Making a midseason assessment
The full story of the 2012 golf season can't be told until the completion of the Open Championship, the PGA Championship, the Ryder Cup and the FedEx Cup playoff events, but it's not too early to give an appraisal of what has already been an extraordinary year in the game. It will be difficult over the remainder of the season for anyone to top Bubba Watson's amazing shot in the playoff at the Masters or Casey Martin's courage at the U.S. Open or Tiger's resurgence after a nearly three-year winless drought.
Player of the year: Jason Dufner
Since losing the playoff at the 2011 PGA Championship, the 35-year-old Auburn grad has had seven top-10s, including two wins this season, a second at Colonial and a fourth at the U.S. Open. While there is nothing particularly memorable about any of his victories, he's proved with his laid-back style that his performance in the PGA was no fluke. By the end of the year, Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson or Webb Simpson could take hold of this award, but right now I'm leaning toward the quiet man with the sad eyes and old-school waggles.
Shot of the year: Bubba Watson at the Masters
Tiger's 50-foot chip from the greenside rough during the final round of the Memorial was an amazing shot, but nothing comes close to Watson's 155-yard L-wrench-shaped hook at the 10th in the second playoff hole at the Masters. The shot, which he hit with a gap wedge off the pine needles, stopped about 10 feet from the hole. Under the circumstances, it has to be one of the best shots in major championship history.
Rookie of the year: John Huh
The 22-year-old former Korean Tour rookie of the year has a win at the Mayakoba Classic -- earned on the eighth playoff hole -- and three other top-10s. At the Valero Texas Open, he finished in a tie for second, 2 shots behind winner Ben Curtis, after carding an opening-round 77. Huh is the favorite right now for this award, but don't count out Seung-Yul Noh or Harris English. Both of those players have made appearances on leaderboards and could get wins by the end of the season.
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Comeback player of the year: Tiger Woods
After many wondered if he would ever win again, the 14-time major champion, who hadn't won an official tournament in almost three years, captured three PGA Tour victories this season.
Best Quote: Bubba Watson
"I've never had a dream go this far ... so I can't really say it's a dream come true." -- Watson on winning the Masters
Worst meltdown: Ernie Els at the Transitions Championship
The three-time major champion spent the first couple of months of the season trying to get into the Masters. And it looked like after 70 holes at the Transitions he would make his 19th consecutive trip to Augusta. He had a 1-stroke lead with two holes to play. But then he finished bogey-bogey. At the 72nd hole, he missed a 4-footer that would have put him in a playoff. Els ended up missing the Masters for the first time since 1993. Spencer Levin blew a 6-shot lead in the final round at the Phoenix Open, but his implosion happened gradually over the course of his round. Els' collapse came like a bolt of lightning.
Best putt: Bill Haas in the Northern Trust Open playoff
Worst putt: I.K. Kim at the Kraft Nabisco
The 24-year-old South Korean missed a 1-foot putt on the 72nd hole that would have given her the first LPGA major championship of the year. Then she lost in a playoff to Sun Young Yoo.
Wackiest scene: Kevin Na at The Players
The 28-year-old tour veteran's laborious preshot routine was put on display to the world at the so-called fifth major of the year. Not since a young Sergio Garcia tested the patience of the gallery at the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage have we seen a player's ticks cause such a firestorm. Na, who would finish in a tie for seventh at TPC Sawgrass, was contrite, saying that he deserved the loud criticisms and he would change his preshot routine in order to play faster. Since taking his fifth top-10 of the year at The Players, his highest finish has been a tie for seventh at the Greenbrier.
If it wasn't enough that he had to play on an ultra-difficult golf course at the Olympic Club, the 40-year-old Oregon golf coach did it with intermittent pain as a result of a lifelong degenerative condition in his right leg. He would miss the cut by a shot with rounds of 74-75. Biggest disappointment … so far: Rory McIlroy
Few could have imagined heading into the Open Championship that the 23-year-old Northern Irishman would have missed the cut in four out of his past six events, including a miserable U.S. Open, where he never sniffed the weekend. At the Masters, he had a tie for 40th. He started the year by vaulting to No. 1 in the world with a win at the Honda Classic. But since losing in a playoff in May at the Wells Fargo Championship, there hasn't been much in the way of excitement for the 2011 U.S. Open champion.
Worst luck: Kyle Stanley
At the 72nd hole of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, the 24-year-old former Clemson star and Walker Cupper saw his 3-shot lead evaporate after he made triple-bogey on the relatively easy par-5 18th. He landed his third shot with a sand wedge behind the pin, but it zipped back off the front of the green and into the water. Then he would 3-putt from 45 feet to fall into a playoff with Brandt Snedeker, who beat him on the second extra hole. It's hard to defend the 3-putt, or the fact that he owned a 7-shot lead at one point in the final round, but his third shot ending up in the water was a good case of bad luck.