Winners and Losers in Golf in 2012

Jake MannContributor IIIDecember 28, 2012

Winners and Losers in Golf in 2012

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    This past year was a wild one for the game of golf. There were plenty of success stories, but the links also saw an equal number of disappointments. 

    Naturally, we’re going to chronicle these winners and losers.

    It’s impossible to tap into the minds of PGA Tour pros, but we’ll do our best to try.

Winner: Rory McIlroy

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    Though his dominant win at the 2011 U.S. Open opened our eyes to the Northern Irishman’s raw talent, it was Rory McIlroy’s equally impressive victory at this year’s PGA Championship that gave him golf’s championship belt, so to speak.

    In addition to his second major win, Rory was also bestowed with a bevy of trophies: the PGA Tour Player of the Year, the European Tour Player of the Year, the top spot on the PGA Tour’s money list, the Vardon Trophy, and the Byron Nelson Award.

    Now the world’s No. 1 golfer, McIlroy heads into 2013 with a potentially massive payout from Nike, if he does indeed decide to join the brand for a rumored 10-year/$200-250 million contract.

Loser: Adam Scott

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    Adam Scott experienced one of the worst major collapses in recent memory at this year’s Open Championship. 

    Up four strokes with four holes to go, Scott's bogey-bogey-bogey-bogey finish literally left him gasping for air on the 18th green. When the dust settled, Ernie Els walked away with the Claret Jug and a 1-shot victory. Scott, meanwhile, is still searching for that evasive first major.

    The Aussie also lost the battle for the belly this year, failing to convince the game’s governing bodies not to propose a ban on anchoring putters.

    Judging by the quality of Scott’s short game pre-belly, which was so poor it’s difficult to quantify, the potential loss of his preferred putter is crippling.

    Consider the following: since adopting a 49” putter to cure his ills on short grass, Scott’s world ranking has skyrocketed 23 spots, and his yearly earnings have nearly doubled from 2008-2010 levels.

    It’s easy to see that he’s not looking forward to life without the long stick.

Winner: Tiger Woods

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    With zero major championships, it is tempting to consider Tiger’s 2012 season a failure, but it’s important to take a look at the whole picture before passing judgment.

    Over the past year, Woods has sustained no major injuries, finished second on the PGA Tour’s money list with $6.1 million in earnings and passed Jack Nicklaus on the PGA’s all-time win list with his 74th career victory.

    On his season, Woods told NDTV, "There was quite a few people out there that said I would never win again," adding, "I think, collectively, passing Jack, I think that's a pretty good accomplishment."

    Statistically speaking (via PGATour.com), Tiger finished second on tour in scoring average, a fraction of a stroke behind leader Rory McIlroy. 

    It's important to note that in terms of front-nine play, he actually finished first on tour, with an impressive stroke average of 34.7.

    It's hard to argue with Tiger's entire body of work in 2012, which will give him positive momentum heading into the new year.

Loser: Jim Furyk

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    On an aggregate scale, Jim Furyk had a decent season, winning $3.6 million in prize money and notching eight top 10s in 24 PGA Tour starts.

    Still, aside from Adam Scott's failures at the Open Championship, Furyk's fall at this year's U.S. Open was the worst collapse of 2012.

    Known for his consistency, it was Furyk's uncharacteristically sloppy play that blew his 1-shot lead in the major's closing stretch at The Olympic Club.

    After bogeying three of his final six holes and losing the tournament to Webb Simpson, Furyk had this to say (via the New York Times):

    "On the back nine, it was my tournament to win. I’m very, very disappointed. I’ll take that position anytime. That’s my game.”

    Considering the fact that Furyk's only major victory came at the U.S. Open way back in 2003, it's easy to understand his frustrations. With time slipping away from the 42-year-old golfer, it only takes one major disappointment to ruin a season. 

Winner: Brandt Snedeker

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    Currently sitting at No. 10 in the world, 2012 has been a marvelous season for Brandt Snedeker, who won the FedEx Cup with a victory at the year-end Tour Championship.

    After earning $4.9 million in regular season earnings, Snedeker's FedEx Cup title gave him a cool $10 million to boot. Wow.

    Though he has always been a solid PGA Tour pro, expectations are sky high for the Nashville native as we head into 2013.

    Fortunately for Snedeker, who's still looking for his first major, there's literally no better form of preparation than what he accomplished at the end of this year.

Loser: Luke Donald

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    After leading both the PGA and European Tour money lists in 2011, Luke Donald took a step back this past year, earning nearly $3 million less than he did that magical season.

    Donald also let the world No. 1 ranking slip out of his grasp to Rory McIlroy, but his biggest frustration in 2012 is likely his inability to capture his first major title. The 12-year tour veteran was closest this past season at the Open Championship, where he tied for fifth.

    Here are two interesting statistics: Donald hasn't made weekend play in all four majors in a given year since 2006, and he's been cut in each major at least once in the past three years.

    While the Englishman has always been known for his short game prowess, 2012 actually marked the first time in three seasons that he didn't finish first on tour in terms of strokes gained from putting.

    This past year, he finished third in this category, giving up the No. 1 spot to the aforementioned Brandt Snedeker.

Winner: Branden Grace

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    You may not have heard of him, but Branden Grace quietly put together one of the most impressive European Tour seasons in recent memory. 

    After re-completing Q-School last year, Grace won four events on the Euro circuit, with his most impressive victory coming at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

    Grace finished sixth on the European Tour's money list, ahead of guys like Lee Westwood and Luke Donald, and with an invitation to all four of next year's majors, big things could be in store.

    At 34th in the Official World Golf Rankings, Grace has a good chance to crack the top 20 by the same time next year. And if that's the case, he'll be looking back at 2012 as the season that set it all up.

Loser: Kevin Na

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    Kevin Na's legacy may lie solely in his ridiculously sluggish pre-shot routine, because the 29-year-old PGA Tour pro hasn't had any signature wins to buff his resume.

    After shooting a final-round 76 to blow the Players Championship in May, Na missed cuts in three of his next eight events, with his low-point culminating in a WD at the PGA Championship in August.

    Na did finish 2012 with a top 10 finish at the CIMB Classic, but it's important to mention that on every major statistical front, his game suffered in comparison to 2011.

    The most notable declines were total earnings falling by 13 percent, PGA Tour wins falling from one to zero, scoring average dropping from 44th to 67th and strokes gained from putting falling from 8th to 57th.

    It's not hard to see why Na likely views 2012 as one big disappointment.

Winner: Bubba Watson

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    Bubba Watson experienced two life-changing events this past year. On the course, he captured his first major championship with a win at the Masters in April.

    Off the course, Watson and his wife, Angie, adopted a baby boy just a few weeks earlier.

    While most armchair analysts will claim that Bubba's game slipped in the back half of last year, that's simply not the case.

    In the four months following his Masters win, Watson was only able to compete in 20 rounds of PGA Tour golf due to the adoption. When he returned to full capacity, he notched a T23 finish at the Open Championship and a T11 at the PGA Championship.

    When it's all said and done, Bubba has to look back at 2012 as the best season of his seven-year PGA Tour career, regarding all aspects of his life.

Loser: Camilo Villegas

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    Chances are, 99 percent of readers automatically associate Camilo Villegas' name with the position pictured on the left. Okay, that statistic is obviously made up, but you get the point.

    Villegas' game has traditionally relied on his distance and ability to go low, but both skills were rather fleeting this past season.

    After breaking onto the PGA circuit in 2004 nearly leading his peers in driving distance (309 yards a pop), Villegas hit his average drive just 291 yards this year, essentially tour-average.

    Even more worrisome, arguably the most important quantitative indicator of his golfing success—scoring average—has fallen steadily in recent years. Villegas finished 2012 at 122nd in scoring, the worst season of his career by this standard.

    For a golfer who finished in this category's top five as recently as 2008, these declines are worrisome and are making a dent in Villegas' pocketbook as well.

    Since becoming a PGA Tour pro in 2006, the Colombian averaged $2.3 million in annual earnings before this year. In 2012, this figure fell to $460K.

    The proof is in the pudding.