Two major championships down, two to go. Using my enhanced math skills, that means the golf season is half-over. Let’s step back, then, for the Golf.com Mid-Season Awards.
Best Major Championship: Sorry, Rory. The Masters had three things the U.S. Open didn’t — Augusta National, a close and wide-open finish, and Tiger Woods. The four-straight-birdie finish by Charl Schwartzel put a dramatic cap to a wild final round that featured an adrenaline rush courtesy of Tiger, who might well have won if he hadn’t missed several clutch putts Sunday on the back nine. There was also the pathos of a young 54-hole leader who crashed and burned in the final round’s glare, Rory McIlroy.
The Shawshank Redemption Cup: McIlroy wins this one with his stunning comeback from the Masters wipeout. At Congressional, McIlroy caused a U.S. Open wipeout with his stellar, Tiger-esque eight-shot victory.
Shawshank Redemption Runner-Up: David Toms lost a playoff to K.J. Choi at The Players when he missed a short putt, then bounced back to win at Colonial the next week.
Best Freckle Arrangement: McIlroy, again.
Career Achievement for the Advancement of the Color Orange: Rickie Fowler.
Runner-Up: Nah, no one else is close.
Most Surprising Use of the L Word: Bubba Watson, who scored a nice appearance fee to play in the French Open and managed to insult the country of France while he was there by saying he’d gone past the “building that starts with an L” to describe the Louvre, the world’s most famous art museum. He also described the Arc de Triomphe as “this big arch I drove around in a circle.” At least he didn’t ask where the drive-through window was.
Biggest French Toast: Watson again. He missed the French Open cut, declined interviews and blamed fans for using cell phones and cameras.
Men’s Wearhouse Trophy: To Masters champ Schwartzel, who proudly travels with his new green jacket. “I only get to keep it for a year so I don’t leave it at home,” he explained. He even wore it to a European Tour awards banquet, where everyone else wore black tie and tuxedo. “They thought I was a waiter,” Schwartzel said.
Worst Table Service by a Senior Waiter: See above.
PGA Tour Frequent Guest Award: Given to players receiving the most sponsor’s exemptions so far. It’s a three-way tie at nine apiece for Scott McCarron, Brad Faxon and Joe Ogilvie. They will not receive an actual award. Haven’t they been given enough already?
Most Remarkable Shot of the Half-Vast Year: Sorry, Rory, but your badly errant tee shot Sunday at No. 10 in the Masters, which was also the winner in the closest-to-Butler-Cabin contest, has been replayed more than any other swing. It won’t soon be forgotten.
Biggest Shot of the Half-Vast Year: No shot was more electrifying than when Tiger Woods slashed a 3-wood that ran onto the par-5 eighth green Sunday at the Masters and got close. He made the eagle putt, shot 31 on the front and was tied for the lead briefly when he made the turn.
Biggest Letdown: Woods missing a short par putt at the 12th just when he’d convinced many observers that he was all the way back and might, just might, win another green jacket.
The Monday Cup: For the best performance by a Monday qualifier, the winner is John Merrick, who finished ninth at the Travelers Championship. It’s been a year of dismal showings by Monday qualifiers. The next-best finish was a tie for 20th.
Best Encores: The only double winners on the PGA Tour before Nick Watney’s win last weekend were Mark Wilson and Bubba Watson. Put that in your WTF file folder. Wilson won in Hawaii and Phoenix, Watson won at Torrey Pines and in New Orleans. Not the multiple winners we were expecting this year, are they?
Most Valuable Golf Player (MVGP): Wow, there’s no clear-cut choice. McIlroy and Schwartzel are the major winners, but can the MVGP really be the guy who blew up and lost the Masters? Sure, if he wins another major this year. For now Schwartzel holds the edge, based on his green jacket and earlier back-to-back victories on his home tour in South Africa. Nick Watney is moving up on the outside, however.
Best U.S. Open Finish That Wasn’t Actually a U.S. Open: Swirling winds turned the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill into a true survival test. Scotland’s Martin Laird won despite shooting a final-round 75, the highest score by an API winner in 33 years.
Most Memorable Victory: The Mexico Open, starring two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton. The win lifted Compton on the Nationwide Tour money list, all but assuring him a spot on the PGA Tour in 2012. It was an emotional cap to a comeback that is nothing short of miraculous.
Loosest Winners: Comedian Bill Murray has been carrying the celebrity show at Pebble Beach in the event formerly known as “The Crosby” for close to two decades now. Paired with D.A. Points, who stayed loose (courtesy of Murray’s clowning) and won the pro tournament, Murray got some swing tips from Vijay Singh on the range and won the pro-am portion of the competition. On one green, Points had a five-foot, par-saving putt, and Murray waved a doughnut in the air, saying, “Make it and you get a bite!” Points did.
Brightest New Star: Between the big smile and the big drives, Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas captured a lot of hearts. When he won the Bob Hope Classic, he put Venezuelan golf on the map and possibly saved the game from extinction in his home country, where ruler Hugo Chavez was decidedly anti-golf before Vegas’s victory.
The Styrofoam Finger Award: Phil Mickelson still has never been the No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Rankings, but Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald have all have spent time at No. 1 since Tiger Woods fell out of the top spot. Current No. 1 Donald rode a points surge to the top of the rankings after he followed his win at the Accenture World Match Play final with seven-straight top-ten finishes.
Best Prediction: Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee said before the Players that Woods wouldn’t finish the tournament. “I think there’s a really good chance he’ll be gone before he was last year [third-round withdrawal]. This is a Pete Dye golf course. There are bunkers, there are mounds. … It’s fairly likely he’s going to re-injure himself playing this golf course.”
Best Case for a Mulligan: After Phil Mickelson shot 63-65 on the weekend to blitz the field and win the Shell Houston Open the week before the Masters, NBC’s Johnny Miller quipped, “One of the hardest things he’s got to do right now is practice putting on his own green jacket next week.” Not so fast, Johnny.
Golf Photo of the Year: Hope you didn’t miss the SI Golf British Open preview issue with the Darren Carroll photo of Ben Crane, wearing a skirt, a helmet and pink saddle shoes, leaping through the air. It was, um, totally spontaneous.
Runner-Up Golf Photo of the Year: McIlroy, yet again, using his cell-phone camera to take a snapshot of a roomful of writers and cameramen in his post-Open victory press conference.
Best Sherpa Vest: Hunter Mahan in the curiously infectious yet decidedly nonsensical Golf Boys music video.
Most Indescribable Video: The Golf Boys doing “Oh Oh Oh,” starring Hunter Mahan as Ringo Starr, Bubba Watson as Jethro Bodine, Rickie Fowler as Davy Jones and Ben Crane as Jim Carrey.
Biggest Golf Fashion Flop: Remember the scarf-like fabric Martin Kaymer wore at the Accenture Match Play that covered his mouth (like the bubblegum character Bazooka Joe for you over-50 readers)? Haven’t seen one since.
Best Major Champion From South Africa That We’ve Already Completely Forgotten About: What, you thought it was Schwartzel? Nope, it’s reigning British Open champ Louis Oosthuizen. He won in a romp at St. Andrews a year ago. Really, he did.
Newest Most Dangerous Man in Golf: Commentator, humorist, ex-opera singer and Ryder Cupper David Feherty. The man known for his love of bathroom humor has his own show on Golf Channel. Stand back, people. It could get smelly.
Best Signal for the Golf Economy: The Heritage tournament at Harbour Town was going, going and all but gone before RBC (which also sponsors the Canadian Open) and Boeing stepped in as the new title sponsors and saved one of the tour’s most popular events.
Best Breakthrough Performance by a Former Washburn Ichabod: Gary Woodland, a big hitter from Kansas, played conservatively and won the Transitions Championship at Innisbrook. Woodland played one season of college basketball at Washburn (whose nickname is the Ichabods), before transferring to Kansas University and switching to golf. He’s all Jayhawk now, and he’s got top ten in the world potential.
Best Makeover: The old Bob Hope Classic has a new sponsor (Humana), a new name (Humana Challenge), and a new format (72 holes instead of 90, amateurs play only three rounds, not four).
Worst Marketing Move: Removing Bob Hope’s name from the title of the remade Humana Challenge is an insult to the tournament’s heritage. Bad news, Humana. We’re still going to call it the Hope. Just like we still call the year’s first women’s major championship the Dinah, in honor of tournament founder Dinah Shore.
Most Ominous Nine Holes: Tiger Woods limping to a 42 in the first round at the Players, then withdrawing. He hasn’t played since.
Best Runner-Up: Australia’s Jason Day, second at the Masters and the U.S. Open.
Low-Am Award: UCLA freshman/sophomore-to-be Patrick Cantlay is mopping up. He won the Jack Nicklaus Award as the top college player, stunning for a freshman. He was the low amateur at the U.S. Open, finished 24th in his PGA Tour debut in Hartford (as an amateur) and made the cut the next week, too, at the AT&T National. Impressive. While Cantlay swears he’s going back to school to finish his degree, a few more good finishes in tour events will have him wondering why.
Golf Tweet of the Year: Justin Rose’s response to Lucas Glover’s full beard: “Winning a U.S. Open. So easy a caveman can do it.”