Dearly beloved, we gather here today to shovel dirt on one of the oddest years in golf in a long time. We start, as we must, with the Striped One: Tiger came in like a lion. He had won five times in ’13, and ’14 — with the majors at Tiger-friendly sites (Augusta, Pinehurst, Hoylake, Valhalla) — stretched out before him so invitingly. But in 2014 Woods spent about as much time with Tom LaFountain, Tour chiropractor, as he did with Joe La Cava, Tour caddie. He cashed only three checks and did not play in the Ryder Cup after the longest game of cat-and-mouse since Stuart Little roamed Central Park.
The last time we saw M. Woods, he was playing in his own Hero World Championship with a nasty flu, working on the range with his third swing coach and/or consultant in five years and preparing to open a bar-and-restaurant called The Woods Jupiter: Sports and Dining Club. Tiger’s people — that is, agent Mark Steinberg — will auction off further naming rights to TWJSDC, if a bigger front door can be found.
The true sporting highlights of the year — the triumphs — will live on forever, or at least for a few more weeks, in the highlight reels of our minds. In order of their value as sporting entertainment, here lay the top 10:
1. The eagle Mo Martin made on the last hole on her way to winning the Women’s British Open on the great Birkdale links;
2. The Summer of Rory, best summarized by the in-the-dark par the wee lad from County Down made on the last to win the PGA Championship by a shot, one month after he won the British Open;
3. Michelle Wie’s first major-championship victory, winning the U.S. Open at Pinehurst after nearly losing her ball on the 70th hole, then making one of the most memorable bounce-back birdies ever on the 71st;
4. Oliver Wilson, lithe Englishman and affable former Ryder Cupper, winning the Dunhill Links event at St. Andrews over McIlroy and other name-brand golfers while ranked 792nd in the world;
5. Kevin Streelman, who closed birdie-birdie-birdie-birdie-birdie-birdie-birdie to shoot a Sunday 64 and win Hartford, aka The Travelers, by a shot;
6. Christina Kim, winning the Lorena Ochoa event in a playoff and further demystifying depression, which she has, treats as the medical condition it is and openly discusses as a true public service;
7. The numerous 350-yard, dancing feet moonshot drives launched by Bubba Watson en route to winning his second Masters, which prompted Big Jack to send him a note, borrowing language from one in his own files: You play a game with which I am not familiar;
8. Martin Kaymer’s eight-shot victory in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, which reminded us that Woodsian dominance of a course and a field is still possible;
9. The con brio play of one Lucy Li, both at Augusta National, where she won the inaugural pre-Masters Drive, Chip and Putt competition in the 10- and 11-year-old age group, and at the U.S. Women’s Open, where she won the 11-and-under division;
10. Whatever wondrous thing you did through the green this year, because, when you get right down to it, your golf is more important and interesting than theirs.
But we cannot bid farewell to this year on all these positive notes, even though that is our inclination. There were just too many oddities, too much impactful weirdness. One man’s top 6, in which he limits himself just to matters related to the PGA of America!:
I. Phil at the Sunday night loser’s press conference at the Ryder Cup (a PGA of America enterprise) praising the greatness of Paul Azinger’s pod system, the most passive-aggressive dis of a Ryder Cup captain — Tom Watson, in this case — in Ryder Cup history;
II. Ted Bishop’s inane “lil girl” tweet about Ian Poulter;
III. The firing of Bishop from an honorary two-year position with a little over a month left in his term anyhow over his inane tweet for which he was suitably apologetic;
IV. The creation of a ridiculous over-the-top Task Force to address the question of why the Americans keep losing the Ryder Cup;
V. The painful announcement of Watson’s Ryder Cup captain’s picks in a stagey, contrived TV event in NBC’s Studio 8H;
VI. The painfully self-important remarks made by Woods and Watson about whether Woods would play on the 2014 Ryder Cup team.
The new year will be better.