It was the year of the Europeans, apologies, grooves, rules, tweets, farewells and faux pas. “Cut Line” could barely keep up, but before we fall into a Tryptophan-induced coma we’ll take a look at the season’s ultimate winners, losers and others.
Europe. Quick, what do you get when you mix two Englishman, two Northern Irishmen and a German? Punch line: the opening act of a Mel Brooks comedy and a reason to watch golf in 2010. Ba-da-boom.
Who would have thought that as golf reeled in the aftermath of Nov. 27, 2009, the answer to all the game’s PR woes would come via the continent and a group that is as colorful as they are talented.
Lee Westwood is No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking math and in the minds of many on both sides of the pond; Graeme McDowell has a U.S. Open trophy, the Ryder Cup and a head-to-head with Tiger Woods on his mantel, and Rory McIlroy may not have been voted the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year but he is the 20-something with the most potential. And that’s ignoring the accomplishments of the brothers Molinari and Ian Poulter.
The old country never seemed so new and refreshing.
Lorena Ochoa. Going out on top is the toughest task in all of spots but the quiet Mexican did it with class and dignity.
In April at the age of 28 and No. 1 in the world ranking Ochoa announced that she would step down to spend more time with her family and her charitable work, proving once and for all Jerry Seinfeld’s point. She left us wanting more and we do.
Tweet of the Year. @PaulAzinger “I’ve arrived (at Celtic Manor)! But I’m unable to access the press room. What a difference a couple of years makes.”
Honorable mention: anything Tweeted by @WestwoodLee.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
Phil Mickelson. Lefty covered it all in 2010 – the good, the bad and the ugly. To be fair, the second weekend in April and his magical Masters Sunday would easily qualify as a successful calendar if the other 51 weeks weren’t so pedestrian and peculiar.
Mickelson began the year with a controversial move to play legal-but-non-conforming wedges at Torrey Pines, a worthy protest for a bad rule that drew the ire of some frat brothers, came up short at Pebble Beach with weekend rounds of 73 and managed just a single top-10 finish after June.
Along the way he failed, repeatedly, to overtake Woods atop the world ranking, was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis and stunned the golf world with news he was a vegetarian.
Still, his 6-iron from the pine straw right of Augusta National’s 13th fairway was the shot of the year and his embrace of wife Amy behind the 18th green a few hours later is among the best snapshots in 2010.
Major misses. The year’s four Grand Slam stops were so eagerly anticipated that an emotional letdown was almost inevitable.
Woods’ surreal return at Augusta National somewhat tempered Mickelson’s emotional victory; McDowell’s Pebble Beach victory was certainly deserving but one walked away with the feeling the trophy went to the last man who remained upright; Louis Oosthuizen’s brilliance was anticlimactic after a series of unforgettable Old Course Opens, and Whistling Straits . . . well, Whistling Straits was a sandy mess that should be removed from the rota.
It was, in retrospect, the law of diminishing returns. If they aren't all special, none of them are.
No easy Ryder Cup. Mired by rain gear that didn’t work and Welsh weather that did, it’s easy to forget that the 2010 Ryder Cup produced the most dramatic finish in a decade and continued to rekindle a rivalry that seemed anything but just four short years ago.
Also lost amid the Welsh mud was the cementing of two legacies. Colin Montgomerie, whose Cup record is every bit as impressive as those Orders of Merit, went out on script and on top. While Corey Pavin, the bulldog with the major that always eluded Monty, well, he just went out.
Rules of Golf. For those scoring at home there was Dustin Johnson in the bunker-that-shouldn’t-have-been at the PGA Championship, Brian Davis on a beach where he shouldn’t have been at Hilton Head, Juli Inkster swinging a swing aid she shouldn’t have been at the Safeway Classic . . . stop us if you’ve heard enough.
Often the Rules of Golf don’t make a lot of sense, but in 2010 the litany of high-profile violations seemed senseless to the extreme.
Purest will claim the rules, and our unquestioning adherence to them, are what make golf special. Perhaps, but until “Cut Line” catches a Tour type taking a mulligan off Augusta National’s 10th tee it is the overly convoluted rules, not a player’s confusion with them, that need to be fixed.
Tiger Woods. All things considered it could have been worse. There could have been protests, hecklers, untold sponsor and fan fallout and more than just a single missed cut.
In fact, considering his form in his playoff loss at his season-ending Chevron World Challenge earlier this month the swing, if not the psyche, appear to be trending in the right direction.
But when your career is measured by majors and your income measured by the millions, 2010 was a disappointment by any measure. He failed to win a Tour event for the first time as a professional, was never really in contention on Sunday at a major, ranked worse in nearly every major statistical category and begins 2011 as the favorite for only one postseason award – Comeback Player of the Year.
Out of the groove. The U.S. Golf Association, and by default the PGA Tour, wanted to make the game more demanding for a bomb-and-gouge set that had turned far too many venerable layouts into pitch-and-putts so they dialed back the grooves in irons, which was akin to slowing down race cars by mandating more windshield wipers.
In this case, statistics don’t lie. Proximity to the hole, fairways hit, greens hit and scoring averages were all counter intuitive to what officials had in mind which was a greater focus on accuracy and higher scores.
In essence, the USGA took the path of least resistance straight back to the drawing board.
“If they wanted to make a big impact the golf ball would do that,” Heath Slocum said.