Every golf season has its own unique twists and turns that no one saw coming, and this year was no different. Here are the biggest surprises of 2018.
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Ted Potter Jr. is mini-tour legend with double-digit wins in the minor leagues throughout his career, but even with a share of the 54-hole lead at Pebble Beach, the career journeyman was seen as a big underdog with Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day all in the mix. But it was Potter who came away with his second PGA Tour win – first since 2012 – on the Monterey Peninsula. The final result may not have been a surprise to Potter, but he was aware of how it must have looked to everyone else, saying afterward, “I knew everyone thought Dustin was going to win. I was the underdog. What did I have to lose?”
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Tiger Woods and Ernie Els competed in eight Presidents Cups each and are tied to the event’s most memorable moment when the duo went to playoff at the 2003 matches, which ended in a tie. And while Els has long been considered the natural successor to Nick Price, the captain of the last three International Presidents Cup teams, the selection of Woods was a bit of a shocker. Since the announcement in March, Tiger has won the Tour Championship, gotten back inside the top 15 in the Official World Golf Ranking and now intends on being a playing captain for the U.S.
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One of the biggest surprises of the season was the blossoming friendship of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. The longtime rivals gave the golf world their first glimpse of this bizarre sight on Tuesday at the Masters. The duo, which hadn’t played an official practice round together in 20 years, even paired together for a match at Augusta National against Fred Couples and Thomas Pieters – a match they won by quite a bit. The legends, who have 19 majors between them, continued to be buddy-buddy throughout the year, leading up to “The Match” in November.
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Who knew the biggest fireworks in the Masters Par 3 Contest would come out of the Jack Nicklaus-Tom Watson-Gary Player group? Watson, 68, started off hot, birdieing his first four holes. He closed pretty well, too, finishing 6 under to become the oldest winner in the history of the event. While the win was plenty exciting, it wasn’t even the highlight of the day. Nicklaus’ grandson, Gary, Jr., made a hole-in-one on the final hole, bringing tears to Jack’s eyes as a celebration ensued.
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Six years after admitting the first women members to Augusta National, Masters chairman Fred Ridley announced the creation of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship. The event will kick off Masters week in April 2019 and will feature the top 72 amateurs from around the world. The champion will receive an exemption into next year’s U.S. Women’s Open and the Women’s British Open, as well as any USGA, R&A and PGA of America amateur events for a year.
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Early this year, seemingly out of the blue, the USGA announced they would no longer use an 18-hole playoff to determine its U.S. Open champion and instead will have a two-hole aggregate playoff in the event of a tie after 72 holes of stroke play. If the players are still tied, they’ll continue in a sudden-death format. The playoff format was implemented across all four of the USGA’s Open championships. While it had its detractors, the 18-hole playoff format was a staple of the U.S. Open, famously last used during Tiger Woods’ stirring victory in 2008.
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Brittany Lincicome made history at the Barbasol Championship, becoming the fifth woman to play in a PGA Tour event and first since Michelle Wie in 2008. The two-time LPGA major winner, who got into the field on a sponsor’s exemption, ended up missing the cut, but became the second woman ever to break par in a PGA Tour event with her second-round 71 that included a hole-out eagle from 110 yards at the 17th. “I’ll remember this forever,” she said afterward.
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Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee authored one of the most underrated surprises of the year when he qualified for the Senior Open. One day after his dissecting of the 147th Open at Carnoustie ended, the 56-year-old made the short trip to Scotscraig Golf Club and shot a 2-under 69 to share medalist honors. Although he eventually missed the cut after rounds of 77-75 at the Old Course, it lit the competitive fire for Chamblee, who added in November that he would be looking to add more Champions Tour starts in 2019.
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Before this year, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were rarely seen on a golf course together, unless they were battling down the stretch at a PGA Tour event. But at The Players in May, Woods revealed the longtime rivals had grown closer than the public knew in recent years, with Mickelson even reaching out to offer Woods some tips when he was going through the chipping yips in 2015. “When I was trying to deal with the nerve in my back and trying to come back and trying to play and I wasn't very good, [Phil Mickelson] always texted me some very encouraging words,” Woods said. Ultimately, the yips were more of a byproduct of Woods’ injuries but Tiger said he appreciated the offer.
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Tiger Woods using a new putter is a surprise. And we saw plenty of that in 2018. Woods switched to a mallet putter in July, benching his Scotty Cameron Newport 2 – a club he used to win 13 of his 14 major titles – and then flirted with a new TaylorMade Juno putter in August. Woods eventually went back to what has always worked for him and won his 80th PGA Tour title at the Tour Championship, but any deviation from the norm is news in Woods’ world.
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Jordan Spieth’s entire 2018 could be seen as a surprise. Just three years removed from nearly winning the single-season Grand Slam, the 25-year-old failed to collect a win for the first time in his career. Normally one of the Tour’s best with the flatstick, especially from long distance, Spieth admitted his putting needed 'a lot of work' all the back in January at the Sony Open. It didn’t get much better, as the three-time major winner missed the Tour Championship for the first time, a tournament he had planned on playing in order to meet the PGA Tour strength-of-schedule policy.
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The two veteran leaders the U.S. needed most if they had any shot in Paris failed to deliver a single point as the Europeans ran away with the Ryder Cup. Phil Mickelson lost his first team match and then was benched until singles – where he lost again. Tiger Woods played four of five sessions and finished 0-4-0. Woods took the loss especially hard, saying afterward, “It’s disappointing because I went 0-4, and that’s four points to the European team. I’m one of the contributing factors to why we lost the cup, and it’s not a lot of fun.”
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Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth are 8-1-3 in team competitions together, so it was a bit of a surprise when they were split up for the Ryder Cup. But it was an even bigger surprise when Reed spouted off about the split after the U.S. got steamrolled by Europe, throwing Spieth and captain Jim Furyk under the bus on multiple occasions. Reed said afterward that he wasn’t worried about his Captain America nickname because he still won his singles match, but many in the golf community wonder if he ruined his future Ryder Cup prospects.
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T.J. Vogel started the year with only conditional Web.com Tour status, and explained at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May that he devised his summer schedule based on his belief that it's easier to Monday qualify for a PGA Tour event than a Web.com tournament. And he proved his point … eight times. Vogel made three cuts in his eight starts this year, topping out with a T-16 finish at the Valspar Championship in March. The 27-year-old also played the weekend at the Nelson and the Wells Fargo Championship, missing the cut at The Greenbrier in addition to the RSM Classic, Honda Classic, FedEx St. Jude Classic and the Wyndham Championship.
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As it turns out, Tiger Woods wasn’t the only legend to have work done on their back in recent years. In April, Jack Nicklaus, 78, revealed he underwent experimental stem cell therapy for back pain in 2016 in Munich, Germany. Nicklaus said he didn't feel "immediate relief," but he did notice "the pain I used to feel while actively playing golf had subsided after a few months." When asked why he had not previously revealed the treatment, Nicklaus responded, "I didn't keep it private. No one asked me about it."
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