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?
THE YEAR THAT WAS
Van Sickle: Besides Rory and Tiger, what else was significant? Anyone who says the FedEx Cup will be flogged.
Shipnuck: How about Stacy Lewis being the LPGA Player of the Year? In a more just world, she'd be SI's Sportsperson of the Year. To be in a back brace years ago, think you're never going to play golf and then win that award during a time of Asian domination in women's golf -- that's amazing. Stacy is a breath of fresh air. She hasn't gotten enough attention.
Bamberger: I absolutely agree. What John said earlier was important too. The theme for 2012 was, No lead is safe. It was a reminder that as the modern swing gets closer to technical perfection, golf still comes down to holding it together mentally. There's no video lesson for that.
(Related Photos: SI's Best Photos from 2012)
Garrity: The no-lead-is-safe theme applies even to acknowledged dominance. On the LPGA, Yani Tseng's performance was so remarkable and overpowering that we all shared the belief that she'd be a commanding presence for years to come. Six months later she was practically an afterthought.
Bamberger: Even Rory had a weird run of bad play for 10 weeks after he held off Tiger at the Honda in March.
Anonymous Pro: What ever happened to Hunter Mahan? Your game really has to disappear if you win twice, including a World Golf Championship, and still don't make the Ryder Cup team. And Jim Furyk used to be a closer, but it was tough to watch him with no finishing kick at Olympic, Firestone and Medinah. There's nowhere to go but down if you're Number 1, and unfortunately, Luke Donald proved it.
Bamberger: We also learned that if you're following only Americans, you can't keep up with golf. The game has truly gone global with impressive international players like Peter Hanson, Nicolas Colsaerts, Ryo Ishikawa and Alvaro Quiros, among others.
Anonymous Pro: I guess that's good for the game. I hate it, though, when I show up at the 1st tee and wish I had a translator.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What was your favorite moment of the season?
BELLY UP TO THE BAN, BOYS
Van Sickle: As expected, the USGA and R&A announced plans to ban anchored putting techniques starting in 2016. What kind of fallout will there be?
Anonymous Pro: You can start by passing out asterisks to Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els, who won majors by doing something that won't be allowed. If I were them, I'd be unhappy not only about the ban but also about how it reflects on the biggest win of my career.
Shipnuck: The most ridiculous part is the three-year limbo. You're Ernie Els, you're 43, and the belly putter rejuvenated your career. You have a short window to win a few more majors. Do you switch back to a short putter or do you keep using the belly? And if Ernie completes the career Grand Slam, is it tainted? If the USGA and R&A had any backbone, they would've made this effective for 2013. Now we have to talk about this for three more years. Kill me now.
(Related Photos: Pros Affected by the Anchor Ban)
Anonymous Pro: I guarantee this rule will have a big impact. Keegan and Webb can say what they want, but every player using a belly or a long putter uses it for a reason. Some guys, when they pull their short putter out of the bag again, are going to feel as if they're grabbing a cobra. I see sleepless nights ahead.
Van Sickle: This rule may or may not end careers, but it will turn some regular winners into middle-of-the-pack players. Golf, after all, is about making putts.
Garrity: This ruling won't destroy Keegan or Webb or Ernie or Adam Scott. These guys have three years to transition back. There are players on the Champions tour, however, who can't play without a broomstick. It will be a real setback for that tour, which can't afford to lose any of its stars.
Bamberger: We're being too harsh on the USGA. Yes, they blew it on metal heads, big heads, graphite shafts, grooves and balls. Now they're overcompensating. But I agree that you should hold a golf club with your hands, and I respect the USGA as the game's governing body. This is what they don't get paid to do -- tell us what's O.K. and what's not.
Shipnuck: No data was presented, only anecdotal evidence. This comes down to a handful of tweedy old guys who run the game not liking the look of anchoring.
Van Sickle: If the game went down the wrong path, and I'm not saying it did, it's because the USGA led us there. It put its stamp of approval on all these putters knowing full well exactly how they were going to be used. Some players have invested 10 or 20 years using approved putting styles that now are suddenly disallowed because -- wait -- the USGA doesn't like the way it looks? That's not a good enough reason.
Garrity: I've been an agnostic on long putters from the start, maybe because I'm 6'7" and too tall to be an effective ball roller. I see no evidence that anchored putters have an advantage, and I don't care how anchored putting looks. Even if it does help, so what? Do I really want to chase Ernie Els and Adam Scott out of the game?
Shipnuck: I have a hard time buying what the USGA and R&A are selling. Both have lost so much credibility as stewards of the game at the professional level. They'll take on fringe issues like anchoring or grooves, but are afraid to tackle equipment, which is having a profound impact on golf. It's ironic, in a sad way, that the anchoring decision was handed down just as it was announced that the Old Course would be desecrated for the 2015 Open.
Bamberger: Look, the USGA does many things well. They run a nice U.S. Open. They're trying to do the right thing here; they're simply 30 years late.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What do you think of the anchor ban?
This article originally appeared in the December 10, 2012 issue of Sports Illustrated, on newstands now.