him holding major hardware in the near future.

    It is unusual that Tiger is not the top story for the year in golf. As they say the "Game" is bigger than any one individual. 

    Golf is experiencing a new "Golden Age." Rory McIlroy and increased interest in golf around the world is bringing a new prosperity to golf. 

    Tiger has definitely helped to start that process, but he is not the only story these days.

Augusta National Adds Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore to Membership

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    In August the president of Augusta National Golf Club, Billy Payne, announced that full membership had been granted to two new female members, former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, and South Carolina financier, Darla Moore.

    It was a huge break in tradition for one of the last bastions of the all-male country club culture. Augusta National had come under severe scrutiny over the past decade for its lack of female members.

    The staid and ultra-conservative membership of Augusta National always replied in the same manner when pushed on the subject of no women members. All members are considered over a period of years and all membership issues are kept private.

    Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts conceived of the idea of Augusta National in the early 1930's. Private golf clubs were for the sole purpose of men to socialize and play golf.

    Times have changed and women who are involved in business and government demand a seat at the table.

    Augusta National is one of the last private clubs to add women members and it looks like even though they took their time and did it their way, they got it right.

    I wonder how they handle the all-natural rule for the pool and the sauna?

    In another development for Augusta National, they had agreed to grant an exemption to play in the Masters for the winner of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship. Guan Tianlang, a 14-year-old middle school student from China won the 2012 Asia-Pacific Amateur and will be headed to Augusta the first week of April. He will become the youngest to ever tee it up in the Masters.

    The Masters, in its efforts to grow the game of golf around the world, has recognized the importance of the Far East. Their involvement in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship gives Asian golfers a very special reason to improve their games and earn a spot in the Masters.   

Rory McIlroy Wins Second Major and Ascends to World No. 1

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    23-year-old Rory McIlroy had a pretty good year in 2012.  He won the Honda Classic in March, even with Tiger Woods applying some pressure by firing a final round 62. With the win he moved into the No. 1 spot in the world for the first time.

    He had just missed winning the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship the week prior to the Honda when he lost in the final match to Hunter Mahan.

    The week after the Honda he was T-3 at the WGC-Cadillac at Doral. In his first three starts on the 2012 PGA Tour he had a win, a runner-up and a third-place finish. He banked over $2.4 million in those three weeks and inserted himself at the top of the FedEx Cup money list. 

    For most professional golfers that would be a nice career. For young Rory it was only the start of the year.

    He struggled a bit through the middle of the year. The jet-set lifestyle and famous professional tennis-playing girlfriend, Caroline Wozniacki, seemed to be a distraction for a time.

    Come on, the guy is 23, rich, famous and good-looking. What would you be doing? 

    After missed cuts at the Players and the Memorial, he had a talk with his father, decided to hire his long-time coach on a full-time basis and got back to work. Even though he missed another cut at the U.S. Open it was evident that he was on the right track.

    He finished the year with the win at Kiawah for the PGA Championship and then won the Deutsche Bank and the BMW Championship in the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

    McIlroy also helped the European Ryder Cup team retain the cup after heading into Sunday's singles matches with a four-point deficit. 

    He finished the year No. 1 on the PGA Tour money list, No. 1 on the European Tour money list, won the Vardon Trophy and No. 1 on the Official World Golf Ranking.

    Rory has become a worthy opponent for Tiger Woods. 

    He is maturing right before our eyes and will be a huge story in golf for a long time.

USGA and the R&A Propose "Anchored Stroke" Rule Change

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    Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els all won major championships wielding a belly putter. Adam Scott was runner-up to Els at Royal Lytham also using a long putter tucked to his chest.

    The USGA and The R&A have watched the growing use of anchored putters over the last few years and finally decided something had to be done to stop this rash of obvious disdain for the "spirit of the game."

    Players that used the anchored stroke had won three of the last five major championships and they were witnessing an increased usage of the anchored putters at their USGA- and R&A-sanctioned events.

    Golf instructors were even teaching juniors to adopt the anchored putting technique.

    This appeared to be the last straw. The keepers of the game could take no more. They had to act.

    The USGA and The R&A jointly monitor and make the rules for golf. They proposed the following rule change to be added to the rules of golf early in 2013 and to become effective January 1, 2016.

    14-1b Anchoring the Club
    In making a stroke, the player must not anchor the club, either “directly” or by use of an “anchor point.” 

    Note 1:  The club is anchored “directly” when the player intentionally holds the club or a gripping hand in contact with any part of his body, except that the player may hold the club or a gripping hand against a hand or forearm.

    Note 2:  An “anchor point” exists when the player intentionally holds a forearm in contact with any part of his body to establish a gripping hand as a stable point around which the other hand may swing the club. 

    This announcement set off a firestorm of media attention and elicited numerous comments from professional as well as casual golfers everywhere.

    Players that do not use the anchored putters want them banned. Players that have used them for years and will now have them taken away are outraged.

    The USGA and the R&A normally like to stay out of the limelight and prefer to stay in the backgrond.

    This announcement thrust them right onto page one.

Europeans Win Exciting Ryder Cup AGAIN!!

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    The USA Ryder Cup Team captained by Davis Love played flawless golf through the first 14 matches and had a 10-4 advantage heading into the final two matches on Saturday.

    The European Ryder Cup team faced one of the largest deficits in Ryder Cup history heading into those final two Four-Ball matches on Saturday afternoon, but then something amazing happened.

    Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald went 3-up on Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker through their first four holes. Going four down after the first nine holes, Woods and Stricker finally woke up and wins at 10, 11, and 13 got them back to just one down with five holes to play. That would be as close as they would come.

    Garcia/Donald were able to eke out the one-up win over Woods/Stricker and add a much-needed full point to the Euro ledger. 

    In the last match of the day Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson were in control at two-up over Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter through 12 holes. Great teams close out the opponent, but in this case the USA team did not.

    Mcilroy picked up a birdie at No. 13 and then Ian Poulter strapped a listless McIlroy on his back and proceeded to completely turn around the 2012 Ryder Cup with birdies at 15 and 16 that would give the Euros a one-up win. The point made the score 10-6 after the first two days.

    The USA was still in control, right? Normally the USA trailed after the team competition and would right the ship in Sunday Singles. Certainly a four-point lead heading into the 12 singles matches with the powerhouse lineup of talent that the American team had would crush the Euros.

    Winning the last two points on Saturday had given the Euros a glimmer of hope, and besides they had the American Ryder Cup slayer Ian Poulter on their side.

    Jose Maria Olazabal professing visions of Seve Ballesteros and loading the front end of his roster with Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose on Sunday made him the smartest guy on the planet. All four of the Euros won their matches and suddenly the Ryder Cup was all even with just eight points remaining.

    Ian Poulter made miraculous putts on 17 and 18 to win outright over Webb Simpson. Justin Rose channeled some of that "Poulter Putter" magic in making a bomb to sink the ever amiable Phil Mickelson. Golf fans everywhere knew that something was amiss.

    The Europeans had taken full control of the Ryder Cup, again!

    Wins by Lawrie, Garcia, Westwood and Kaymer sealed the deal for the Euros and made the Woods/Molinari half inconsequential to the festivities.

    For two days the Americans could do no wrong. In the last 14 matches they could do nothing right.

    The 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club was one of the greatest sporting contests of all time. It transcended the sports kingdom. Even guys that don't normally watch or care about golf discussed the Ryder Cup at the water cooler on Monday.

    The biannual Ryder Cup matches have become one of the most anticipated events in sports.

    It was definitely the biggest golf story of 2012 and probably will be again in 2014 when they will be held in Scotland at Gleneagles.