The 2014 Golf Awards

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THE WINNERS… The golf world is a special place where great players go to seek fame and glory. It's also where they send offensive Tweets, or become immortalized in … a corn maze? Behold the highs, the lows, and the just plain strange from the year that was. The year's biggest winner? Rory McIlroy, of course. Golf Magazine's reigning Player of the Year added two majors to his growing career total and now plays a game with which only Tiger Woods is familiar.
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BEST IMPRESSION OF CASSIUS CLAY He never said, "I am the greatest," like Ali did -- he just said one of the greatest. The Sunday red he wore while winning the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral spoke volumes, and so did Reed himself. He capped his victory at Doral -- Reed's third Tour win in seven months -- by listing his achievements alongside Tiger's, anointing himself "one of the top five players in the world." Eyebrows arched. Six months later, Reed went 3-0-1 at the Ryder Cup, one of Team USA's few bright spots. It ain't bragging if you can back it up with world-class play.
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PUTT OF THE YEAR, WOMEN'S DIVISION Paula Creamer at the HSBC Women's Champions: When her improbable eagle landed -- a 75-foot right-to-lefter on the second playoff hole against Azahara Muñoz -- Creamer dropped to her knees, lay her forehead on the ground and pounded the turf in a mix of exultation and incredulity. "I could stand there all day long and putt that," she said, "and I don't think I'd get it within six, seven feet."
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PUTT OF THE YEAR, MEN'S DIVISION Martin Kaymer at the Players Championship: German physicists are still trying to re-create the arc of Kaymer's parabolic putt on the island-green 17th at Sawgrass. After a lightning delay, Kaymer holed a 28-foot bender to save par and preserve a one-stroke lead. How big was that putt? The former World No. 1 rode that momentum to Pinehurst the next month, winning the U.S. Open by eight strokes.
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BEST IMPRESSION OF A 30-HANDICAP Billy Horschel at the Deutsche Bank Championship: Tour pros play a game with which we're not familiar -- until the pressure's on. Then they can look a lot like us. Witness Horschel's approach on the 18th hole on Sunday with the tournament on the line. Wielding a 6-iron from 198 yards, the 27-year-old mis-hit his shot so badly that -- forget the green -- he almost didn't reach the hazard. He lost his Titleist, and the title.
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BEST IMPRESSION OF THE NEXT GREAT AMERICAN GOLFER Billy Horschel at the BMW and the Tour Championship: Instead of humbling Horschel, the Deutsche disaster only fueled his desire to get back into high-pressure situations. In the weeks that followed, he dusted off his pastel-plaid pants and won the BMW Championship, the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup title. At season's end, Horschel was poised to crack the top 10. Among twenty-something Americans, only Fowler ranked higher.
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THE BEST BIRDIE BARRAGE Standing on the 12th tee at TPC River Highlands that June Sunday, Kevin Streelman had a Publishers Clearing House chance of winning the Travelers Championship. Then he made history, becoming the first Tour player to win an event by birdieing the final seven holes. The first words to spill from Streelman's lips in the post-round press conference? "Wow!" Our thoughts exactly.
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MOST A-MAZE-ING SALUTE The green blazer is nice, but you haven't made it until you've been memorialized with a corn maze. A farm near Bubba Watson's Florida hometown unveiled an eight-acre vegetative tribute, depicting the big lefty in his follow-through.
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LEAST EXPECTED BREAKUP Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki: When Rory ended his dream-coupling with Caroline [over the phone, no less], the only person more shocked than the tennis star was, well, the rest of the world.
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MOST EXPECTED BREAKUP Tiger Woods and Sean Foley: Tiger and Steve Williams had their troubles, but they stayed together for the "children"–13 major wins. Woods ended things with Foley just four-plus years into their majorless union. Rumor has it that Tiger told Foley, "It's not me, it's you."
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SHOT OF THE YEAR Rory McIlroy's closing 5-iron on Saturday at the British Open Sometimes a single swing sends a resounding signal. Though it was only Saturday, Rory's flushed approach from 237 yards, to 11 feet from the pin, rang out like a rifle shot. It not only set up a closing eagle that stretched his lead to six with just 18 holes to play, it announced a new chapter in the Boy King's reign.
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BEST CAMEO APPEARANCE Phil Mickelson at the PGA Championship: Given his winless, top-10-less year, few expected Phil–Golf Magazine's Player of the Year in 2013–to take center stage in the season's final major. Yet there he was, with a sparkling guest appearance at Valhalla, his Saturday 67 previewing a Sunday star turn alongside Fowler and McIlroy. Though Lefty didn't win the Wanamaker, his closing holes -- played in movie-theater darkness -- unfolded like the climax of a televised blockbuster. It was the most riveting major since Rocco Mediate tussled with Tiger at the 2008 U.S. Open.
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FOOT JOY IN MOUTH AWARD Steve Elkington on Twitter: In a series of social-media misfires, the former PGA Champ joked about a fatal helicopter crash in Scotland, used a disparaging term for Pakistanis, mocked a gay football player ["ESPN reporting Michael Sam is leading the handbag throw at NFL combine…"] and made a leering comment about a female golfer's "cans." Hey, Elk -- make like the gallery when you're about to swing: QUIET PLEASE.
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THE SHELLEY "THE MACHINE" LEVENE LOUSY CLOSER AWARD Like Jack Lemmon's hard-luck salesman in Glengarry Glen Ross, Jim Furyk can't seal the deal -- his tumble at the Barclays marked the eighth time since his last Tour win [2010] that he lost a final-round lead. And he briefly shared the lead at the Tour Championship before fading down the stretch. So, Jim… Put. That coffee. Down. Coffee is for closers!
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PLAYA OF THE YEAR We don't endorse breaking up for golf-related reasons. We'd merely like to point out that in May, days after ending things with Woz, McIlroy ended a 17-month European Tour winless drought. Ever since, Rory has apparently picked up at least as many fashion models [he's been linked to Nadia Forde, above, and Sasha Gale] as majors. Romance is like golf: Sometimes you just want to play as a single.
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UPSET OF THE YEAR Gunn Yang winning the U.S. Amateur Cinderella herself would have been favored ahead of this 20-year-old South Korean. He arrived at the event in a pumpkin, not a chariot, as the world's 776th-ranked player. Then Yang won the most coveted trophy in amateur golf, overcoming back surgery just 15 months earlier and the loss of his college scholarship due to poor play. His triumph was a fantasy tale turned wonderfully real.
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BIGGEST WIN BY A FORMER PHENOM Michelle Wie at the U.S. Women's Open Half a lifetime after playing in her first major, Wie, at 24, finally won a big one, at Pinehurst in June. Even back when she was a gum-smacking teenage phenom, Wie's compass always pointed toward greatness–she just had to cross a few chasms to get there. She'd already endured wrist injuries, slumps, feuds, putting woes, and the weight of great expectations, so it was no surprise that Wie literally laughed off the double-bogey on the 70th hole that could have derailed her. Two pars later, a major -- the Women's Open trophy -- was finally hers. "Stuff happens," a philosophical Wie said of the 16th hole hiccup. It does indeed, in golf and in life. You earned it, Michelle.
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BIGGEST TEEN SENSATION Lexi Thompson at the Kraft Nabisco Championship After closing with a 68 for her first major prize, Thompson did a cannonball into Poppie's Pond. She also bathed herself with a celebratory beer, which, at 19, she's still too young to drink.
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BIGGEST PRETEEN SENSATION Lucy Li at the U.S. Women's Open Fans couldn't get enough of the 11-year-old Li. Her precocious play [twice breaking 80 on Pinehurst No. 2] and giggly, ice-cream-licking likability provided sweet relief from the cynical currents of modern sport. Lucy, we know you have to grow up, but please -- take your time.
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BEST ON-COURSE RECOVERY Victor Dubuisson at the WGC–Match Play Championship A Frenchman who never trained in the French Foreign Legion, Dubuisson showed stupendous desert survival skills, prolonging his final match against Jason Day with a pair of miraculous up-and-downs from spots where some saguaros would fear to tread.
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BEST OFF-COURSE RECOVERY In early 2013, famed swing doctor Peter Kostis got a grim diagnosis: Stage 3 colon cancer. "I wasn't happy," Kostis says, "but I never doubted how I'd respond." Surgery and seven months of chemotherapy followed, sidelining Kostis for the season from his CBS broadcast work. In January -- after tests revealed him to be cancer-free -- Kostis was back on-air, sharing insights into the game. He also has observations on more than golf. "I try to think positively, and I used to always ask the same of those around me," says Kostis, who turns 68 this month. "Now, though, I demand it. Life's too short for anything else."
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THE WOE-IS-ME AWARD You'd think a man with two green jackets and the ability to flush a drive 424 yards [at Firestone's par-5 16th hole] would play with more joy. Not Bubba Watson. His Eeyore-like lowlight came at Valhalla, at the PGA. In the long-drive contest, he hit a crowd-displeasing 4-iron. And during a wet second round, the reigning Masters champ whined about excessive water on his clubface, calling it "f---ing horse---t." After Augusta, Bubba Golf in 2014 was Bummer Golf.
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COPPERTONE TAN-LINE AWARD Stewart Cink in Hawaii: E.T. phone home -- and ask them to beam you down more sunscreen. This hair-raising image of a capless Cink at the Sony Open was mistaken by some as evidence of alien life. Consider it merely a warning to other earthlings to use a higher SPF.
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MOST AWKWARD PRESS CONFERENCE Team USA after its Ryder Cup loss: If the American squad's 16.5 - 11.5 Ryder Cup loss to Europe at Gleneagles was a tragedy, the climactic press conference was a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode: awkward yet entertaining. After being benched all-day Saturday and enduring a team meeting in which Tom Watson reportedly berated his players ["You stink at foursomes"] and scoffed at a gift, Phil Mickelson threw his captain under the bus. . . and a Winnebago. . .and Paul Azinger's Harley. Lefty, sharing the dais with his teammates and skipper, praised the "pod system" that Azinger used in 2008. "Unfortunately, we have strayed from a winning formula," Phil said. Asked if Watson talked tactics with the team, à la Zinger, Lefty said, "Uh, no. Nobody here was in any decision." Watson's response? "It takes 12 players to win. It's not pods." Maybe. But weeks later, the PGA announced a take-back-the-Cup task force on which Phil will sit. Love him or loathe him, his performance was. . . Mick-iavellian!