The Inaugural Chamblee Awards: Praise for Tiger, shame for Stevie, and both for Phil
This year had more twists and turns than 17-Mile Drive. Early on, each week seemed to play out like Rocky over Drago, as underdogs (the likes of John Huh and Kyle Stanley) overcame great odds to achieve victory. Next came Tiger Woods's return to the winner's circle. But soon the former world No. 1 would be overshadowed by current No. 1 Rory McIlroy. To acknowledge the people who provided me with so much fodder on Golf Channel and in the pages of Golf Magazine, I bestow the following Chamblees to the authors of 2012's most indelible golf moments.
MOST SURPRISING ON-COURSE BIRDIE
When the squawking intruder known as "Jungle Bird" interrupted the U.S. Open trophy presentation at Olympic Club, he not only made news. He gave USGA executive director and all-around nice guy Mike Davis a chance to flex his chops as a bouncer. (Most of the computers at Golf Channel have the image of Davis throttling this party-crashing jokester as a screensaver.)
MOST SURPRISING OFF-COURSE BIRDIE
The one and only Peter Alliss ended an epic Hall of Fame acceptance speech by extending a certain finger to the memory of the cigarette-smoking Welsh headmistress who once wrote on his report card, "Peter does have a brain but he's rather loath to use it... I fear for his future."
SHOT OF THE YEAR
Forget shot of the year. Bubba Watson's crescent-shaped wedge shot from 155 yards around all those trees and with all that pressure -- to 10 feet -- on the first playoff hole at the Masters was among the greatest shots ever. Heck, he's one of the few players with enough imagination and shotmaking prowess to even try it. I also give him credit for brevity. When David Letterman asked the newly minted Masters champ to describe his style of play, Bubba simply said, "Awesome." Amen to that.
BEST PHIL MICKELSON IMPRESSION
Phil Mickelson (duh!), for whipping his playing partner, Tiger Woods, 64-75 in the final round, to win the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
WORST PHIL MICKELSON IMPRESSION
Lefty again, for tugging his first tee shot at the U.S. Open into a Cypress tree, leading to the first of three straight bogeys and an opening 76.
PUTT OF THE YEAR (BELLY DIVISION)
The 12-footer for birdie that Ernie Els made on the 72nd hole of the Open Championship, the bookend on his feel-good win, was almost enough to make me change my mind about anchored putters (almost).
PUTT OF THE YEAR (NON-BELLY DIVISION)
The 25-footer Jason Dufner drained for birdie on No. 18 to steal the HP Byron Nelson away from Dicky Pride, sealing his second win in a month. That putt left both Jason and me speechless.
SHORT GAME I'D MOST LIKE TO STEAL
Luke Donald's short game is sublime. His putting stroke is completely devoid of idiosyncrasy. It's perfect. All the axioms relative to putting technique -- grip, eyes over ball, pendulum stroke, soft acceleration -- are there. How good is his short game? In 2012, he was 165th in driving distance...and 12th in par-5 scoring average.
I LIKE YOU, TIGER... I REALLY, REALLY LIKE YOU!
No one has been more critical of Tiger Woods over the last three years than I have. So I give him full credit -- and three Chamblee Awards -- for a very good, if major-free, 2012. The Most Exciting Moment of the Year came when Woods holed a flop shot from behind the 16th green Sunday en route to his win at the Memorial. Tiger also takes Most Improved Press Tent Behavior honors; after his tense "You're a beauty" moment with a Golf Channel reporter at the Honda Classic, Tiger was (for him) sweeter than apple pie the rest of the year, especially with all the praise he heaped on Rory McIlroy. Finally, Woods wins the Extreme Makeover Award after his countless "Sean-a-thon" range sessions with swing coach Sean Foley finally sank in. This year, Tiger hit more fades in one season than anyone since Bruce Lietzke roamed the Tour.
SWING I'D MOST LIKE TO STEAL
I'll take Adam Scott's. Tiger Woods's swing from 2000 is the best of the last 25 years, but Scott's swing today is a solid second. I love the perfect position he gets his hands in at the top of the backswing. If Scott had Tiger's brain -- and that bloodless desire to win -- he'd have a handful of majors by now.
HEAD-SCRATCHINGEST DEVELOPMENT MY TINY BRAIN CAN'T FULLY COMPREHEND
I almost gave this to the discovery of the "Higgs boson," but let's go with Vijay Singh making his way atop PGA Tour leaderboards, at almost 50. Co-honorable mentions go to Fred Couples and Hank Kuehne, who enjoyed a return to pain-free golf after visiting Düsseldorf-based doctor Peter Wehling, a specialist in something called "Orthokine."
BEST SPORTS-SHRINK-DEFYING MOMENT
Kevin Na's pre-shot routine on the sixth tee in the third round of the Players Championship had more false starts than a pee-wee league football game.
BEST HEAD OF HAIR
Robert Rock's decision not to wear a hat probably costs him $200,000 per year, but with that mane, can you blame him? No wonder the golf groupies love him. He's got great hair, and his name is Robert Rock. He shouldn't be on Tour. He should be starring in an awesomely cheesy cop show called Rock Solid. I can see him sliding over the hood of his red Mustang Mach 1, playing golf by day, fighting crime by night.
BEST HEAD OF HAIR (BROADCAST DIVISION)
Me! And, yes, I use sculpting gel. There, I said it.
SURPRISE OF THE YEAR
Nostradamus himself couldn't have predicted Lydia Ko making history and winning an LPGA event at age 15.
OTHER SURPRISE OF THE YEAR
Europe clawing out of a four-point Sunday hole to edge the U.S. at the Ryder Cup. Kudos to Ollie, Luke, Rory and Europe's two most intimidating assets: Ian Poulter's eyeballs.
BIGGEST CADDIE BLUNDER
When Stevie Williams let Adam Scott rip 3-wood on the 72nd hole of the British Open, all the bunkers that Scott had avoided by hitting iron in the first three rounds came into play. We know what happened next. I wonder if that was Stevie's worst loss ever.
Hey, we all tell the golf gods to "G.F.Y." now and then, but after Kris Blanks missed the cut at the Greenbrier, he not only chided the deities with that abbreviation on his Twitter feed; he told them (and us) what other "game" he and his wife would play that weekend. That would be T.M.I., Kris.
TWEET LEAST WORTH "CROWING" ABOUT
After struggling at the Deutsche Bank, Luke Donald fired off an undiplomatic tweet directed at TPC Boston designer Gil Hanse. Am I sure Luke deserves this award? Yes, I'm cocksure.
BEST IMPRESSION OF ARNIE IN HIS PRIME
This one goes to Rory McIlroy, but not because he plays like the King. When Palmer was the best in the game (and even when he wasn't), he carried himself with class, humility, good humor, and grace with the press. Rory, as world No. 1, does the same. You just like the kid. Congratulations, Rory, on a great year. And thanks for being a great champion.