In the end, the year showed us the talent pool on the PGA Tour is getting deeper and deeper as we go forward.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR — The new No. 1
With the money title on the line, and his second child due any day, Luke Donald staged a remarkable rally to come from behind and win the season-ending Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic.
That victory gave Donald the PGA Tour money title. He needed a top-two finish to hold off Webb Simpson for the money crown.
It wasn’t as easy as it sounded. The Englishman trailed by five strokes entering the final round, and was still four back at the turn.
Not only was he four back of the lead, he trailed Simpson by two strokes, meaning Simpson was on pace to claim the money title.
Donald put together one of the best stretches of golf of the season. He poured in six consecutive birdies that not only pushed him by Simpson, but also catapulted Donald into the lead.
He moved two clear of the field with the spurt of birdies, then parred the final three holes to hang on for the win.
Earlier in the year, Donald had claimed the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, but the win at Disney World was his first stroke-play title in the U.S. since 2006.
His win at the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, gave Donald the top spot in the world rankings. Thanks in part to that win at Wentworth, Donald went on to win the European Tour’s Order of Merit. He was the first player to top both money lists in the same season.
Overall, Donald won four times worldwide, but had an up and down year in the majors. He missed two cuts on the season, one at the British Open. His only other non-top 20 finish was a share of 45th at the U.S. Open.
He finished outside the top 10 just two other times in 16 PGA Tour events. Donald easily paced the PGA Tour in top-five and top-10 finishes, and also led the tour in scoring average and final-round scoring average. Among other stats he finish in the top 10 were strokes gained (1st), birdie average (2nd), scrambling (8th) and total putting (2nd).
PGA Champion Keegan Bradley, FedExCup champ Bill Haas, and a pair of two-time winners, Simpson and Nick Watney, were among the others that were considered.
TOURNAMENT OF THE YEAR — Augusta roars
The old saying goes, ‘The Masters doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday.’ Never has that saying been more true than it was in 2011.
As many as eight players were in the mix in the final round. Among them were a trio of Australians - Jason Day, Geoff Ogilvy and Adam Scott, soon to be world No. 1 Luke Donald, former winner Angel Cabrera, third-round leader Rory McIlroy and, oh yeah, some guy named Woods - Tiger Woods.
Woods, a four-time winner at Augusta National, posted a 31 on the front nine to charge into a share of the lead. But, he lost his momentum on the back nine, and ended in a share of fourth.
McIlroy was the leader heading to the final round. His front nine wasn’t great, but, again, it was the back nine that was the game changer. He hit his tee shot into the trees on 10, and that led to a triple-bogey. That dropped McIlroy out of the lead. He carded an 80 to tumble into a share of 15th place.
The man who was quietly going about his business ultimately created that biggest roars of them all.
South African Charl Schwartzel chipped in for birdie on one and holed out from the fairway for eagle at the third. That gave him a piece of the lead.
Of course, it’s all about the back nine at Augusta and that is where Schwartzel did something no other Masters champion had done before. Schwartzel got up and down for birdie on 15, then drained a 15-footer for birdie at 16. Those both gave him a share of the lead as Scott birdied 16 in front of the South African.
As Scott was stumbling to a bogey at 17, Schwartzel continued his surge. He birdied 17 from 10 feet out, then he ran home an 18-footer for birdie and the win.
“I needed to do something. I managed to hit really good iron shots and really good putts coming in,” Schwartzel said afterwards.
The something he did that no other Masters champion had done before was birdie the last four holes to come from behind and win.
Very impressive indeed.
Other tournaments that were considered included the Americans’ win at the Presidents Cup, McIlroy’s impressive victory at the U.S. Open, Keegan Bradley’s rally to beat Jason Dufner at the PGA Championship, K.J. Choi’s playoff win over David Toms at the Players, Toms’ win the following week at Colonial and Bill Haas’ gutty playoff victory at the Tour Championship. Which leads us to...
SHOT OF THE YEAR — Splish splash
Bill Haas and Hunter Mahan headed to a playoff to determine the winner of the Tour Championship.
That was not the only thing on the line. The winner could also win the $10 million bonus for topping the FedExCup points list.
After both players got up and down for par on the first playoff hole, No. 18, they headed back to the 17th From a fairway bunker, Haas pulled his second shot left of the green into a pond.
Tournament over, right?
Not so fast. The ball was only half submerged so Haas played it from there. He blasted within two feet then tapped in for par to match Mahan’s two-putt par.
How good was the shot?
“I mean, he spun it. That’s all you need to know,” Mahan said in a television interview. “It was a beautiful shot. He sucked it a little bit, it was pretty impressive.”
Yup, you read that right. Haas actually spun the ball from the water.
“I got an unbelievably fortunate break to basically just have a bunker shot down there in the water,” Haas explained in a television interview. “It was all or nothing there. Hunter is going to make it or two-putt, so I had to hit a decent shot. There was some luck involved because it had some spin on it. That was very lucky.”
Haas then two-putted for par from the fringe on 18, the third extra hole, for the victory.
Other shots in the mix were Bubba Watson’s driver off the deck on 18 at Kapalua, McIlroy’s stunning tee shot on the 10th at Augusta and Tiger Woods’ approach to the 15th, also at Augusta.
ROOKIE OF YEAR -— No longer just a nephew
Working his way up to the PGA Tour, Keegan Bradley was pretty famous for one thing - he was Hall-of-Famer Pat Bradley’s nephew.
The 25-year-old Keegan changed that in a major way in 2011.
After winning the Byron Nelson, Bradley set his sights on bigger things. And what is bigger than a major?
Bradley and Jason Dufner needed a playoff to decide who would win the PGA Championship. Dufner had a five-shot lead with three holes to play, but faltered.
Once in the three-hole playoff, Dufner missed a birdie putt on the first hole, but Bradley did not. Dufner three-putted for bogey on the second to give Bradley a two-stroke cushion win one to go.
Dufner responded with a birdie on No. 18, the third playoff hole. Bradley needed to two-putt for par and the title, and that is exactly what he did. In doing so, Bradley became the third golfer in history to win in his major championship debut. Francis Ouimet (1913 U.S. Open) and Ben Curtis (2003 British Open) were the other two.
Bradley also ended a major drought for Americans. The last major winner from the U.S. was Phil Mickelson at the 2010 Masters. He was also the first rookie since Todd Hamilton (2004) to win twice in a season.
Bradley had four top 10s, finished 12th on the money list and took 20th on the final FedExCup points list.
Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, Bob Hope winner Jhonattan Vegas, Texas Open victor Brendan Steele and Viking Classic champ Chris Kirk were the others under consideration.
— Webb Simpson picked up his first two PGA Tour titles at the Wyndham and Deutsche Bank Championships. He also had three seconds among his six top-five finishes. Simpson finished second to Luke Donald in top 10 finishes and on the money list.
— Nick Watney broke through with a pair of victories, the first time he won twice in a single season. He had 10 top-10 finishes and took third on the money list.
— Bill Haas made a putt that earned him $11.44 million. That one putt gave him the Tour Championship title and the FedExCup crown.
— After years of bouncing between the PGA and Nationwide Tour, Jason Dufner had three top-five finishes, and six top 10s, en route to finishing 22nd on the money list.
— Bud Cauley had eight starts to earn his PGA Tour card for next season and he did just that. He had three top fives and one missed cut in those eight starts, and earned over $735,000. Cauley gained his card by finishing with more money than the person that finished 125th on the money list.
— He only played nine PGA Tour events after battling more injuries, but Tiger Woods went a second straight season without a PGA Tour victory. He finished a strong with a third-place finish at the Australian Open, a solid Presidents Cup and a win at his own Chevron World Challenge, but in his nine tour events, he only truly contended in his tie for fourth at the Masters.
— Maybe, I’m being a little tough here, but Phil Mickelson’s year was unspectacular. He missed one cut in 21 starts, had a win, two seconds and seven top-10s, but it felt like he didn’t have a very good year. Outside of sharing second at the British Open, his next-best finish in a major was a tie for 19th at the PGA Championship. Tough year for Mickelson off the course as well as he learned how to play through psoriatic arthritis, which he was diagnosed with over the summer.
— A year after winning the FedExCup, Jim Furyk struggled for most of the season. He missed seven cuts and didn’t post a single top-10 finish in 27 starts. Did cap the year with a 5-0 mark at the Presidents Cup, but that couldn’t erase his earlier struggles. Fell to 50th in the world rankings.
— Mike Weir battled injury and made just two cuts in 15 events. Finished 240th on the money list and took up membership next year on the European Tour.