Ten moments I'll remember from 2012
1. Hubba Bubba
Let's face it, nothing made the hairs on your arms stand up like the shot Bubba Watson played out of the pine trees on the first hole of the Masters playoff. Was Bubba chipping out sideways? Was he laying up? Hell, no, he was hooking it 40 yards right! With a pitching wedge from 164! To 10 feet! And making par to win the Masters! Seriously?
(Related Photos: SI's Best Photos from 2012)
Seriously. That wasn't just the shot of the year, it was a shot for the ages at Augusta National. Bubba's play was probably the most dramatic playoff stroke in a Masters since Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman in 1987.
2. Man of the Match
The scene around the 18th green was one of sheer European jubilation. Not because they'd won the Ryder Cup. It was only Saturday afternoon, but Ian Poulter had just delivered one of the great clutch performances in golf history, making birdies on the final five holes to turn a 2-down deficit into a 1-up victory with partner Rory McIlroy just after the European team of Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald had beaten Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker.
"We went from 10-4 to 10-6, and there was a glimmer of hope," Europe's Justin Rose said later. "It gives us a little bit of belief."
The Ryder Cup turned on that performance and made it possible for the Europeans to storm back in Sunday singles to claim the Ryder Cup. The Europeans won 8 1/2 points on Sunday, but Poulter's putt at 18 on Saturday was as memorable as anything that happened on the final day.
As Rose told McIlroy coming off the green: "You may be No. 1 in the world, Rors, but he [Poulter] is the No. 1 player in the Ryder Cup."
Tiger Woods holed a ridiculous flop shot from behind the green at the par-3 16th hole and went on to win the Memorial Tournament. The shot, a delicate flop to a back pin with the slope running away from Tiger toward a pond, ranks with his very best. When Tiger landed the feathery shot and watched it trickle softly into the right side of the cup, his second win of the season was in his grasp. Even tournament host Jack Nicklaus gushed, "I've seen a lot of shots in golf; I don't think I've seen a better one."
4. Roars for Rors
If the generational torch really changed hands in 2012, then it passed from Tiger Woods to Rory McIlroy on a thrilling Sunday afternoon at the Honda Classic. McIlroy was on the 13th green when he heard a huge roar from the 18th, a sound that could only have meant one thing: Woods had just made eagle for 62. McIlroy didn't flinch, holing his slick birdie putt at 13 and making an array of clutch putts and par saves on the way to a 69.
(Related Photos: Rory McIlroy's 2012 Season in Review)
In that win, McIlroy displayed a maturity -- and a short game -- that he hadn't previously shown. He proved that he'd learned how to close. He showed he could stand up to Tiger. The win also gave McIlroy the No. 1 ranking. It was a nice, tidy, torch-passing moment.
5. Escort Service
Sometimes, it's easy to forget that superstar athletes are normal people who make boneheaded mistakes, just like we do. The most important moment of Sunday at the Ryder Cup may have been Rory McIlroy's barely making the tee time for his singles match against Keegan Bradley. If he'd missed it, the forfeit surely would've killed Europe's chances.
McIlroy had apparently seen the starting times in Eastern time on TV instead of Chicago's Central time. Luckily for McIlroy and the Europeans, PGA of America staffers noticed McIlroy was missing, had someone roust him from his hotel room and, because of a traffic jam, put him in a police car. The officer and McIlroy pulled into Medinah with just 10 minutes to spare.
The best video of the year was of that police car pulling up to the clubhouse and McIlroy jumping out and hustling off. Can you imagine if the world's No. 1 player had missed his match? It's a moment that will live in Ryder Cup lore.
6. Have a Seat, Phil
The United States Open brings out the masochist in all of us. The only winner at most Opens is the golf course, and San Francisco's Olympic Club reminded players and fans once again just what an awkward and difficult track it is.
The tone was set when Phil Mickelson teed off in the first round early Thursday morning. He yanked his opening tee shot way right and it wasn't found. The next scene on TV was of Mickelson riding in a cart with a tournament official back to the tee box. Did the ball get stuck in a Cypress tree? We'll never know.
He re-teed and did well to escape with a bogey, but you know your Open dreams are in trouble if you're riding in a cart on the first hole. Mickelson barely made the cut, and he, not Casey Martin, was the first player to ride in a cart during the Open's opening round.
7. A Deuce Is Wild
The other mesmerizing shot at this year's Masters was when South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen holed a downhill 4-iron shot from 253 yards for a double eagle at the second hole in Sunday's final round.
(Related Photos: SI's Best Images from the 2012 Masters)
I haven't tired of watching the replays yet. This shot is mesmerizing, as the ball lands on the front center portion of the green, catches the small mesa in the middle and veers inexorably toward the pin in the far right corner of the green. It takes long seconds for the ball to reach its destination before it finally drops and the crowd erupts. You could stand on the green and putt from the landing spot and be there a few hours before you finally got one to drop. It was only the fourth double eagle in tournament history, and the first at No. 2.
8. Punch, Counterpunch
The Ryder Cup is always fun because of the passion, and because match play always gets personal. Sometimes, stroke play rises to that same level of passion. So it was brilliant fun when the Northern Trust Open finished at Riviera Country Club. Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson were one shot behind Bill Haas and needed to birdie the famous but daunting 18th hole. They both hit the green with their approach shots. Mickelson rolled in his birdie putt with flair and the fans packing the hillside below the clubhouse jumped up and roared in surprise. Then Bradley poured in his birdie putt, gave a theatrical punch and drew another long, loud roar.
Does it get any better than that? Well, Bill Haas ended up outdoing both Mickelson and Bradley when he drained a 43-footer for birdie at the short par-4 10th, the second hole of the playoff. If you weren't smiling after that electric finish, you didn't have a pulse.
9. The Comeback Kid
Kyle Stanley was running away with the Farmer's Insurance Championship at Torrey Pines in the final round. He was up by seven shots early on the back nine Sunday, but Stanley made a few bogeys and Brandt Snedeker made a few birdies. Still, the long-hitting and stoic Stanley needed only a double bogey on the par-5 18th hole to clinch his first PGA Tour victory.
He hit a perfect drive and laid up with his second. His third shot, a little sand wedge, landed past pin-high, spun back, caught a slope, trickled off the front of the green and then scampered down the shaved slope into a pond. His fifth found the back of the green, he three-putted for a triple bogey 8 and then lost the playoff to Snedeker.
All of that was incredible, but so was Stanley's performance the next week, when he rallied on the closing holes to win the Waste Management Phoenix Open. From rock-bottom disappointment to the thrill of a career-making victory, Stanley's win was one of the year's feel-good moments.
10. The Ultimate Sportsman
There were mixed emotions when the claret jug fell into the hands of the popular veteran Ernie Els. It was a wonderful comeback moment for Els, who had battled his putter for so long that his days of winning appeared to be over at age 42. He switched to a belly putter, a club he once railed against, and holed the shot of the British Open, a birdie putt at the 72nd hole that proved to be the margin of victory.
But Els didn't win as much as Adam Scott lost by making bogeys on the final four holes. Even Els had difficulty dealing with that platter of emotions. He's felt the same sting of disappointment and knew just how much winning would have meant to his friend Scott. Els spoke to TV cameras and writers about his big win in subdued tones. In the scorer's trailer, Els told Scott he was sorry how it turned out and added, "Don't let this linger."
In victory, Els showed the kind of sportsmanship and camaraderie that golf is based upon. You couldn't help but feel Scott's pain, just as you couldn't miss Ernie's class and compassion.