With this week's Children's Miracle Network Classic, another PGA Tour season draws to a close, meaning that it's time to hand out some hardware.
Player of the Year — Rory McIlroy
Rory doesn't need any accolades from us for vindication; if you believe the unconfirmed reports, he's already cashed in on his remarkable season with a $250 million deal from Nike. Judging from his 2012 season, it'll be money well spent for the Swoosh. The world's No. 1 player enjoyed stunning success on both sides of the pond, leading both the PGA and European Tours in earnings (provided he has a solid finish in this weekend's Singapore Open). His four wins were the most in a single season by any player not named Tiger Woods since 2005. He won the PGA Championship by eight strokes, then won two FedExCup playoff events (the Deutsche Bank and BMW). Throw in girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, and the guy's pretty much got it all right now.
Runner-up: Brandt Snedeker
Snedeker won the FedExCup on the strength of one of the greatest displays of putting that the game has seen. On one day in September, Sneds won the Cup and the $10 million payout along with the Tour Championship and its $1.4 million winner's check. Not a bad day's work.
Round of the Year and Worst Collapse
These two unfolded concurrently, so we present them as one category. The agony and the ecstasy of golf were on full display in the final round of the British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, and when it was over, Ernie Els had his second Claret Jug and fourth major, and Adam Scott had first-hand knowledge of what it feels like to be Greg Norman. Or Jason Dufner. On a day when the field was retreating like Napoleon from Russia, Els posted a back-9 4-under 32 for a final-round 68 in the stiffening breezes of Royal Lytham, rolling in a clutch birdie on the 72nd hole before grabbing a sandwich and watching Scott implode with bogeys on the final four holes. It was an utterly shocking turn of events on a day that seemed like a Scott coronation until the heartbreaking conclusion.
Runner-up: The U.S. and European Teams on Ryder Cup Sunday
In Ryder Cup singles play, the U.S. team gagged away a 10-6 lead, losing the Cup 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 to an inspired European team that made every clutch putt down the stretch.
Shot of the Year — Bubba Watson, The Masters
After a day that included a double eagle and two holes in one, Bubba's shot in the playoff at 10 — where he curved a hook off the pine straw to within 15 feet — will be the one they'll still be talking about at the 2050 Champions Dinner.
Runner-up: Louis Oosthuizen
Before Masters Sunday 2012, there had been 19,809 rounds at The Masters, but this was a first: a double eagle at No. 2. Had Oostie gone on to win, his shot would rank No. 1; as it is, he'll have to settle for second in The Masters and second on our list.
Best Performance — Rory McIlroy, PGA Championship
Twenty-one years after the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island brought the world's greatest players to their knees at the 1991 Ryder Cup in the famed "War by the Shore," Rory McIlroy turned the tables on Pete Dye's seaside creation, subduing the Ocean Course and an elite field in winning his second major championship in two years. In posting 13-under and winning by eight strokes, McIlroy reprised his eight-shot win at the 2011 U.S. Open, becoming the first player in golf history to earn his first two major wins in such dominant fashion.
Round of the Year (Non-Major Edition) — Tommy Gainey, McGladrey Classic
You might not have noticed, but Two Gloves won his first Tour event by sprinting to the finish line with a final-round 60 at Sea Island. Seven shots behind when the day began, the former insulation specialist flirted with a 59, needing only 24 putts and had seven straight 3's on his card on the back nine.
Biggest Disappointment — Tiger Woods
It's tough to call a three-win season a disappointment, but such is life for Tiger Woods, who failed to contend in a major (unless you count the British Open, where he finished T3 but was a non-factor on the final day) and seems stuck on 14 in his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' career record. On the upside, he did pass Jack in the all-time wins column and now stands at 74, to Jack's 73. More alarming for Tiger is his lack of final-round mojo; his final round average at the four majors in 2012 was 73.
Young, Annoying Overachiever of the Year — Tianlang Guan
The 14-year-old from China won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship to earn an invitation to the 2013 Masters. The kid's probably shorter than Adam Scott's belly putter, but he'll be at Augusta in April with Rory, Tiger, Phil and the rest.
Controversy of the Year — The Belly Putter
Speaking of belly putters, it's a debate that seems destined to reach a head soon, especially since two of this year's majors were won by players using long putters — Webb Simpson (U.S. Open) and Ernie Els (British Open). Tiger Woods has finally weighed in, telling the R&A that the putter should be equal or shorter than the shortest club in the bag. But if they were such an advantage, wouldn't everybody be using them? Whatever the case, we need a definitive word from golf's governing bodies, which we'll probably get in 2013.
- by Rob Doster
Follow me on Twitter @AthlonDoster