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2011 Season Review
Posted by: Nick Bonfield on Wed 04 Jan 2012
The 2011 season can be described as nothing other than a tremendous advert for the game of golf. Luke Donald made history by being the first player to win both the PGA and European tour money lists; Rory McIlroy came back from a harrowing final round at the Masters to claim glory at the very next major; Thomas Bjorn and Darren Clarke proved that class is permanent, and for the first time ever, the average driving distance surpassed 300 yards on the PGA Tour.
The first major of the year, the Masters Tournament at Augusta National, was my tournament of the season. Rory McIlroy, leading going into the final round, had a tumultuous back nine and carded a final round 80 to finish the tournament in a tie for 15th. His demise provided opportunity, something which was grasped by no fewer than eight golfers who were all in contention on the back nine. Woods, Van Pelt, Donald, Day, Scott, Ogilvy and Cabrera all, at one stage or another, felt it might be their time. Woods went out in 31, Day birdie the last two and Donald chipped in at 18, but an unprecedented finish by Charl Schwartzel put paid to their chances. After chipping in for birdie at one and holing his pitch for eagle at three, you might have sensed it was going to be his day. Nonsense: fate had nothing to do with his remarkable golf coming home: stunning iron play and putting resulted in four birdies in a row to finish. An unbelievable end to a simply sensational tournament and a new champion was deservedly crowned.
The U.S. Open at Congressional Golf Club provided us with perhaps the clearest indication that Rory McIlroy has what it takes to be one of the all time greats. He showed astounding mental fortitude to put his Masters nightmare behind him as he strolled to an eight stroke victory in one of the finest ever major performances. Forget Tiger Woods: according to Padraig Harrington, McIlroy will be the principal threat to Jack Nicklaus’ major record.
The most sentimental moment of the season came at the Open Championship as the ever popular Darren Clarke played the best golf of his life to win the Claret Jug. His mastery of Open conditions was second to none. Even with late charges from Phil Mickleson and stiff competition from Thomas Bjorn, his victory never looked in doubt. Images of Clarke embracing his two sons after returning home will be prevalent in the memory for some time. The tournament also launched the career of young English amateur Tom Lewis, who would later go on to be named European Tour Rookie of the Year. Lewis won the Portugal Masters in just his third start as a professional.
The PGA tour Rookie of the Year, Keegan Bradley, won a major at the first time of asking as he prevailed over Jason Dufner at the PGA Championship. Bradley’s victory propelled the controversy of the year, the long putter debate, to centre stage after he became the first man to win a major with a belly putter.
Player of the Year
World number one, and European and PGA Tour Player of the Year Luke Donald was certainly not concerning himself with the long putter debate as he put together one of the most impressive seasons in the history of golf. His rise to prominence was delivered though astounding consistency: in his last 25 global starts, he was in the top 10 on 20 occasions.
Donald is a credit to the game and a perfect idol for aspiring sportsmen. He won his first tournament at the WGC World Matchplay in February on the longest course of the year, despite being consistently asked if he could compete with his lack of power. Thankfully, Donald has dispelled the myth that length is the pre-requisite to success. He beat Lee Westwood in a play-off at the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship in May, and followed that with a sublime victory at the Barclays Scottish Open in July.
Even with his remarkable consistency, he still trailed Webb Simpson by a considerable margin on the PGA Tour money list going into the season ending Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic. In the final round, he produced the moment of the season. Six strokes adrift with 9 holes to play, Donald birdie six holes in a row from the 10th to win by two. Winning both money lists is one of the most mesmerising achievements in the history of sport and one that I cannot see being repeated.
Webb Simpson - So unlucky not to win PGA Tour Player of the Year, but recorded two victories and will be a force to be reckoned with next season.
Sergio Garcia – Arguably the best ball striker in the world found some form with the putter to win consecutively at the Castello and Andalucia Masters.
Bill Haas – won the Tour Championship and the Fed-Ex Cup after defeating Hunter Mahan in a play-off, producing the shot of the season in the process. Haas has found a pond at 17, but was somehow able to spin his semi-submerged ball and stop it two feet from the hole.
Thomas Bjorn – The veteran Dane won three times on the European Tour this season and contended in a major. What a fabulous achievement for a man supposedly past his peak.
Yani Tseng – She shouldn’t be given a place in a PGA Tour tournament, but that shouldn’t detract from her accomplishments. Winning 12 times in one year is almost unbelievable.
Lexi Thompson – The 16 year old won on both the LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour this season. Anyone else puzzled as to why ladies golf is struggling for investment?
Tiger Woods – Won the Chevron World Challenge in the style of the Tiger of old, his first victory for over two years. His peers will be looking over their shoulders in 2012.
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