Golf's 2010 year in review

JIM BRIGHTERS, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 3:55 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- We will get to our original format in a few paragraphs, but it would be irresponsible to ignore the gigantic Tiger in the room.

The 2010 golf season was dominated by Tiger Woods for almost all of the wrong reasons.

What started out as a scandal escalated into a full-blown catastrophe.

If Woods had anything else going for him, no matter the personal, self-inflicted drama, most assumed the golf would take a minor hit. What happened in 2010 defied all expectations.

Woods didn't win for the first time since he turned professional in 1996. He came back at the Masters, endured a pretty tough presser, then contended, but ended up short.

At the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where he put on the greatest performance in golf history a decade ago, Woods was once again in the mix. He once again came up short.

Maybe it was foolish to believe that with his world crumbling around him, Woods could put it all aside and compete. He teased us with those major performances, but it was a bad year all the way around.

Mixed in the inconsistency was a bizarre withdrawal at the Players with a new neck injury. There was a missed cut at Quail Hollow, a worst-ever showing at the WGC-Bridgestone, a tournament he won seven previous times, and the semi-embarrassment of having to be a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup.

But in Wales, Woods played well. You thought his game might've been on the right path, but then at his own tourney, the Chevron World Challenge, he blew a Sunday four-shot lead and lost a playoff.

Along this tumultuous 2010, Woods parted ways with his wife, his swing coach and his No. 1 ranking. Lee Westwood is atop the golf world, but will Woods rebound in 2011? That's the huge question, but Woods would definitely like to forget an awful 2010.

Now, back to the format.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR - Graeme McDowell

Runners-up - Bernhard Langer, Yani Tseng, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer

McDowell didn't earn this honor until he trumped Woods at the Chevron. He'd been a contender after a year where he won the U.S. Open, sunk the winning putt in the clinching match of the Ryder Cup and captured two European Tour events.

But it was a Sunday in December where he trumped the others; actually, Kaymer mostly.

Down one at the par-five 13th at Sherwood, McDowell two-putted for birdie, while Woods made a mess of the hole. He double-bogeyed and McDowell was one ahead.

McDowell made a gutsy seven-foot bogey putt at 17 and the two were tied.

Woods was just about in with a little birdie at the last, so McDowell needed to make a 20-footer to force a playoff. He did just that.

In the playoff, McDowell sank a 30-footer for birdie to put the pressure on Woods. He had 20 feet to extend the extra session, but missed.

This victory, chasing Woods from four back, punctuated a spectacular season for McDowell. His wins were more significant and in bigger environments, so McDowell gets the nod for Player of the Year.

How could McDowell's year be any bigger? Well, the Queen made him a Member of the Order of the British Empire.

That's a big year.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR - Fred Couples

Runner-up - Rory McIlroy (PGA Tour)

Fred Couples won four times in his rookie season on the Champions Tour. He became the first player in tour history to win three of his first four events and was the quickest golfer in tour history to pocket $1 million. Boom Boom did it in six tournaments.

Couples obliterated three Champions Tour records that Hale Irwin set in 1998. He also made history with a scoring average of 67.96, a putting average of 1.693 and the birdie average of 5.00.

And think, he wasn't even the best player on the Champions Tour.

On any other year, Freddie runs away with the Player of the Year, but this year he has to settle for the Rookie honors.

SHOT OF THE YEAR - Phil Mickelson's six-iron at the Masters

Runners-up - Dustin Johnson's penalty-induced approach at the PGA, Graeme McDowell's putt at the Ryder Cup.

When Phil Mickelson attempted his six-iron from the pine straw with his second shot at the par-five 13th Sunday at the Masters, my exact quote was, "holy (expletive), he's trying it."

Mickelson was a stroke ahead of Lee Westwood when his drive at 13 landed in between two trees in pine straw. In typical Mickelson fashion, laying up was laughable so he hammered the ball through the four-foot opening and it rolled up to four feet.

In also typical Mickelson fashion, he missed the eagle try, but his tap-in birdie gave him a two-stroke cushion en route to his third green jacket.

TOURNAMENT OF THE YEAR - The Ryder Cup

Runners-up - U.S. Open, PGA Championship, Senior PGA Championship

I'm a sucker for the Ryder Cup, but this one lived up to the hype. Think about these other contenders first.

In the U.S. Open, Dustin Johnson implodes, Ernie Els, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson all come up short and Graeme McDowell survives a windy, nasty Pebble Beach.

Johnson thinks he's in a playoff at the PGA until his grounded club in the bunker and Martin Kaymer ascends to the upper echelon of the golf world.

In the Senior PGA, Tom Lehman actually had to ask his caddie, "how many shots have they taken?" He was confused by how much of a mess himself, Couples and David Frost turned the sudden-death session into.

But the Ryder Cup took the cake.

Weather problems forced a structural change, which hurt the Americans, but the Monday finish was amazing theatre. Woods was back in form as he squashed Francesco Molinari.

Needing a miracle, little Rickie Fowler provided it. He rebounded from 4-down with four to play to earn a wild halve that kept the Americans in it.

It came down to McDowell and Hunter Mahan in the only match on the course. At the 16th, while owning a 1-up lead, McDowell rolled in an 18-footer for birdie that brought the entire island of Wales to its feet.

Needing yet another miracle, Mahan had to win the last two. He had a small opening at the par-three 17th, but hit his tee ball fat and came up 10 yards short.

If his tee ball was fat, Mahan's chip was pleasantly plump. He duffed it, missed his long par putt, conceded the match and Ryder Cup to McDowell then got out of dodge to avoid a sea of European players, caddies, officials and fans.

Afterwards, Mahan was inconsolable. Mickelson showed incredible compassion, kindness and leadership subtly sliding the microphone away from a bawling Mahan. Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Stewart Cink stepped up and defended Mahan all the while deflecting the attention.

It was everything a Ryder Cup should be.

GOOD YEAR (excluding Player of the Year runner-ups)

Jim Furyk - Won the Tour Championship in a driving rain to get victory No. 3 and win the FedEx Cup.

Matt Kuchar - Won the PGA Tour money title and could've been FedEx Cup winner and Player of the Year.

The LPGA Tour - Six players vied for the No. 1 ranking all year. Paula Creamer finally won a major, Michelle Wie won again and its season was as exciting as ever. Give them points for enduring when Annika and Lorena both bailed.

The brothers Molinari - Edoardo and Francesco combined for three wins and both competed at the Ryder Cup.

Jamie Lovemark - Nationwide Tour Player of the Year with a money title and nine top 10s in 16 starts.

BAD YEAR

Vijay Singh - The party might be over for the soon-to-be 48 year-old. He had one top five and two top 10s in 2010.

Jay Haas - For the first time since his rookie year of 2004, Haas was a non-factor. He didn't win in '10 and had only seven top 10s in 23 starts.

The Sports Network golf department - Gerard Gallagher left the golf editing position for a different job in the company. He is a spectacular writer, a better editor and a decent, just decent person. But the golf department won't be the same without him.


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