Written by: Edward Dunn II
The smell of football is definitely in the air. I won't argue that. Like most other sports fans right now, I spend my time glue to the TV watching college football and enjoying the NFL on Sundays. However, as a golf/sports writer, I find myself using this time to reflect back on what I learned during the 2012 PGA Tour season. Here, I list my impressions and reflections of what I learned this year in golf.
For most of the country, January is still under snow and busy scraping ice off their windshields. In Maui, however, the fortunate players to find the winners circle in 2011, found themselves scraping and cleaning out their grooves. For the guys that didn't win in 2011, maybe if they were nicer to Santa, they'd get an annual trip to Maui to start off their season right. I think we can all learn something there.
At the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, we learned that Steve Stricker's health is just fine. After struggling in the fall of 2010 with an arm injury that stemmed from a C6 and C7 vertebrate problem, Stricker held off surgery, took cortisone shots and started off the year with a win and booked his flight back to Maui for 2013. We were also reminded that Webb Simpson's two wins in 2011 weren't a fluke. A tie for third started off his 2012 campaign quite nicely.
During the first full field event of the year, The Sony Open, we learned that you can sport a mustache, win, and still look cool. With a name like Johnson Wagner, he's got the perfect personality to emulate Magnum P.I.
When January turned into February, we learned that a three stroke lead heading into the final hole of a golf tournament still isn't a safe lead. Especially over water and definitely with a nervous Kyle Stanley trying to win his first professional tournament. Stanley, unfortunately spun his wedge into the water and lost in a playoff to Brandt Snedeker. Snedeker started the day seven strokes back! He also learned that day not to leave the course too early.
The very next week we learned how a heart breaking loss can turn into triumph when Kyle Stanley won the Waste Management Phoenix Open. In somewhat dramatic fashion, Stanley made an incredible up and down for birdie from under a cactus on the 71st hole of the tournament. A clutch par on 18 sealed the deal for the blossoming bomber from Gig Harbor, Washington. With the victory, Stanley secured his job for the next two seasons and sealed all wounds from the week before.
We know a lot about Phil Mickelson. We know a lot about Tiger Woods. At the AT&T National Pro-Am held annually at Pebble Beach, we learned what 11 strokes looks like between the two. Mickelson shot a final round 64 to Tiger's 75, which I'm sure felt like 85, to secure his first win of the year and his 40th of his career.
Hunter Mahan continued to show the golf world that he remains one of the top young players on tour with his world class win at the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship. Playing Rory McIlroy in the final match, Mahan never trailed in the match and took a commanding 4up lead thru 10 and didn't look back. McIlroy kept up his stellar play and brought it into the next week at the Honda Classic.
While on the 13th green, Rory heard a roar. But it wasn't just some ho-hum birdie roar. It was just Tiger Woods making eagle on the 18th hole to shoot 62, leaving himself one stroke out of the lead, forcing McIlroy to play flawless golf for the final five holes. I wouldn't call it flawless, but “Rors” got it done and became the number one player in the world with the victory.
At Augusta National, we learned that dressing like a painter for four days can win you a major. Oh, and a 40 yard hook shot with a 52 degree wedge helps as well. From the pine straws. During sudden death. Yep, Bubba Watson took home the green jacket and bawled like a baby. It's not too often we see golfers exhibit a lot of emotions on the course but Watson is quite different. Golf needs it and the tour is better off with him in the forefront.
At the Olympic Club, we learned just how hard it is to make par on a U.S. Open set up. Actually, we already knew that, so this was just a reminder. Webb Simpson made par just enough to squeak out a one stroke victory over Michael Thompson. Oh, he also handled “Bird Man” quite well. “Enjoy the jail cell, pal.” Well, said Webb.
At The Open Championship, we learned that you can still teach an old dog new tricks. We also learned they may need some help along the way. Ernie Els was the dog and Adam Scott helped him win his second Claret Jug. Taking nothing away from Els' stellar Sunday play, Scott bogeyed the final four holes to write himself into the record books next to Jean Van de Velde. Not someone who any golfer wants to be associated with.
At the season's final major, we learned just how good Rory McIlroy can be. After a tree swallowed his golf ball during the third round, McIlroy knocked his wedge on the green to six feet and saved par. Momentum is paramount in golf, and that quirky par save effectively won McIlory the tournament. McIlroy fired a 66 on Sunday and blew the field away with a record setting eight stroke victory.
Finally, we learned that Tiger Woods still has game. During his 2012 campaign, Woods won three times which included a dramatic win at Jack's tournament in May at The Memorial. We also learned that his weekend play during majors was downright awful. Insert any and all adjectives you want to describe his play. The fact is that he just didn't get it done. If anything, Woods was simply foreshadowing for next year. Consider yourself warned.