2011 Golf Year In Review
Philadelphia, PA – The 2011 season in professional golf could be known for a few different things.
First, Tiger Woods won again.
Granted, it was his own unofficial event with 17 other players in the field, but a win is a win. Woods' Chevron World Challenge title was his first victory since the 2009 car accident that derailed his personal and professional life.
Ever since Woods lost his No. 1 world ranking, no one really claimed it as his own. Lee Westwood test-drove it. Martin Kaymer hung on for a time, but Luke Donald made it his own.
We had Rory McIlroy blow the Masters in epic fashion, then come back and win the U.S. Open so convincingly that the final round was less exciting than a tepid bath.
The team international events were excellent, as always.
Most of the majors on most tours were thrilling.
With some of the stars of the game on the downswing of their careers, new blood stepped up and performed.
But when it came to performance, the 2011 season belonged to one young lady.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR - The Year of Yani
All of 22 years old, Yani Tseng continued an old tradition on the LPGA Tour -- dominance.
First, it was Annika Sorenstam in the early '00s. Then, Lorena Ochoa owned women's golf until her retirement.
With both gone, Tseng, who bought Sorenstam's old house and must be inhabited with the Swede's presence, has risen to the top of the sport.
Tseng won 11 times worldwide, including seven events on the LPGA Tour, and two of the victories were majors. When she captured the LPGA Championship (by 10 shots), Tseng became the youngest golfer -- male or female -- to win four majors.
When she successfully defended her title at the Women's British Open, the same record applied -- youngest to five majors.
For a point of comparison, Tiger Woods collected his fifth major title at the age of 24. Sorenstam didn't win a tournament -- any tournament -- until she was 24.
Tseng almost had a third major of 2011, but finished as the runner-up to Stacy Lewis at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Tseng squandered that title in the season's first major and didn't do that again.
She made 21 cuts in 22 events, finishing in the top five in 12 of them and the top 10 in two more.
She led the tour in scoring average by almost a FULL stroke and was the only player who averaged under 70 strokes per round. Tseng had almost 60 more birdies than anyone on tour and to top it off, she led the tour in driving distance.
Tseng is the No. 1 player in the Rolex Rankings and the No. 1 golfer in the world for 2011.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR - The major rookie
This was a tough call considering two rookies won majors on the PGA Tour in 2011.
Charl Schwartzel took home the Masters in thrilling fashion, making birdie at the final four holes to don the green jacket. But Schwartzel was an established European Tour competitor, so this honor goes to a more conventional rookie.
Keegan Bradley earned his PGA Tour card in 2011 thanks to his finish on the Nationwide Tour in 2010. He first broke into the winner's circle with a playoff victory over Ryan Palmer at the Byron Nelson Championship, but cemented his awesome rookie campaign at the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club.
Bradley overcame a five-stroke deficit with three to play in regulation to tie Jason Dufner, who limped into the clubhouse with three bogeys in his last four holes.
Bradley played the three-hole extra session in one-under par. He needed a two- putt par at the 18th and got it to become the third player in history to win in his major championship debut.
The nephew of Hall of Famer Pat Bradley became the first PGA Tour rookie to win twice in his first season since Todd Hamilton seven years ago. He should have been a pick for Fred Couples' American Presidents Cup team, but Bradley shouldn't have any trouble making next year's U.S. Ryder Cup team for Davis Love III.
SHOT OF THE YEAR - "I mean, he spun it. That's all you need to know."
There are few scenarios that offer more pressure than being in a playoff for the Tour Championship.
First, the victory itself is important. PGA Tour wins don't grow on trees. First place at the Tour Championship was worth $1.44 million and that doesn't grow on trees, either.
But there's money and there's obscene, silly amounts of money and the latter was the case at the Tour Championship. In addition to the $1.44 million, which is nothing to sneeze at, the winner of sudden death on this particular Sunday in September was going to walk off with $10 million more for winning the FedEx Cup.
Bill Haas and Hunter Mahan parred the first playoff hole, then Haas appeared to be in trouble at the second, the par-four 17th. Haas' approach landed in a pond next to the green, while Mahan was safely on with 25 feet for birdie.
Haas' ball was only in the water halfway, so he elected play his third from the edge of the lake. He blasted out, got the ball to check somehow and stopped it two feet from the cup.
Mahan missed his birdie putt and Haas tapped in for par.
They went one more hole before Haas won the playoff, the Tour Championship and $11.44 million.
"There was quite a bit of room there. His ball was maybe half in," Mahan said in a televised interview after the loss. "I mean, he spun it. That's all you need to know."
TOURNAMENT OF THE YEAR - The Masters
A beautiful spring Sunday in Augusta started with the promise of golf's best young player winning a major pretty early in his career.
Rory McIlroy was one shot clear after the front nine of the final round, then hit one of the worst tee shots in recent memory: At the 10th, his ball landed near someone's day room.
McIlroy finished with an 80 and became a non-factor on the back nine -- which is, after all, where the Masters really begins.
First came Tiger Woods' run.
He made the turn in 31 thanks to a 10-foot eagle putt at eight and found himself tied for the lead, but came up a little too short. Woods didn't birdie the par-five 13th and hit an amazing second to four feet at the par-five 15th, but lipped out the eagle putt.
Woods, Luke Donald, Geoff Ogilvy, Adam Scott, Jason Day, Angel Cabrera, K.J. Choi and Charl Schwartzel were the contenders.
Schwartzel, in the group behind Scott on Sunday, got up and down for birdie from behind the green at 15 to match Scott in first at 11-under par. Scott hit his tee ball to two feet at 16 and tapped in for birdie and the lead.
Schwartzel's tee ball at 16 came up 15 feet short of the stick, but he ran home the birdie putt to once again tie Scott. The young Australian hit a terrible drive at 17 and knocked his second into a bunker. His blast from the trap came up 12 feet short, but he made that par putt and stayed tied.
Day birdied 17 to get within one, but Schwartzel continued his incredible run with the putter. He sank a 10-foot birdie putt at No. 17 to move one shot clear.
Ogilvy and Donald got into the clubhouse at 10-under, but it was clear that the pair and Woods would come up a bit short.
It was down to Schwartzel, Scott and Day, but Day needed a birdie at 18. He got it, and Scott two-putted for par.
Schwartzel was one ahead with one to play. He found the fairway at the last, and his approach stopped 18 feet right of the flag. He had two putts to win his first major and didn't need them.
Schwartzel poured in the birdie putt, his fourth in a row, and walked off to Butler Cabin to put on his green jacket.
Needless to say, no one in the history of the Masters finished with four birdies in a row to win the tournament. Schwartzel finished the year ninth in the world.
Donald - Became the world No. 1 with a great playoff victory over then No. 1 Lee Westwood at the BMW PGA Championship in late May. Is the first player in history to win the money title on both the PGA Tour and the European Tour in the same season.
McIlroy - Don't shed too many tears for poor Rory. After the epic collapse at Augusta, McIlroy responded in a big way at the next major -- the U.S. Open at Congressional. He essentially wrapped up the tournament by happy hour on Friday and ended up with an eight-stroke victory.
Day - Runner-up in the first two majors and became a top-10 player in the world.
Fred Couples - Won a major on the Champions Tour and his work as captain of the U.S. Presidents Cup team has been sensational. He went out on a big limb and tabbed Woods for the team almost a month before he needed to and Woods delivered. For the second consecutive Presidents Cup -- and second Couples has led the team -- Woods secured the winning point for the American side, but Couples' decision, coupled (pun intended) with his laid-back approach has made the U.S. team a powerhouse.
Suzann Pettersen - Two wins in 2011 propelled her to second in the world, but her role as the leader of the European Solheim Cup team earned her a spot here. After dozens of weather delays, even during the singles, Pettersen led a huge rally for her side by knocking off Michelle Wie in a classic show a gutsy putting. Caroline Hedwall, clearly inspired by Pettersen, overcame a 2-down with two to play deficit, then Azahara Munoz won 17 in the anchor match to give Europe the Cup. This was Pettersen's team.
Michelle Wie - Her Solheim Cup loss was understandable, but six top 10s in a season when you're supposed to be a star is unacceptable.
Bernhard Langer - Yes, the German star battled injuries, but he was the 2010 Champions Tour Player of the Year, and, despite a victory, finished 24th on the Charles Schwab Cup race.
Jim Furyk - He won the FedEx Cup in 2010 and fell to 50th in the world rankings by Christmas 2011. Furyk had a great Presidents Cup, but he barely made the team in '11 after being the best American in '10.