From a dramatically reworked competitive calendar to a contentious rule change, 2013 was a year of change for better or worse. Before the ball drops in Times Square, Cut Line fills out the final scorecard.
Leading men. Two players that don’t seem likely to share a taxi pulled off an impressive timeshare agreement atop the marquee in 2013.
It is a testament to the quality and quantity of golf that, depending on one’s point of view, 2013 could be considered the Year of Tiger or the Year of Phil.
Woods won five PGA Tour events – including The Players, a title that appeared out of his reach in recent years – claimed his 11th Player of the Year Award and secured the winning point for the U.S. side at the Presidents Cup.
While Mickelson came up one dimple short of shooting 59 on Day 1 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, he defied the odds makers with his breakthrough at the Open Championship with arguably the best closing nine of the season and moved within a U.S. Open of the career Grand Slam.
Golf is at its best when the game’s alpha and omega are on top of their games, and 2013 was better than most.
Don’t call it a comeback. The Tour stopped doling out the Comeback Player of the Year Award a few seasons too early.
Consider the list of viable candidates in 2013. In 2011, Boo Weekley didn’t make it to the FedEx Cup playoffs, finished 180th in earnings and lost his Tour card. A year later, he narrowly kept his job after finishing 123rd on the point list. He rebounded this season, winning his third Tour title and advancing to East Lake.
And then there’s Henrik Stenson, who was ranked outside the top 100 in the world at this time last year but climbed out of his professional abyss to become the first player to complete the transatlantic slam, claiming the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai titles.
The sentimental favorite, however, has to be Jarrod Lyle, who overcame leukemia for the second time and returned to competitive golf at last month’s Australian Masters. Whether Lyle ever plays on Tour again seemed irrelevant as he hugged his wife and young daughter after making the cut at Royal Melbourne. His comeback was complete.
Tweet of the year: @RexHoggardGC “No caddies in the Hall of Fame, but if there were (Jim Mackay) would be on the short list. #Bones”
We know, it’s more than a tad self-serving to give yourself such an honor, but the snapshot of Bones behind the 18th green at Muirfield following his bosses’ victory was a testament to the looping legend’s abilities and Lefty’s trust in his faithful sidekick.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
Split decision. Other sports use split calendar schedules, a common refrain from those in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. None of those other professional leagues, however, play six games and then take a month and a half off like the Tour.
In the case of the Tour’s new wraparound line up, the ends justify the means.
With the new schedule, the Tour has a clean “out” at the Tour Championship while saving many of the former fall series starts from extinction and bringing the Asia swing events (WGC-HSBC Champions and CIMB Classic) into the FedEx Cup fold.
But there was a cost for all the cleanliness. The new qualifying system (see below) is off to an awkward start, the circuit’s Disney stop, a staple since 1971, is now a historical footnote and fans are left to digest a season that is six-events clear of the starting line and firmly on hold.
Perhaps the wraparound will grow on the golf world, like love grass in bunkers, but early reviews suggest it’s more like mold on bread.
Anchor down. In a move that pitted some of the game’s titans against each other and introduced “bifurcation” to the general golf lexicon, the move to ban anchoring left a mark on the calendar that will linger long into 2014.
The U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient’s move against anchoring was belated at best and bullying at worst. Some, like Masters champion Adam Scott, argued that there was no scientific data to back up the rule makers’ claims that anchoring provided players an advantage.
The rule was eventually passed, but not before driving a wedge between the rule makers and the PGA Tour and PGA of America.
If there’s silver lining to this episode it may be that the USGA and R&A will become more democratic in the rule making process, including those (Tour types and PGA professionals) who are most impacted by these decisions.
Qualified problem. Call it collateral damage. Call it a work in progress. Whatever the sound bite, the circuit’s new qualifying system was riddled with more bugs than HealthCare.gov.
As a result of the new wraparound schedule, the road to the Tour shifted from Qualifying School to the four-event Web.com Tour Finals, which concluded with the Tour Championship at the Dye Course at TPC Sawgrass.
Supporters of the new system say it was an upgrade over Q-School because it factored in an entire year of play instead of just six rounds, yet when the dust settled at the finale the scoreboard suggested otherwise.
Kevin Tway, for example, began the Finals fifth on the money list but didn’t finish better than 52nd in the last four events and was washed back to 46th on the priority list.
Conversely, Andrew Loupe, who started the finals with consecutive missed cuts and a withdrawal from the third stop, tied for sixth place at TPC Sawgrass and began the 2013-14 season ahead of Tway on the priority rankings.
“It’s turned into four one-week Q-Schools,” Jason Gore told Cut Line. “I wish over the course of time you could have four 15th-place finishes and get in, something that rewards consistent performances over just one good week.”
It doesn’t help that Q-School, once one of the year’s most compelling tournaments for stories of triumph and tragedy, is being played this week in case anyone was interested. Anyone?
Weather warning. It was a bad year for weathermen and anyone who plies their trade outside, say, like golfers.
From the gale force winds that reduced the season opener in Maui to 54 holes to the blizzard that led to delays at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, Mother Nature won in 2013.
All total, 22 of 40 events were impacted by weather delays from heavy fog at Torrey Pines to frost at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
The elements have always been a part of the game, but after slogging through four seasons in one day at Dove Mountain it may be time for the Tour to start experimenting with domed courses.