Although golf’s season sprawls uninterrupted across the calendar, it is the four months from early April to August that define whether it’s been a good year or a great one; and this season’s grand slams didn’t disappoint.
In no particular order, here are some memories from the major season . . .
Over Easy. A decade removed from his last major championship on a rebuilt left knee and fragile short game, Ernie Els charged in a 15 footer at Lytham’s last for birdie to move to 7 under. At the time that left the Big Easy alone in second place, a stroke behind a reeling Adam Scott.
Twenty minutes later Scott completed a bogey-bogey-bogey-bogey finish and Els was hoisting his fourth major and second claret jug, but not before he draped a knowing arm over the Australian’s shoulder.
“I've been there many times and you've just got to bounce back quickly,” the South African told Scott. “Don't let this thing linger.”
Shortly afterward Els told an associate to find a helicopter for the flight to London. He was scheduled to play the next week in Canada, but not before he celebrated with his family. He had waited a decade for this one, Canada could wait.
Bend it like Bubba. Estimates vary, but by most accounts Bubba Watson’s roping wedge from the flora and fauna right of the 10th fairway at Augusta National carved more than 40 yards around a TV tower to 12 feet on the second playoff hole.
“I dreamed about (winning the Masters), I just never made the putt,” Watson said. He didn’t have to make the putt at the second extra hole after Louis Oosthuizen failed to save his par.
On a course with a history of producing historic shots – Phil Mickelson’s 6-iron from the pine straw right of the 13th fairway in 2010 and Gene Sarazen’s double eagle at No. 15 in 1935 immediately come to mind – patrons enjoyed a two-for-one special this year at the former fruit nursery: Watson’s walk-off and Oosthuizen’s double eagle at the par-5 second.
Olympic moments. On a cool, clear San Francisco Sunday morning in June, your scribe wandered out to the par-5 16th hole to find U.S. Golf Association executive director Mike Davis pacing the green, “We want to make them think,” he said as he prepared the Lake Course for the final round.
In retrospect, moving the tee forward some 100 yards on No. 16 for the final turn at this year’s championship seemed to make Jim Furyk go catatonic.
The 2003 U.S. Open champion pulled his hybrid tee shot into the trees left of the fairway and never recovered, while eventual winner Webb Simpson, who played the weekend in 68-68, produced the leading candidate for “Chip of the Year” at the last at almost the same moment for an unlikely par.
“Probably, one out of five, at best . . . at best,” said Simpson’s caddie Paul Tesori of his man’s chip at the last. “It was the worst lie I’ve ever seen in golf. You would have called someone cheating if they would have given you that lie in a competition . . . he wouldn’t have gotten another one close in 10 more shots.”
Ranking “Rors.” Although Rory McIlroy won his bookend majors by the same margin (eight strokes), they were vastly different performances.
At Congressional in 2011 McIlroy was dominant throughout, pulling clear of the field with an opening 65 and accelerating into the corners with three more rounds in the 60s.
By comparison, last week’s PGA Championship seemed almost subdued. A 75 on a windblown Friday to begin the weekend left him tied for fifth place, while a scorching start to what would become a washed-out Saturday moved him into the lead and set the stage for a 67-66 weekend.
“He did what all great golfers do,” said David Feherty, the walking reporter with McIlroy’s group on Sunday at Kiawah. “He played the best possible golf like it had the least amount of consequence. That’s what great players do. They make it seem like it doesn’t matter when it matters more than anything else in the world to them.”
With a touchdown advantage standing on the final green the only thing that seemed to matter to McIlroy was spotting his father, Gerry, in the crowd. A few moments later the two embraced, much like they did last year at Congressional. This time, however, was so much different.
Something left behind. When Phil Mickelson began the final round in April at the Masters he was a stroke behind Peter Hanson and the betting, and sentimental, favorite to collect his fourth green jacket.
Just four holes into his Sunday turn those title chances seemed to have ricocheted off the bleachers adjacent the par 3 and into the woods. All total Lefty needed five swings to reach the green, including two right-handed, and finished tied for third, two shots behind Watson.
If Mickelson seemed a tad flat the rest of the season he’d come by it honestly, the byproduct of the painful near miss at the place that means the most to him.
“Ever since the Masters he’s struggled a little,” said Mickleon’s swing coach Butch Harmon at Kiawah . “Obviously there’s frustration of not winning at Augusta when he played so well. Since then he’s had a couple of family vacations, end of the year, time to go with the Ryder Cup coming up and FedEx Cup.”
Note to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III: you may want to avoid that all-lefty pairing of Mickelson and Watson at this year’s matches – painful association and all.
Something lost, something gained. On this Woods is clear, his career is defined by the game’s majors and another empty grand slam basket, his fourth winless calendar extending his major slump to 0-for-14, is how many will define his 2012 campaign.
The good news: he played the first two rounds at the season’s final three majors in 11 under. The bad news: he’s played the last two rounds in those same starts in 13 over.
At The Olympic Club it was a pair of slow starts – front-nines of 37 and 39 on Saturday and Sunday, respectively – that cost him, while at Lytham Woods seemed to have the right strategy on the wrong course.
The most telling snapshot of Woods’ major season came late Friday at Kiawah as he rolled practice putts with swing coach Sean Foley watching late into the August night. He would follow with matching weekend putting rounds of 30.
Three victories, and counting, this season has thoroughly established 2012 as a monumental step in the right direction, but Woods’ own standard is set at the majors. Until he ends that drought there is still room for improvement.
- Euro chief: Sergio has several 'colored' friends
- Garcia calls O'Grady's remarks 'unfortunate'
- Zoeller expects Garcia controversy to 'blow over'
- Sergio's 'chicken' jab | Apology | Tiger: Hurtful
- Palmer answers challenge | At a glance | Scores
- Stars stumble in BMW PGA | 41 by Rory | Scores
- Grill Room: Trevino regrets 'Happy Gilmore' cameo
- USGA, R&A ban anchored stroke | Explanation
- Anchor lawyer: Hope for best, prepare for worst
- Haas, Waldorf co-lead Sr. PGA Champ. | Scores
- LPGA Bahamas going 12 holes in Rd. 1 | Tee times
- Tip of the Week: Stop scooping your chip shots