5 Golfers Who Need to Flush Away Memories of 2012

Will Leivenberg@@will_leivenbergFeatured ColumnistDecember 19, 2012

5 Golfers Who Need to Flush Away Memories of 2012

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    It had been nine long years since Jim Furyk won a major championship, but Sunday at the 2012 U.S. Open he was three holes away from a return to glory. With the lead and momentum in hand, Furyk crumbled.

    He duck-hooked his drive on the 16th, bogeyed the hole and then surrendered his chances at the title with another bogey on the 18th.

    Furyk may have nightmares about that tee shot on the 16th hole, but he's not the only one with demons.

    Furyk's fumble was one of many bizarre, and at times heart-wrenching, moments of the 2012 season. But, as the old adage goes, "it's not whether you fall; it's whether you get back up." Many golfers took a tumble this year, and here are the five who desperately need to move past their failures as they aspire to success in 2013.

Jason Day: Young Star Gets Dose of Reality in 2012

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    At the beginning of 2012, Jason Day was the brightest young golfer not named Rory McIlroy. Day's dazzling 2011 season included back-to-back second-place finishes at the Masters and U.S. Open, as well as eight top-10 finishes in 18 events for the then-23-year-old Australian. He looked like a young Tom Watson—mature in his decision-making with a complete game from tee to green.

    But the golden boy was knocked off his pedestal this year.

    Day was plagued by an ankle injury, dealt with bouts of inconsistency, and had to adjust to the life of a first-time father. In 17 events this season, he missed three cuts, finished outside of the top 25 five times, and was nowhere near contention in any of the majors.

    His performance stats suffered as well. He went from 110th in greens in regulation percentage in 2011 to 169th; from ninth in scoring average to 27th; and while he remained a strong putter, he fell from seventh to 15th in putting.

    It delivered a dose of reality to the budding star, perhaps a beat-down that every great fighter needs so they can get back up and rededicate themselves. For Day, he'll definitely want to brush the memories of 2012 under the rug and start fresh in 2013.

Phil Mickelson: Lefty Soars Early Only to Underwhelm

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    Phil Mickelson belongs in not just the upper echelon of golfers today, but on a list of the best golfers in the history of the sport. He's a multiple major championship winner (four), a worldwide champion, and embodies the integrity of an ambassador of golf.

    That's precisely why one victory, one top-five finish in a major, and only a few top-10 finishes are lackluster for Lefty.

    His 2012 campaign began with a bold victory over Tiger Woods Sunday at the Pebble Beach ProAm. It was the modern-day version of Jack Nicklaus vs. Arnold Palmer or Ben Hogan vs. Gene Sarazen—two of golf's goliaths going head-to-head at the most beautiful and challenging public golf course in the country.

    It was a statement victory for Mickelson. It signaled the renewal of Woods and Mickelson's rivalry, but more so, it stirred up buzz that perhaps Lefty had a big year ahead, maybe even be a candidate for Player of the Year.

    Instead, it was all a tease.

    Aside from a T3 finish at the Masters, Mickelson was a no-show the rest of the season, especially in the next three majors. He finished 65th at the U.S. Open, missed the cut at the British Open, and finished T36 at the PGA Championship. His inspiring  start to the season against Woods was followed by mediocre, inconsistent play.

    He missed four cuts in the 22 tournaments he competed in and notched seven top 10s. Despite his attempts, he could not recover what was arguably a lost year.

    There are higher standards for pioneers of the sport like Mickelson, who has 40 wins on Tour, good for ninth all time. But he's also 42 and suffering from psoriatic arthritis, begging the question of whether these debilitating factors mean we have already seen the best of Phil.

    However, Lefty has never been one to go down without a fight. He always takes the risk, and that fearlessness has been the root of his successes (see: Masters 2010) and failures (see: U.S. Open 2006). 2013 will be no different.

Tiger Woods: Weekend Struggles Undercut Solid Season

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    Three PGA Tour wins in three elite fields is a career year for anyone not named Tiger Woods. But major championships are Woods' lifeblood, and he recorded zero W's in that category in 2012.

    In particular, the weekends were Woods' undoing at majors.

    If you were to combine his scores in the four majors, he was eight-under par over the first two days and 15-over par over the last two days. Does that sound like Tiger Woods to you? The Woods who was previously 14-1 in major championships when having a lead or share of the lead?

    Golf's greatest closer simply couldn't close in 2012, in the majors that is. There's no denying Woods' revival this past year, currently No. 2 in the World Rankings behind Rory McIlroy. But Woods' weekend travails exposed an unsettling setback.

    At the age of 36, Woods lost another season in his quest to catch Jack Nicklaus' 18 major championships record. As the year comes to a close, Woods must be reminded that weekends are his bread and butter. It's easy to assume Woods' mental edge evaded him on championship weekends, but a deeper analysis into his game shows it was actually his touch with the flat stick that abandoned him on the weekends. 

    Whereas Woods ranked second in scoring average before the cut (69.24), he dipped to 45th in third-round scoring average (70.25) and 32nd in final-round scoring average (70.40).

    Just like the old saying "defense wins championships," putting wins major championships in golf. Putting has been at the core of Woods' dominance over the last 13 years, but it noticeably let him down in majors this season.

    Going forward, putting needs to be his foundation in majors, not his Achilles' heel.

Adam Scott: Miserable Misstep Costs Scott Championship Glory

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    Ernie Els didn't win the British Open, Adam Scott lost it.

    The Australian displayed unshakable command over his game for 68 holes—and then the wheels fell off. Scott gave up his four-stroke lead in the final four holes.

    The enduring image of the tournament is a tie between Scott hunched over his gargantuan, awkward belly butter in shock on the 18th hole, and Els holding the Claret Jug in one hand while shaking Scott's hand, his own state of shock plastered across his wrinkled face.

    This loss may be the most memorable of the year.

    Scott's final-round collapse resonates with golf fans because he played so flawlessly for 68 holes, only to give it away in such epic fashion. Unfortunately, Scott has a sense of this pain. He's contended on golf's biggest stages before and failed against the world's best (T3 at PGA Championship in 2006, 2nd at Masters in 2011).

    He's now alongside Luke Donald and Lee Westwood as one of the sport's best without a major championship.

    The weight of this final, four-hole flop at Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club also endured because of Scott's grueling battle to recover his game over the past few years. Scott dropped out of the Top 50 in the World Rankings in 2009 and missed 10 cuts in 19 events on the Tour in 2010. It was completely out of character and the lowest point of his career.

    Dedicated to rebuilding his game, Scott's newly trusted belly putter initiated his resurgence into golf's elite at the end of 2010. Since then he's won multiple times worldwide, nearly won the Masters in 2011 (T2) and continued to contend for championships in 2012. His misstep at the British Open will haunt him, but if he can leave the memory of the loss in 2012, then he'll be that much more prepared to capture a major in 2013.

Jim Furyk: 2012's Biggest Disappointment

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    A year is hardly a failure when you rack up $3.6 million in earnings. But Jim Furyk's disappointment and heartache outweighs any sum of money or check he could cash.

    Furyk finished runner-up twice in 2012, first at the Transitions Championship and then at the World Golf Championship at Firestone. In between may have been his harshest defeat, the U.S. Open, where he finished T4 after having the lead on the 16th hole.

    Then came the Ryder Cup. As New York Times writer Karen Crouse wrote,

    As the singles matches unfolded Sunday at Medinah Country Club, the bull’s-eye landed on Furyk, the only golfer on the 12-man United States team without a PGA Tour victory this year, a well-liked veteran who owed his inclusion to the American captain, Davis Love III, who selected him with one of his four discretionary picks.

    Once again, Furyk fumbled, giving away two key putts down the stretch, on the 17th and 18th holes, in Sunday's singles match against Sergio Garcia. He lost his point, one of many for the Americans on that surprising Sunday, but critics of Furyk were not surprised that his season-long putting woes exploded again at a pivotal moment for the American squad.

    Furyk's a grizzled Tour vet, renowned for his resiliency under pressure, and he's a proven champion (16 PGA Tour wins, including one major championship in 2003).

    That may be why this stung so much.

    Golf fans, like myself, assumed he'd rise to the occasion at the U.S. Open after that first bout at the Transitions. Or that he'd pick up the pieces at Firestone after the U.S. Open bomb, but to no avail. Then again, with the onus on him to come through in the clutch for the Americans, Furyk couldn't close.

    Each time he squandered his lead, and each time he bounced back, only to be beaten down again.

    Perhaps more than anyone, Furyk will need to flush away memories of 2012 and focus on remaining competitive, so the next time he is in contention—and there will definitely be a next time—he can end his Sunday hoisting a trophy.