Needless to say, that doesn’t leave us a lot of time to talk about the damndest season in golf history before we have to move on to the longest season in golf history.
The 30 players at East Lake are gathered this weekend to chase a $10 million dollar prize for the season-long points champion. At the rate of strangeness that has fueled 2013 already, it’s likely that part-timer Steve Stricker will walk away as the grand champion without ever winning a tournament all year. Seriously, it could happen.
Not sure that would even crack the top 10 of the most unusual things that happened all year.
The golfer who started the year as the undisputed No. 1 (Rory McIlroy) finished it as admittedly lost.
The guy who resumed his place as the world’s best golfer (Tiger Woods) has left a larger impression for his three post-round rules infractions than his five victories.
The Hall of Famer who practices every day in the shadow of PGA Tour headquarters (Vijay Singh) is suing his employers who cleared him of a drug policy infraction he admitted to violating by taking deer antler spray.
Three prominent 30-something golfers (Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Jason Dufner) finally joined the major winners club yet the most shocking result was another enshrined Hall of Famer (Phil Mickelson) winning the British Open he didn’t think he could ever solve.
Two 40-somethings had putts to shoot 59s, and the one whose didn’t lip out (Jim Furyk) is the guy who otherwise has lost the ability to close the deal.
Four of golf’s most prominent organizations (USGA and R&A vs. the PGAs) got embroiled in a bitter feud over the proposed legality of anchored strokes that nearly divided the game.
Yes, it’s been a very strange season, indeed.
So before the tour crowns its “champion” Sunday and the new year starts in October, let’s pass out a few “of the year” awards for 2013:
Candidates: McIlroy’s decline; Mickelson’s mid-summer major reversal; Tiger’s mounting rules mishaps. The struggles of McIlroy have been relentless and Mickelson’s recovery from another U.S. Open heartbreak to an unlikely British Open triumph with a sublime final round at Muirfield was the feel-good favorite. But Tiger commanded the spotlight from beginning to end with three major rules snafus starting in January on the European Tour, through a major bungle at Augusta National to a video takedown last week that he refuses to acknowledge despite all evidence. Add in a debatable drop at the Players (verified by Casey Wittenberg to make it perfectly legal despite outward reservations) and this all marks the biggest hit to Tiger’s professional reputation that already had some personal cracks.
Candidates: Adam Scott, 72nd hole putt at Augusta; Justin Rose, 72nd hole 3-wood at Merion; Scott, playoff victory at Masters. Two entries from one major for Scott? Yes. When you essentially have two winning moments on the game’s biggest stage, they both count. The regulation putt was epic enough – in the rain, screaming “C’mon Aussie” with countryman Marc Leishman fist-pumping right behind him. However, his playoff redux on the 10th green was even more poignant with Angel Cabrera offering a genuine hug after the two dueled so admirably they traded thumbs-up after approaches. No other major had as much closing drama combined as those last 45 minutes at Augusta.
Candidates: Furyk gap wedge to 3 feet to set up 59; Patrick Reed 7-iron from trouble in Greensboro playoff; Cabrera 7-iron to force Masters playoff. Tiger’s wedge off the flagstick into the pond in Masters probably generated more conversation, but let’s stick to the positives. Furyk and Cabrera delivered superb clutch shots under very different kinds of historic pressure. Both brilliant. But Reed’s pressure shot came with a higher degree of difficulty from a messy lie above his feet. Requiring a punch under a tree, he knocked it to 7 feet to set up his maiden win after Jordan Spieth had already increased the tension by knocking his approach to 10 feet.
Candidates: Vijay Singh, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia. Singh’s contemptuous lawsuit only enhanced his retreat into irrelevance and McIlroy’s shambles of a season includes a course walk-off and another management change. But when you factor in Garcia’s unseemly racial comment in his public squabble with Tiger with two Sunday meltdowns as leader at Sawgrass and Boston, it really tarnishes what was otherwise a very competitive season for the volatile Spaniard.
Candidates: Russell Henley, Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth. With apologies to local favorites Henley and Reed, this is no contest. Henley was brilliant in winning his debut start in Hawaii and Reed showed his mettle in the regular-season finale by actually beating Spieth in a playoff. But the 20-year-old Spieth is one of those gifts to golf that only come rarely. He’s been so good, so fast that Fred Couples couldn’t ignore him with his Presidents Cup captains picks. Get used to it. The others may join the rank and file, but Spieth’s an elite fixture for the next 20 years.
Candidates: Woods, Scott and Mickelson. Another no-brainer. Should either Scott or Mickelson win at East Lake for third victories to cap their major seasons, it might get interesting. But five wins is five wins. Tiger has done that 10 times in his career. In that span, only one other guy (Singh) has done it even once. And when those five wins include a Players and two WGCs, you can’t quibble with the quality lacking a major. No need for a ruling on this one.