SI convened a panel of experts -- senior writers Michael Bamberger, Alan Shipnuck and Gary Van Sickle and special contributor John Garrity as well as a PGA Tour player (who participated on the condition of anonymity) -- to take up these and other questions.
PASSING THE TORCH
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: What was most noteworthy about 2012?
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The development of Rory McIlroy as the face of the post--Tiger Woods era. This may go down as one of his most important years. He learned how to win while remaining a fresh, fun, down-to-earth character.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Rory emerged as the dominant figure, and he's nothing like the previous dominant figure -- in personality, in the way he approaches the game or his opponents or his tournaments. We don't know what Rory is going to bring week to week. We won't be shocked if he wins a major next year, contends in one and misses the cut in the other two. He has a little Phil Mickelson in him. He's less predictable, and we can relate to him better because of that.
(Related Photos: McIlroy's 2012 Season in Review)
Anonymous Pro: It has to be Tiger. Even after he had banked two wins, he turned up on Saturday at Olympic looking as if he stepped out of a YMCA golf league. I've never seen him look so lost.
Shipnuck: To see how fragile Tiger was on weekends in the majors was shocking. That really clouds his future.
Anonymous Pro: Woods's struggles backed up the stories I had heard from guys who'd been to Isleworth and said Tiger knew a lot less about his swing than we thought. I don't understand how a 14-time major champion completely loses it between Friday night and Saturday afternoon, no matter what he's been through. Maybe Rory got here just in the nick of time.
Van Sickle: Plus, who doesn't like Rory? Tiger was a great champion and a global celebrity, but he was never beloved. He got solid applause at the 18th green when he won British Opens, but nothing like the receptions for Nicklaus, Watson and Faldo. Tiger isn't terribly fan- or media-friendly. Rory is.
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: I agree about Rory, but I think 2012 should be remembered for the amazing start to the season, all those blown leads and final-round charges -- Brandt Snedeker, Kyle Stanley, Mickelson, Bill Haas, Keegan Bradley and the rest. It was one of the best stretches of close finishes I can remember.
(Related Photos: Rory vs. Tiger: Head-to-Head Meetings)
Bamberger: One moment that got very little attention, really, was Tiger's missing the last putt at the Ryder Cup. People wrote it off as meaningless because the Americans couldn't win the Cup, but the putt wasn't meaningless.
Garrity: You're right about that putt's importance, Michael. I say that because one of us predicted a Ryder Cup tie in our preview issue, and I was gloating in the pressroom until Tiger missed.
Shipnuck: That last scene was a window into the souls of Tiger, Francesco Molinari and José María Olazábal. Tiger's explanation that he was thinking, Who cares? It wasn't a big deal, was presumptuous and a little selfish. I'm sure a lot of guys on the U.S. team would have preferred a tie.
Bamberger: Who really knows what was in Tiger's head? This isn't fair to say, but instinctively I felt what he did wasn't an act of graciousness, it was an act of red-assed-ness. As in, I'm not going to stand here and watch a guy possibly miss a putt, because I'm Tiger Woods and that's not how my matches end.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What was most noteworthy about 2012?