2016 in rewind: Look back on a dramatic year

By John FeinsteinDecember 13, 2016, 2:45 pm

There wasn’t much doubt when 2016 dawned that the year was going to be a dramatic one for golf.

After all, the Ryder Cup is always drama-filled, regardless of the outcome. The Olympics were going to be – for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer – unique, since they hadn’t played golf in The Games for 112 years.

Rory McIroy would again attempt to complete the career Grand Slam at the Masters. Phil Mickelson would do the same at the U.S. Open at Oakmont. Jordan Spieth would be asked to do the impossible: somehow come close to matching what he had accomplished in 2015.

And there was the never-ending question, the one asked most often by non-golf fans: “So, when is Tiger returning?”

And, of course, there was the soap opera that could have been called, “As the Task Force Turns.”

All of which means the expectations bar was set extremely high, even before Spieth opened the year with an eight-shot win in Hawaii, leading people to wonder if he might never lose again.

Of course, it’s never that simple.

Before the year was over, the four biggest events had been won by first-time major champions – each an amazing and very different story. The Olympics had created more controversy than anything in golf since Annika Sorenstam played at Colonial in 2003 – more, in fact. Then, just when it seemed the five rings might come crashing down on the sport’s head, a dramatic finished breathed life and hope into the event.

The Ryder Cup not only lived up to the hype, but went beyond it, even without a breath-taking finish. Patrick Reed, once golf’s anti-hero, became Captain America. Mickelson and Matt Kuchar did one of the worst shimmys ever seen and Mickelson emerged from the rubble of Gleneagles with a new glow on his legacy. And Woods became the most talked about vice-captain (or assistant coach) in sports history. Then, in December, he actually played golf again.

A lot to take in.

To begin at the beginning …

As it turned out, Spieth had a remarkable year – for a normal player. He won twice, finished tied for second at the Masters and was part of a winning Ryder Cup team.

There was just one problem: most people don’t look at Spieth as a kid just coming into his own as a player. They look at him as the guy who apparently found the last remaining phone booth on earth early in 2015, jumped into it and emerged as Superman – or, at least, Tiger circa 2000.

When you win back-to-back majors at 21 and then almost win the next two majors (T-4 at The Open, one shot out of the playoff, and second at the PGA behind a record-setting Jason Day) and win five times in the same year, including the FedEx Cup, you are never supposed to appear human again.

For 63 holes at the Masters, Spieth did just that. He led by five shots and it appeared that – for a second straight year – he was going to disprove that old Augusta adage: “The Masters doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday.”

But then, instead, he proved it – emphatically.

It wasn’t the bogey on 10 or the bogey on 11 that did him in. Those are very difficult holes and Spieth still led by two standing on the 12th tee. Up ahead, Danny Willett was putting together a wonderful round, all of which was likely to give him a chance to finish second.

But then, Spieth did something he almost never does: He made a mental mistake. And he made it at the worst time in the worst possible place.

“There are about six places at Augusta where you have to know exactly what you’re doing before the tournament begins,” Tom Watson said. “Jack (Nicklaus) explained that to me years ago. One of those places is the 12th tee.”

Standing on the 12th tee, Spieth thought he could cut a 9-iron into the flag. Later, Spieth said as he stood over the ball he remembered trying the same shot in 2014-when he trailed Bubba Watson by two shots – and finding the water. A moment later, his shot hit the bank in front of the green and rolled back into the water. Clearly stunned, he then chunked his third shot into the water and finally walked off with a quadruple bogey-7.

A moment later, having birdied the 15th to close – he thought – to within one of Spieth, Willett heard a gasp as he walked off the green.

“I turned around and saw they’d slid a ‘1,’ for Jordan under the 12th hole,” Willett said later. “At first I thought it was a mistake. Then I realized it wasn’t and knew I was leading the Masters.”

He was leading by one at that moment, over Lee Westwood, his good friend, who was paired with him. Often, the most difficult thing for an athlete to do is stay in the present when it hits him that he has a chance to do something special. Westwood, the veteran, reacted to suddenly being close to his first major victory by bogeying the 16th hole. Willett birdied it.

That’s what a champion does and, even though Spieth’s mental meltdown on the 12th tee was the focal point of most stories, Willett’s bogey-free 67 deserves to be remembered for a long time.

So does the way Dustin Johnson handled USGA officials tripping all over themselves during the last round at Oakmont. First, he wasn’t penalized when his ball moved on the fifth green. Then, he was maybe penalized, left – along with the rest of the field – literally not knowing the score for the last six holes.

Johnson shrugged it all off, did his best, ‘whatever-dude,’ down the stretch, including his virtual tap-in birdie at the 18th – one of the toughest finishing holes in championship golf. In doing so, he not only won his first major, he turned what could have been one of golf’s all-time debacles into just another footnote USGA embarrassment.

One month later, Henrik Stenson and Mickelson spent four remarkable days at Troon putting on the best golf show of the year. Mickelson came within an inch of the first 62 in major history on Thursday. Then, Stenson chased him down, eventually passed him and shot 63 on Sunday (!) to win his first major title. Mickelson shot a superb 65 that day – a round for the ages on almost any other major Sunday – and lost ground.

Two weeks later – the schedule was compressed because of the Olympics – Jimmy Walker went wire-to-wire at rain-soaked Baltusrol. This was the same Walker who had comfortably missed the cut at both Opens and was having a decidedly mediocre year going into the final week in July. Walker jumped from 29th to fourth on the Ryder Cup points list with his win, a move that made Davis Love III smile because he’d wanted Walker to play his way onto the team.

Then came the Olympics. Twenty-one eligible players chose not to go for reasons ranging from the Zika virus to the tight schedule to just wanting a break. Spieth, Johnson, McIlroy and Day were among those who passed.

Fortunately, Stenson and Justin Rose showed up and they put on a wonderful show on Sunday, Rose beating his Ryder Cup partner for the gold medal. Their duel may have saved golf in the Olympics since there was talk that the International Olympic Committee might vote in 2017 not to continue the sport beyond Tokyo in 2020 if it failed in Rio. Now, it seems likely, golf will survive.

And then, there was the Ryder Cup. Europe’s motto was, ‘shoulder-to-shoulder.’ The America’s should have been, ‘if not now, when?’

The U.S. had the specter of the famous/infamous task force (the Europeans giggled every time they used the term); they had home field advantage – a golf course set up to Love’s specifications and a wild, occasionally over the top, group of fans. Europe had six rookies playing on the road and also had two veterans – Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood – searching for their games.

The U.S. played brilliantly, taking a 4-0 lead the first morning and never looked back – in spite of some nervous moments Saturday afternoon before Reed holed out a wedge for an eagle on the sixth hole, turning the momentum back around. Reed was the star – beating McIlroy in a scintillating singles match on Sunday – but every American contributed at least a point in the 17-11 win.

“I went back and watched the tape of Sunday,” McIlroy said, weeks later. “I couldn’t believe how many putts they made. They looked like us in past years.”

There was one other story, one that didn’t draw as much attention as the others but was the feel-good story of the year. In 2015, Billy Hurley used his pre-tournament news conference at the Quicken Loans National to publicly plead with his missing father to please contact his family. Willard Hurley was found three days later, but two weeks after that committed suicide.

Eleven months later, Hurley, who spent five years in the Navy after graduating from the Naval Academy, received a sponsor’s exemption into the same tournament – and won. It may not have been golf’s most dramatic moment of 2016, but it was certainly the sweetest.

Day, Spieth chasing Davis after Day 1 of Aussie Open

By Jason CrookNovember 23, 2017, 6:50 am

The PGA Tour is off this week but a couple of the circuit’s biggest stars – Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – are headlining the Emirates Australian Open, the first event in The Open Qualifying Series for the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things look after the opening round, where Cameron Davis has opened up a two-shot lead:

Leaderboard: Cameron Davis (-8), Taylor MacDonald (-6), Nick Cullen (-5), Jason Day (-5), Brian Campbell (-4), Lucas Herbert (-4), Stephen Leaney (-4), Anthony Quayle (-4)

What it means: Jordan Spieth has won this event three of the last four years, including last year, but he got off to a rocky start on Thursday. Playing in the windy afternoon wave, the world No. 2 bogeyed his first two holes but rebounded with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5. It was more of the same the rest of the way as the 24-year-old carded three more bogeys and four birdies, getting into the clubhouse with a 1-under 70. While it certainly wasn't the start he was hoping for, Spieth didn't shoot himself out of the tournament with 54 holes left to play, he has plenty of time to claw his way up the leaderboard.

Round of the day: With Round 1 in the books, the solo leader, Davis, is the easy pick here. The 22-year-old Aussie who turned pro last year, came out of the gates on fire, birdieing six of his first seven holes, including four in a row on Nos. 4 through 7. He did drop a shot on the ninth hole to go out in 30 but rebounded with three more birdies on the back to card a 8-under 63. Davis, who was born in Sydney and played this year on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada. He will attempt to get his Web.com Tour card next month during qualifying in Arizona.

Best of the rest: Making his first start in his home country in four years, Day started on the 10th hole at The Australian Golf Club and made four birdies to one bogey on the back side before adding four more circles after making the turn. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, he also added an ugly double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole and had to settle for a 5-under 66, good enough to sit T-3. Day, who has dropped to No. 12 in the world rankings, is looking for his first win on any tour since the 2016 Players Championship.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Can the upstart 22-year-old Davis hold off the star power chasing him or will he fold to the pressure of major champions in his rearview mirror? Day (afternoon) and Spieth (morning) are once again on opposite ends of the draw on Friday as they try to improve their position before the weekend.

Shot of the day: It’s tough to beat an ace in this category, and we had one of those on Thursday from Australian Brad Shilton. Shilton’s hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole came with a special prize, a $16k watch.

Quote of the day: “Just two bad holes. Pretty much just two bad swings for the day,” – Day, after his 66 on Thursday. 

Watch: Shilton wins $16k timepiece with hole-in-one

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 2:50 am

Australian Brad Shilton made a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole during the first round of the Australian Open, and he was rewarded handsomely for his efforts - with a Tag Heuer watch worth $16k.

Day gets in early mix with 66 in return to Australia

By Associated PressNovember 23, 2017, 2:32 am

SYDNEY - Jason Day's first tournament round in Australia in four years was a 5-under 66 to put him among the leaders early Thursday at the Australian Open.

Day's round came unhinged late with a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole, his second-last of the day. He hit his tee shot into the trees on the left, hit back out to the fairway, missed his approach to the green and then couldn't get up and down.

''That was brutal,'' Day said of the 481-yard hole that played into gusting winds.

But Day recovered quickly to birdie his last to sit three strokes behind fellow Australian and early leader Cameron Davis, who started on the first, had six front-nine birdies and shot 63 at The Australian Golf Club.

In between the two was Australian Taylor MacDonald, who shot 65.

''It was a pretty solid round, I didn't miss many fairways, I didn't miss many greens,'' Day said. ''I'd give myself a seven or eight out of 10.''

Defending champion Jordan Spieth, attempting to win the Australian Open for the third time in four years, was off to a poor start among the afternoon players, bogeying his first two holes.

The Sydney-born Davis played most of this season on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and will attempt to secure his Web.com card in the final round of qualifying from Dec. 7-10 in Chandler, Arizona.

''Everything went to plan,'' Davis said. ''I got off to a great start. I was hitting my spots and was able to keep it together on the back nine.''

NOTES: Australian Brad Shilton had the first ace of the tournament, using a 5-iron for a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole, his second hole of the day. Australian veteran Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, shot 69. He and Rod Pampling (68) played the first round with Day.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."