— Rules violations, playoffs and shocking finishes – oh my! 2010 was more than just a rules clinic for pros and, by extension, all of us watching. It was the year of the walkoff ace. We had surprise winners, either because of their name or how they won. 2010 had it all in golf, aside from a Tiger victory which, unto itself, only enhanced the story.
So then it only made sense for a tournament which serves as a tribute to the winners (and, I guess, losers) of 2010 would encapsulate several of its themes.
A guy was disqualified because of a rules gaffe he had no clue he made. Graeme McDowell – a theme unto himself – wowed the world again with a frenzy of incredible golf. A playoff ensued to determine the winner and, of course, it ended shockingly. The components behind the story of the first event of 2011 mirror 2010, but spin forward to a new year in a rather unexpected way.
As for the guy who actually won the tournament, Jonathan Byrd taking the Hyundai Tournament of Champions may well show that Byrd is ready to take the next step in his professional career. Two wins in the last three PGA Tour events contested in the United States is significant – transforming his career by nearly doubling his win total in less than a handful of months.
Who among his peers can make a similar claim? Anthony Kim has three wins. Ryan Palmer, like Byrd, quietly has amassed three as well. It took a mock workout video for anyone to notice a career year for Ben Crane. How about Rickie Fowler? Not in the field at Kapalua. Sean O’Hair is meandering with a new caddie.
The story of playoff loser Robert Garrigus continues to unfold. A bomber with a good mid-iron game is perhaps the most open player about his off-course struggles with drugs and alcohol. Though his personal story is compelling and a triumph over his inner demons, Garrigus’ story has now shifted to what he can accomplish inside the ropes. Since June, Garrigus has had three legitimate attempts to win PGA Tour events and has cashed in on one – curiously, the one where he took advantage of a Sunday choke job.
If there was a slightly eschewed clone to Dustin Johnson and his 2010, Robert Garrigus would have to be it. Both have been in position to win repeatedly, and each has had some self-inflicted wounds to cost them a complete jump into the highest of golf circles. Each, though, has responded to tribulation with class and an upbeat confidence that they will get theirs.
Then there’s the aforementioned McDowell, who appears to soldiering on like 2010 was not a dream season – rather, a new reality that golf should get used to seeing from the Ulsterman. After a tepid start, McDowell fired consecutive rounds of 68 to give himself an outside chance at winning the tour’s season opener. Then he did what this iteration of McDowell seems to do best, which is thrive in the final round.
McDowell played well enough to shoot 59, on a par-73 course no less. Instead, he was forced to settle for a course record-tying 62 and to fall one shot shy of the playoff. He just wanted to give himself a chance to sniff a huge comeback win. If that Sunday is any indication of his 2011, McDowell could well be the man to overtake Lee Westwood for world No. 1 in short order.
For as great as the Europeans were in 2010, an American won to start the PGA Tour season for the first time since 2001. In a bit of symmetry, again, with 2010, the last American to do that is the current FedExCup champion Jim Furyk. It is seemingly impossible for 2011 to get away from 2010.
And, frankly, that would be a great thing for the sport. As much as Tiger’s worst season hurt ratings and caused the year to bemoaned as a free pass for the rest of the game, the prior year was fantastic. It had everything – well, almost everything. The customary domination by Woods and the perennial discussion of if Woods could take the single-season Grand Slam were replaced by questions that could not easily be answered, or were never discussed at all.
Lee Westwood at number one? A man who once fell on his face in America now the US Open champion? The youth of the game finally rising up? Those questions were way more interesting than if Tiger would win five times or ten times, and they move the game forward.
Hopefully, the game moves forward into 2011 with many of the same thrilling questions and surprising answers that came last year. Golf is a much better game when it resembles the Magic 8 Ball than when it seems like 52 Card Pick-Up.