Punch Shot: Biggest story of the Tour season?

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The recently concluded PGA Tour season featured a split-year calendar, an incredible stretch from Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods' injury saga and Billy Horschel's late season surge to capture the FedEx Cup. The GolfChannel.com staff weighs in on their story of the year:

By RANDALL MELL

Tiger Woods splitting with swing coach Sean Foley ranks as the biggest story of the year because it significantly impacts one of the most important stories in the history of golf. It impacts Woods’ pursuit of Nicklaus and the Golden Bear’s record 18 major championship victories.

Woods didn’t win a major with Foley.

Why it didn’t work won’t matter when history eventually gives context to their four years together as it relates to the pursuit of Jack. Did Tiger make it harder on himself trying to change his swing for a third time? Did he become “over engineered” as some analysts suggest? Would emotional turmoil and injury have derailed Woods no matter what swing he committed to making? Did Tiger's changing priorities impact his quest?

History will remember that Tiger’s four years with Foley didn’t get him closer to the driving ambition of his professional life. It will remember the split signifying their union was a failure in that singularly cold and narrow regard. 


By RYAN LAVNER

In time, we’ll likely view the season as the one in which the game’s two biggest stars stepped aside and ushered in a new era in golf.

Tiger Woods’ slide was more understandable. A five-time winner in 2013, he teed it up only seven times this season because of injury. Mickelson, meanwhile, played a reasonably full schedule, with 21 events, but his only top-10 was a T-2 at the PGA Championship, where a late bogey doomed his bid for a sixth career major. Those believing that performance would translate to a strong finishing kick were disappointed. Lefty bowed out at the BMW Championship, meaning that neither he nor Woods participated in the Tour Championship for the first time since 1992.

Mickelson’s thrill ride at Valhalla was a prime example of what we can expect in this new world order – occasional flashes of brilliance, followed by stretches of mediocrity. There’s a new king of the sport in Rory McIlroy. Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth and Billy Horschel seem poised to take the next step, and early-30-somethings such as Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia aren’t going anywhere, either.

So even if they return to championship form next season, Woods, who turns 39 in December, and Mickelson, 45 next summer, will find a more crowded, competitive landscape in which sometimes even their best won’t be enough. 


By JASON SOBEL

It took six months, but golf's Season of Parity was starkly interrupted by the Summer of Rory, as Rory McIlroy won two majors, four events overall and reestablished himself as the world's No. 1 player.

To me, that was this year's biggest story.

Remember: Entering the year, McIlroy was an ultra-talented rising star with two major titles on his resume, but his future was also shrouded in mystery. After an equipment change, he won just a single tournament in 2013 – and that was a late-season start in Australia.

His performance this year proved that he is not just the future of golf; he's the present, too.

The number of players in the modern era with four major titles at the age of 25 can be counted on one hand with a few fingers left over.

If we learned anything this year, it's that the game at its highest level has transitioned into the Rory McIlroy Era – a stark contrast to what we've seen over the past two decades.


By WILL GRAY

While the coinciding struggles of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson helped define 2014, the key takeaway from this season will be the return of Rory McIlroy. McIlroy flashed his brilliance in 2012, but this year he sustained it. In between, he faced questions about equipment changes, relationship issues and even an apparent fear of Fridays. The Ulsterman persevered, and his tear through the summer that included a run of three straight wins and two majors will be the lasting image of this season.

McIlroy’s overall major haul is still to be determined, but that’s beside the point: this year he showed that he is able to both step into the spotlight and thrive under the brightest lights. Winning tournaments as the top player in the field is a tall task, but it’s an accomplishment he pulled off in consecutive weeks in August, and while comparisons with Woods are essentially unfair, McIlroy’s run through the summer – when his best was simply better than the rest of the world – was at least a little Woods-ian.

Tiger will be back, and so will Phil. Their seasons were each an exception, rather than a rule. The re-emergence of McIlroy, though, will have lasting effects that linger well after the calendar flips to 2015.