Rory McIlroy’s dominance on both sides of the Atlantic was among the biggest storylines in what may prove to be a truly transformational golfing year in 2012.
The coronation of McIlroy as the game’s leading player was confirmed in sensational fashion when the exciting Northern Irishman cruised to his second major title by a record eight shots in the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island in August.
McIlroy fully justified his other nickname of ’the Celtic Tiger’ recording four wins on the PGA Tour among 10 top-10s in just 16 starts before ending the season being named the PGA of America Player of the Year, the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year and winner of the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average.
McIlroy clinched the Arnold Palmer Award as the PGA Tour’s leading money winner, with earnings of $8,047,952, and was delighted to follow that up with the European Tour order of merit with two events remaining.
“Winning a second major already made it a fabulous season, but then to follow Luke in becoming number one in both Europe and the States is the icing on the cake after a fabulous season,” he said.
Hardly surprisingly, McIlroy finished his 2012 campaign on a triumphant note when he won the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship by two shots in Dubai last month.
Long regarded as heir-apparent to Tiger Woods as the game’s greatest player, McIlroy has smoothly taken over that role while Woods, despite triumphing three times on the PGA Tour in a welcome return to winning ways, has had to take a back seat.
THE SHOT: Bubba Watson producing arguably the shot of the year with a miraculous escape from pine straw to win the Masters in a playoff with South African Louis Oosthuizen in April.
On the second extra hole, the long-hitting left-hander ended up well right and deep in the tree line off the tee from where he had a narrow avenue to the green.
Undaunted, Watson struck a stunning hook off the pine straw with a gap wedge, his ball bending 40 yards in the air to settle 10 feet from the pin before he claimed his first major victory with a two-putt par.
“I don’t even know what happened on the back nine,” recalled Watson. “Nervous on every shot, every putt. Went into a playoff. I got in these trees and hit a crazy shot that I saw in my head and somehow I’m here talking to you with a green jacket on.
“I got there. I saw it was a perfect draw; a perfect hook. We were walking down the fairway going, we’ve been here before. You’re good out of the trees. And [my caddie] said, “If you’ve got a swing, you’ve got a shot.”
“I get down there, saw it was a perfect draw. Even though the tower was in my way, I didn’t want to ask if I get relief or anything, because it just set up for a perfect draw – well, hook. That’s what we did.
“I hit 52-degree, my gap wedge, hooked it about 40 yards, hit about 15 feet off the ground until it got under the tree and then started rising. Pretty easy.”
Lost in all the commotion was Louis Oosthuizen making what is commonly called the rarest shot in golf – a double-eagle – when his 4-iron from 253 yards on the par-5 second hole landed on the front of the green, took the slope and rolled some 90 feet into the cup for a 2.
It was only the fourth double-eagle in the 76-year history of the Masters.
Oosthuizen, who had never made a double-eagle in his life, was trying to become only the sixth player to have won majors at Augusta National and St. Andrews – two of the most revered courses in golf.
OH CANADA: Graham DeLaet started the 2012 season with a medical exemption following back surgery the previous year. Needing to make just over $657,000 in 26 starts in order to retain his Tour status, the Saskatchewan golfer put whatever doubts and fears he had aside, shooting 63 to lead the first round of the first event of the season in Hawaii. A tie for ninth at the Puerto Rico Open and a tie for fourth at the Zurich Classic helped him satisfy the terms of his exemption with eight tournaments to spare. He qualified for the FedEx Cup playoffs and equalled his biggest payday of the season in the opening event, The Barclays, with a tie for fifth. That left him high enough in the standings that a missed cut at the second event did not eliminate him but a tie for 37th at the BMW Championship spelled the end of his post-season run. DeLaet managed to eclipse the million dollar mark in earnings for the first time in his career, finishing with $1,051,951.