It is curtains for the 2010 season of golf, and what a season it has been. Golf has probably never been in the news, so widely covered across the globe, on channels not even remotely related to sports, all for a story that wasn’t even related to the action on course. Action on the field hasn’t been short of surreal. Two of the masters winners were 25/1 and 100/1 to win, not to mention one of them having not only an unheard but an impossible to pronounce name. Like the improbably scandalous, the improbably improbable, there were some improbably comic moments which defied logic like the rain gear fail in Ryder Cup. There are a lot of stories cooking up for 2011, but we will leave them in the oven for a while and recap on the season gone by.
The story of the year, just in case you were out on a year long trip to the outer world to have missed it, was Tiger Woods. For once, not for his golfing skills but for the skeletons unearthed from his closet; stories of which were plastered over tabloids around the world. He never stayed out of the news, with his much publicized divorce, his self imposed hiatus from golf, his televised apology (which really should be most disappointing, over-dramatized sports related telecast along with LeBron’s ‘The Decision’) and then his return to golf. He followed that up with firing of his long time swing coach (insert your Woods double-meaning jibe here) Hank Haney, then hiring a new coach in Sean Foley. On the course he had many poor rounds of golf, with critics writing his eulogy but sometimes showed signs of the World No. 1 with 6 good rounds (1 in Pebble Beach, 1 in Augusta, last day singles in the Ryder Cup, and 3 good rounds in the unofficial Chevron World Classic).
The game of golf is played between the ears, as much as it is played over the 18 holes. After all the tumultuous things he has inflicted upon himself, he is slowly reconstructing all that has been lost. His swing is slowly, but surely getting to where he wants it to be. I had pleasure of seeing him play at the Sherwood Country Club in California from Dec 2-5 in Sherwood Country Club, and it was breath taking. He was hitting in fairways, putts in the green were rolling in. He displayed great ball control, was able to shape the ball and was satisfied with the trajectory of the ball. Considering that there were only 18 players in the field, though with 4 of the top 20, playing 4 rounds for a charitable cause really isn’t a good enough indicator. Seeing him measure up to the field in the process of swing change was a welcome sight. He was in the lead for 3 rounds until Graeme McDowell caught up with him in the final round and beat him in the playoffs. His erratic 4th round of golf, while leading by 4 strokes, cost him victory. Still, in my opinion, he has come a long way from April when he first started playing in the Masters. It will not surprise me if he gets to his winning ways soon enough.
It wasn’t a wonder then, when this year proved to be the one when Tiger was dethroned from the number 1 spot he had made his own for more than 5 years. Lee Westwood emerged as the new numero uno, after his convincing win in South Africa to maintain the top slot and cap an excellent year, at about the time Tiger was playing in Chevron. He was a part of the winning Ryder Cup team, and also finished runners-up in 2 majors. He also stayed faithful to his beloved European tour and declined PGA tour’s offer to be a regular member for 2011.
Another contender, Phil Mickelson had his chances to topple Tiger at the top, but the only thing he could accomplish in 2010 was a sole Masters win. No mean feat, most golfers dream of a major win, but you do need something more to be number 1. He had a poor outing in the British Open, and had traumatizing news from close family members. His wife and mother are fighting cancer, and on behalf of all readers I wish them a speedy recovery.
And now for the surprises – Graeme McDowell won the US open. Martin Kaymer won PGA championship and Louis Oosthuzien won The Open. Unexpected, but very good for the game of golf. Good news came for the Indian fans too, with Arjun Atwal becoming the first Indian ever to win a PGA event. There are many young guns storming the PGA tour, and it is fun to watch them play. Of all the new blood, there are 2 names that stand out for the future: Rory Mcilroy and Ricky Fowler. Someday we will surely seem them captain Ryder cup teams for Europe and USA. For now, let us just sit back and relish their game play. Both Ricky and Rory are long hitters of the golf ball, and can make birdies seem like child’s play. Both are as intense as they come. Seeing them play with such fierce competitiveness for their teams in Ryder Cup was an absolute joy to watch. Rory won in Quail Hollow and had it not been for 82 in 2nd round of the British Open, he would have won The Open too. Ricky’s final day win against Eduardo Molinary, down 4, was one of the greatest moment in Ryder Cup history. PGA announced Ricky Fowler as the Rookie Player of the Year. I tend to disagree and subscribe to Lee Westwood’s view that Rory should have won, as he was the better player on 2010.
Before wrapping up, I would like to congratulate veteran Jim Furyk for being the player of the year. He won thrice this year, but his biggest victory was the Tour championship. In the 18th hole, playing in a downpour, when everyone was slugging to win the $10 million prize money, Furyk went through the golf course like a routine job. He never displayed signs of panic, and as the final putt rolled in, the emotions were clear. The reaction was primal, something not unexpected from him, but he deserved the celebrations after a great victory.
It was great year for golf, epitomized by the intensely fought and emotional Ryder Cup won by Europe in the nerve wracking final game. Looking ahead at 2011, all eyes will be on Tiger to win and hunt for his 18 majors. A lot of questions cross our mind as we close this chapter and wait for the next one to unfold. Will Westwood be able to protect his number 1 ranking? Will Rory be a real threat? Where does Phil stand on his golf game? How will G-Mac do as a regular member of the PGA tour? Will we see a new star emerge?
It is still 7 weeks before the answers are uncovered one-by-one once the season commences at Hawaii. We are already anxious for it to begin, and let us hope it will be an amazing season in 2011.