10 Leading Golf Personalites of 2012
The overriding theme of the major events in world golf during 2012 was unlikely comebacks and many of our top 10 golf personalities of the year were involved in those events.
The highlight of the golfing year has to be the Ryder Cup and that amazing afternoon of singles in Chicago. The lasting memory of the Ryder Cup for US golf fans is an agonisingly loss but the way the Europeans played and fought back has to represent the best golfing story of the year.
Ian Poulter and Keegan Bradley were central to events and have earned their inclusion in our top 10 list due to their efforts at the Ryder Cup. Bradley was unbeatable over the first two days playing alongside Phil Mickelson.
Poulter was the most influential player for Europe. He birdied the last five holes alongside Rory McIlroy to beat Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner in the last match on Saturday afternoon. He then delivered the singles point he promised by beating Webb Simpson the following day.
Simpson is recognised for winning his first major title at the US Open in June. The tournament seemed to be in the hands of Jim Furyk but he faltered over the last three holes to hand the title to Simpson.
Bubba Watson is another player who won his first major in 2012. He played arguably the shot of the year in the US Masters play-off which helped him beat Louis Oosthuizen. He faded a shot around trees to find the green and then hole the crucial putt.
Ernie Els also made a putt of great significance, this time to win the British Open for the second time in his career. However, this was a championship that Adam Scott looked destined to win before four bogeys in as many holes meant he lost by one shot to Els.
The other major, the US PGA Championship, was won in much more decisive fashion by McIlroy. He was eight shots clear of the player in second place and in winning the title became the sixth youngest multiple major winner of all time.
Brandt Snedeker, Jason Dufner, Rickie Fowler and Tiger Woods complete the list and they are saluted in this way after winning key tournaments for their careers during 2012 with more wins anticipated over the upcoming years.
Jason Dufner struggled to establish himself on the PGA Tour early in his career. He played on the main Tour in 2004 but at that time was more of a regular on the Nationwide Tour. He earned his card for the 2009 season at the qualifying school but a first Tour win remained elusive, despite six top 10 finishes. That all changed in the spring of 2012 when Dufner was just about the best player on Tour. He won two tournaments and was second in another as he finally realised his potential. He was also fourth in the US Open in June and qualified for the Ryder Cup. He won three points for the US team, including a point earned by beating Peter Hanson in the singles.
Rickie Fowler is similar in appearance to Rory McIlroy and great achievements were expected of both players. While McIlroy was winning majors and money lists doubts were being raised about Fowler’s ability to compete at the highest level. However, he looks a future British Open winner based on the way he handled the conditions at Sandwich in 2011. In December 2009 Fowler earned his card for the following year at the qualifying school. The elusive first PGA Tour win arrived at the Wells Fargo Championship in May of 2012. Ironically McIlroy was one of the players Fowler beat in a play-off and substance was added to the style of his distinctive orange outfits.
Keegan Bradley was unbeatable along side Phil Mickelson over the first two days of the Ryder Cup. The pair combined to win three points for the team and may have won another point if not rested for the Saturday afternoon four balls. Bradley relished the competition and headed into his singles match against Rory McIlroy full of confidence. McIlroy famously got his time zones wrong and arrived at the course just before the match was due to start. Bradley’s defeat should not take anything away from his contribution to the team cause. He also won a World Golf Championship event in 2012, to add to the rare achievement of winning the previous year’s PGA Championship playing in his first major.
Brandt Snedeker had won three US Tour titles before the 2012 Tour Championship. On each occasion he made up ground and eventually overtook the leader. However, when he led going into the final round he had been unable to get the job done. That all changed at the Tour Championship which Snedeker won from the front. The potential win carried the added pressure of an opportunity to win the FedEx Cup and the ten million dollar bonus. Snedeker did not waiver on that Sunday afternoon and played well enough to overcome the late charge from Ryan Moore and the challenge of his playing partner, Justin Rose.
Ian Poulter may not be the most popular person amongst American golf fans but his contribution to Europe’s Ryder Cup win cannot be underestimated. He was Europe’s top point’s scorer and confidently predicted that he would beat Webb Simpson in the singles and duly delivered a crucial point. In fact playing the last five holes in five under alongside Rory McIlroy to beat Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner in the last match on the Saturday may have been an even more significant contribution. Since the Ryder Cup Poulter has won a high class event on the European Tour. His misquoted claim several years ago that world number one status was between himself and Tiger Woods now has some credence. A major championship win would be the logical next step in Poulter's career development.
Webb Simpson was a worthy winner of the US Open in June. It could be said that it was Jim Furyk’s tournament to win but Simpson played the back nine of his final round in one under par. When Furyk faltered over the last few holes Simpson’s clubhouse target was good enough to win him his first major. When the pressure was at its most intense Simpson got up and down from a difficult lie beside the 18th green. Only Luke Donald won more money during the 2011 so Simpson had proven himself to be a leading talent on the US Tour. At the conclusion of the 2012 season he had risen to a carer high of 15 in the world rankings.
Bubba Watson has been developing a fine career as a professional golfer but before the US Masters in April he was primarily known for his extravagant hitting and pink coloured driver. That all changed when he played one of the best shots of the year in his play-off with Louis Oosthuizen at Augusta. He faded an approach shot around trees to reach the green and hole the crucial put. Bubba encouraged the crowd to cheer when he was teeing off during the Ryder Cup and he was still able to maintain his concentration in that atmosphere. Big hitting Watson has a Green Jacket to his name and will now be remembered for the miracle shot that set up his Masters win.
Ernie Els as is tradition for the winner of the British Open was declared the champion golfer of the year at Lytham in July. He had played well at the US Open in the previous month and was a worthy winner of his second Open and fourth major of his career. However, when he holed a putt of about 20 feet on the last green at Lytham at that point he wouldn’t have believed it was to win the championship. Adam Scott bogeyed each of his last four holes to lose to Els by one shot. The South African’s major triumphs now span eighteen years and that is testimony to Els’s longevity and consistency over a sustained period of time.
Tiger Woods also won three regular tournaments on courses at which he had excelled in the past. After two years of his career was disrupted by injury and matters away from the course Woods played his way to second place in the world rankings behind Rory McIlroy. However, his failure to add to his tally of 14 majors will have been a disappointment, especially as he played his way into contention at each major only to fade over the weekend. Even so only McIlroy won more money than Woods on the US Tour and he will now focus on trying to win the US Masters for the fifth time in his career.
Rory McIlroy became just the second player to win most money on both the US and European Tours, emulating Luke Donald’s achievement of the 2011 season. McIlroy won three regular tournaments in the States in addition to the second major of his career. He is the youngest multiple major winner since Seve Ballesteros in 1980 and the sixth youngest of all time. He is also the youngest player to win 10 million dollars on both main Tours. He won his singles match in the Ryder Cup despite arriving at the course just ten minutes before he was due to play Keegan Bradley.