A look back at the year 2012

BY Bruce Young | 28 Dec 2012

As 2012 draws rapidly to a close it is perhaps a good time to look back at the golfing year and analyse some of the game’s greatest moments both domestically here in Australia and internationally.

The year started in Maui in Hawaii where Steve Stricker, the leading world ranked player (6th) in the field that week, won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions over Martin Laird. It was an encouraging start for Stricker but by the time the year ended he had slipped to 18th in the world rankings.

The PGA Tour would see Rory McIlory as its dominant player, the 23 year old winning four events compared to a next best of three by Tiger Woods and by year’s end he had established a significant lead in the world ranking over Luke Donald and Woods.

While McIlroy would not be the Fed Ex Cup Champion (that went to Brandt Snedeker) it mattered little other than to his accountant who was probably too busy counting the Northern Irishman’s money to notice in any case.

McIlroy was the PGA Tour money list winner by $US2.5 million over Woods even though he played three less PGA Tour events than the American. For good measure he also won the European Tour’s Race to Dubai money list, finishing the season €1.75 million ahead of the runner-up Justin Rose after his victory at the season ending Dubai World Championship.

His season also included a second major championship victory, this time by a record eight shots at the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island and in the process putting to bed the snide and ill-informed remarks of some that his girlfriend, Caroline Wozniacki, was proving a distraction and that his caddy J.P. Fitzgerald was not the right man for him. The embrace between McIlory and Fitzgerald after his PGA victory told the story of a man who needed to say nothing more. He had let his clubs and his amazing game do the talking.

Understandably McIlroy was named the Player of the Year by both the PGA of America and the European Tour.

The majors began with a shot that will become part of major championship folklore. Bubba Watson’s second shot from the trees to the right of the 10th tee (the second playoff hole) at The Masters quickly decided the fate of the title. His wedge from 165 yards turned almost at right angles and finished 12 feet from the hole. With Louis Oosthuizen making a mess of the hole, Watson became the Masters Champion.

Adam Scott led the Australians that week after a stunning final round of 66, the second best of the day, saw him finish 8th, his second best finish in the event. His round included a hole in one at the 16th.

Two months later the US Open was played at the Olympic Club in San Francisco where Webb Simpson, playing in just his second US Open, put together a brilliant last round and then waited for Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell to see if they could match his 1 over par total. They could not, both failing to birdie the last to catch Simpson.

John Senden headed the Australians that week when he recorded his best finish at the US Open and his second best in a major championship when 10th.

On to the Open Championship a Royal Lytham and St Annes and with Australian hopes reaching fever pitch as the final round got underway, Adam Scott appeared to be doing all he needed to do and more for the long awaited major championship breakthrough. Alas it was not to be. After moving four shots clear when he birdie the 14th, Scott dropped four shots over the final four holes and succumbed to not only his inability to finish the job but a stunning final nine holes by Ernie Els. Scott did however finish runner-up and claimed his equal best finish in major championship golf.

The PGA Championship belonged to Rory McIlroy who won by eight shots over David Lynn, the exact margin he won by when winning the US Open 14 months earlier. In a weather disrupted event, McIlroy extended his third round three shot margin to eight over Lynn and by nine over Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Keegan Bradley and Carl Pettersson.

Adam Scott and Geoff Ogilvy tied for 11th, Scott’s disappointing finish to his delayed third round costing him any chance of a much higher finish.

McIlroy and Poulter played a key role over the closing stages at Kiawah Island but a month later they joined forces to play a perhaps even greater role when, at the Ryder Cup, they combined over the closing stages of their Saturday afternoon Fourball match against Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson. Poulter’s putting heroics that day got the pair home and they kept Europe’s slim hopes of victory alive despite a 10-6 deficit heading into the Sunday Singles.

In an interview I conducted with Poulter for Golf Magazine he gave his thoughts. " It was an amazing afternoon’s golf. We took a lot out of Luke Donald and Sergio winning their match. If we don’t win that match is its effectively over. Then for me to execute shot after shot and hole the putts it was a great buzz and something I was proud to be part of.

“So many of the guys said how big a swing it was mentally and emotionally. It uplifted everybody to be going in 10-6 rather than anything worse. To some extent it was like we were all square going into Sunday.”

The effort by Europe the following day to overcome that deficit will go down as one of the greatest comebacks in all of sport and not just golf.

Australians were performing with distinction on other Tours. Marc Leishman broke through for his first PGA Tour victory when he won the Travelers Championship in Hartford.

Leishman recorded a final round of 62 then waited as others faltered over the closing stages at the TPC at River Highlands.

On the Nationwide Tour, Nick Flanagan was Australia’s only winner when ironically he defeated fellow countryman Cameron Percy in a playoff for the BMW Charity Classic. Unfortunately for Flanagan that would be his only glimpse of form all year and he would not graduate to the PGA Tour. Percy did however as did Scott Gardiner and Alistair Presnell.

In Japan Brendan Jones won twice and finished third on that money list with earnings of A$1.1 million. Jones finally played more at home in 2012 and finished runner-up at the Australian Open to Peter Senior and contended until late at the PGA Championship at Coolum. He had given the Australian public an indication of just how good he is.

In Asia Marcus Fraser finished runner-up on the money list and had his best ever European Tour season.

Back home the flagship events of Australian golf were played with Adam Scott winning the Talisker Masters, 53 year old Peter Senior winning the Australian Open after another great year on the Champions Tour and Daniel Popovic shocking many with a near wire to wire victory at the PGA Championship.

Adam Scott gets the nod as the Australian performer of the year having made the cut in all four majors, finishing runner-up in one of them, inside the top 15 in the other three and winning at home at Kingston Heath. The effort by Senior on an almost impossible final day at The Lakes however gave over fifties around Australia a lot of hope. The manner of Popovic’s win suggest is was no fluke and will not be his last.

In October Bo Van Pelt won the inaugural Perth International.

The LPGA Tour saw the slide of the game’s most dominant player, Yani Tseng. As 2012 dawned, such was the domination of Tseng that it was hard to imagine any one getting near the Taiwanese star and with three victories in her first four starts this year it appeared even more unlikely. By year’s end however Na Yeon Choi, Stacy Lewis and Inbee Park had made huge inroads into her Rolex World Ranking lead.

Koreans won three of the four major championships in women’s golf and China’s Shanshan Feng won the LPGA Championship further opening the door for what is expected to be a flood of Chinese golfers who will follow her lead.

Karrie Webb did not win in 2012 but seven top tens including a runner-up finish at the Evian Masters kept her inside the top twenty in the game.

While Asian golfers dominated the majors in women’s golf, it was a New Zealander of Korean heritage who perhaps produced the most outstanding result. 15 year old amateur Lydia Ko not only won the US Amateur Championship, she also won the NSW Women’s Open and the LPGA Tour’s Canadian Women’s Open against the professionals, becoming the youngest player to do so, and gave an indication of the impact she will have on the game when her turn comes to play the game for money.

While many Australian women professionals stood still or even went backwards, second season Ladies European Tour player, Stacey Keating, was putting together a great season. Keating won events in Spain and France soon after the disappointment of being disqualified from the Women’s Open Championship.

“It was a crazy few weeks for me perhaps the most emotional roller coaster I have ever been on,” added the Victorian. “I was still hurting when we got to Spain straight after the British and it was probably a good thing that I was back playing golf rather than sitting around at home thinking about it. Nothing bothered me on the golf course that week. Because I was so hurt from the previous week then nothing was really going to faze me.”

One of the more interesting stories of 2012 and one about to become even greater in 2013 was the effort by 14 year Guan Tianlang in winning the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship in Thailand and earning a place in the field for the Masters in April.

Guan later played the Australian Open and missed the cut although a second round of 70 gave Australian fans an insight into what lies ahead for him and for Chinese golf. The media attention on Guan as the youngest player by more than two years to play the Masters will be intense but can only be good for the game in those rapidly growing regions of golf.

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    About the Author: Bruce Young

    A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of the game comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

    Read all of Bruce's articles »

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