The past 12 months have been nothing short of a spectacular year in the world of golf. The return of Tiger Woods, the emergence of a new breed of superstars, one of the greatest Ryder Cups of all time, we've had it all. Here we take a look back on our 18 favorite moments of the year in a hole-by-hole guide to 2010:
HOLE 1: CLUES IN THE DESERT
Martin Kaymer has long looked like a golfer who could dominate the game, and he started 2010 with real intent by winning the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship in January. The German, making his seasonal debut, shot three rounds of 67 before closing with an impressive, bogey-free 66 to see off a host of challengers. Indeed, it's the names behind him that make this a particularly memorable victory as he had Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy breathing down his neck in the final round. Further inspection shows that 13 of the top 20 in Abu Dhabi went on to win events across the globe in 2010, meaning we should keep a keen eye on the results in the desert at the start of 2011.
HOLE 2: THE MASTER OF AUGUSTA
As a huge fan of Lee Westwood, 2010's Masters will always carry an air of disappointment. The Englishman had played exceptionally to get himself into a one-stroke lead ahead of the final round, but if there's one man you don't want chasing you down at Augusta it is Phil Mickelson. Westwood started with a bogey but got the shot back with birdie on the second, a brave response to losing sole control of the lead. He repeated the trick on No. 5, having bogeyed No. 4, but while all this was happening Mickelson made par after par -- far from typical of arguably the most aggressive golfer on the planet. You felt something was coming and indeed it was as the lead changed hands just before the turn, birdie for Mickelson on No. 8 followed by bogey for Westwood on No. 9. From there, there was to be no stopping Lefty.
Superb scrambling got him par on 10 and then his tee shot on 12 sailed straight down the flag, leaving him 20 feet for birdie. In it went, out came the first pump of the fist; Augusta National was alive again. Then on 13 came the shot of the season, maybe even the shot of the decade. Another wayward drive had Phil's ball in the pine straw, a gap of no more than a yard available for him to bump it down the fairway, it seemed. Mickelson had other ideas. Out came a long iron, which he crunched beyond 200 yards, over the creek, inside five feet. Wow. That he missed the putt kept Westwood's hopes alive for a while and he deserves credit for playing the back nine in 2 under, but by the time the pair made 18 the event was as good as over.
Mickelson's wife Amy -- in remission after a long battle with cancer -- wasn't fit to walk the fairways with her husband all week, but she made her way out to the course to welcome him home. When the final birdie putt went in on 18 the pair shared an emotional embrace, the world wept with them, and even Westwood's biggest fan couldn't begrudge Mickelson his fourth Masters triumph.
HOLE 3: RULE 13.4 - UNLUCKY FOR ONE
Brian Davis has never won on the PGA Tour and he might never. Having rolled in a clutch 20-foot putt for birdie on the final hole at Harbour Town, though, the Englishman gave himself a great chance to do so by setting up a play off with Jim Furyk. Of course, Jim was the favorite, and that position hardened when he put his approach to the first playoff hole right over the top of the flag while Davis pulled his onto a beach area guarding the left side of the 18th green. After much deliberation with his caddie, the pair decided that he could get the ball from the reeds onto the green and at least give himself a chance for par, something he couldn't do if taking an unplayable one-shot penalty.
Davis played the shot and he played it well, pitching beyond the flag to around 20 feet, but immediately looked dismayed and contacted rules official Slugger White. What even the high-definition television cameras didn't see was Davis brushing the reeds -- part of the hazard -- on his back-swing, violating rule 13.4 in the process. Nobody would ever have known had he kept this quiet but, in the spirit of golf and sportsmanship, he called a penalty on himself and effectively ended any chance he had of winning the event. Furyk, visibly uncomfortable with how events unfolded, summed it up by signing off his interview with "I respect and admire what Brian did." Let's hope he gets the win he so deserves in 2011.
HOLE 4: ROR TALENT
In Europe, Rory McIlroy has been the hottest prospect around since taking the Silver Medal as the leading amateur in the 2007 British Open. In America, however, it's fair to say it wasn't until 2010 that golf fans fully understood his supreme talent and huge future. On Friday night at Quail Hollow, young Rory was on the verge of missing the cut and continuing what had been a poor debut season on the PGA Tour -- that was until a 206-yard 4-iron inside 10 feet set up the eagle he needed on his closing hole to make the cut on the number. The result should've been a decent paycheck and a weekend to work on his game, but nine birdies on Saturday meant he went into the final round with a sniff of victory. That's all it was, though -- a sniff.
Between him and success were two major winners in Angel Cabrera and Phil Mickelson and a host of other names, all of whom were left trailing by a master class from the then 20-year-old. By the 15th he'd taken the lead and there came the shot of the day, a 5-iron to three feet that set up another eagle. A birdie on 16 followed before a 60-foot roll on 17 almost got him another, but by the time he stood over a 40-foot putt on 18 the tournament was already his. Then came the icing on the cake; a gorgeous, curling putt that went straight into the middle of the hole, providing the PGA Tour with its first 20-year-old winner since one Tiger Woods in 1996. Interestingly, on the same day, Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa shot 58 on his way to victory in Asia -- in years to come we may look back upon this Sunday as the dawning of a new era.
HOLE 5: MEMPHIS BLUES
The blowout of the year surely came in Memphis at the St. Jude Classic, one week before the U.S. Open. Relative unknown Robert Garrigus, one of the biggest hitters on the PGA Tour, stepped onto the 18th tee with a three-shot lead over Lee Westwood and Robert Karlsson. What followed was a mess. First, he found the lake, but still the tournament was his if he could compose himself. Instead, the fiery American tried to play a heroic shot with his third, again hooking it left and this time into trees.
Eventually, Garrigus managed to hole a decent save for a 7, but despite being in a playoff that was his tournament gone as he bogeyed the first sudden-death hole. Westwood seized his chance on the fourth playoff hole against Karlsson, striking a beautiful iron inside six feet and holing out for birdie and his first success on U.S. soil in 12 years. In a year where many a man bounced back from failure, Garrigus did the same in the season-ending Children's Miracle Network Classic, erasing some demons of his own, but he'll forever be remembered as the man who sank in Memphis.
HOLE 6: LIFE'S A BEACH AND THEN YOU CRY
Dustin Johnson arrived at the U.S. Open as the undisputed king of Pebble Beach, owing to back-to-back victories in the regular-season PGA Tour event based at the California course. It was little surprise, then, that after three days of flawless golf, he stepped onto the first tee Sunday with a three-stroke advantage over in-form Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell, who himself had won the Wales Open a week earlier. Among those chasing were Woods, Els and Mickelson, close enough to strike should D.J. falter, and falter he did. Johnson played the first seven holes in 7 over and wouldn't card a single birdie on his way to a closing 82, some 16 shots worse than his spectacular Saturday 66.
That opened the tournament door, but Tiger couldn't find the putts to get him through and neither could Mickelson, the pair surprisingly flat with victory in sight. Surely it would be Els, then, that closed out a tournament he knows how to win, especially as he'd shown in the early part of the year that he'd regained the winning habit. But no, it would be McDowell who took advantage, making the most of his round and arriving on the 18th tee with a one-stroke advantage, one he'd hold on to courtesy of a closing par. That would trigger a fantastic year for G-Mac and scenes on the 18th green with his father on what was Father's Day will stay with those who watched them for a long, long time.
HOLE 7: BLUBBA WATSON
I don't mind admitting that Bubba Watson winning the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands won't be on everyone's list of highlights. But for me, Bubba's defeat of Corey Pavin and Scott Verplank in a three-man playoff really demonstrated why it wasn't just the majors that made 2010 special. Six shots back at the beginning of the final day, Watson looked to have little chance before birdies at 12, 13, 15 and 16 got him into the lead. But then disaster struck on 17 as he made a sloppy double bogey, something that didn't surprise many observers who'd pigeonholed him as weak at the finish.
The supremely talented left-hander, though, responded in the best possible fashion with a fantastic birdie on 18 to set up the three-man showdown, one he'd go on to win by holing a short par putt on the 16th. With that one stroke Watson realized a dream, to become a PGA Tour winner, and he did so in front of his father, who at the time was battling cancer. Bubba's dad has since sadly lost that battle but he got to see his son win before he passed; the Travelers Championship in 2010 was much more than a golf tournament and Bubba wasn't alone in shedding a tear on the final green.
HOLE 8: KING LOUIS THE SIXTH
South African golf took a further leap forward in 2010. Already the home of major champions Els and Goosen, up stepped Charl Schwartzel with two European Tour wins in the early part of the year before Tim Clark stormed to success in the Players Championship at Sawgrass. But it was to be one of their compatriots -- quiet bomber Louis Oosthuizen -- who lit up St. Andrews and became the nation's sixth major champion. Rounds of 65, 67 and 69 had him four clear going into the final round of the British Open, but still there were doubters.
Surely a man who had never previously made the cut in the Open would fold to Casey, Kaymer or even Woods, who was 12 back, they said. Not a bit of it. Seven pars preceded a dropped shot on No. 8, but on the short par-4 ninth the tournament was won with a beautifully struck drive and dead-weight eagle putt. A further birdie on 12 meant the South African could easily afford a bogey on 17 as the challenges of Casey and Kaymer faltered, and South Africa had a new champion, one who would give an acceptance speech thanking his compatriots before announcing the prize money would be spent on a tractor to ride around in with his family. Humbling.
HOLE 9: THE 59 ROUND
Less than a month after Paul Goydos had opened with a 59 to become the fourth player on the PGA Tour to shoot a sub-60 round, Stuart Appleby did something even greater -- he shot 59 on a Sunday to win a tournament. The Australian, who'd been struggling for form and hadn't won on the PGA Tour since 2006, started his final round in the Greenbrier Classic seven shots behind overnight leader Jeff Overton. The latter had been playing supremely well for weeks and it looked for all the world like he'd win his first event on the PGA Tour only for his putter to go cold on the back nine, typified by a missed five-footer on 17.
By that time, Appleby had already done the damage. A front-nine 28 was followed by eagle on the 12th before birdies on 16, 17 and 18 got the job done in the best possible fashion. He would go on to win the JBWere Masters back in Australia in a similar, fast-finishing fashion, to turn what could've been another disappointing year into a thoroughly successful one.
HOLE 10: MR SANDMAN, BRING ME A DREAM
At the start of the final day of the 92nd PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, the season’s final major was Nick Watney's to lose. A couple of hours and 43 shots later, he stepped onto the 10th tee a beaten golfer, leaving behind him a wide-open field. Kaymer threatened to cut loose, McIlroy tried to grab onto his coattails, Furyk sneaked into contention, Watson showed uncustomary steel, but then, out of almost nowhere, Watney's playing partner Dustin Johnson started on a road to redemption. Back-to-back birdies at 16 and 17 had put the languid American into the lead; a par at 18 and victory was his. Driver off the tee, a push and cries of 'fore,' straight into the crowd but safe enough. Positioned among a trampled blend of sand and grass, Dustin then lashed his second from there left of the green; a brave, attacking shot in the circumstances. From the rough he couldn't get up-and-down for the par that was needed -- in hindsight it's a blessing that he couldn't.
For as soon as he sunk his bogey putt, one he thought got him into a playoff, Dustin Johnson was confronted by rules officials. An agonizing wait ensued while broadcasters speculated, but the look on the player's face as he rubbed out his 18th hole score told the story. Officials had deemed his tee shot on 18 to have come to rest in a bunker and, as he'd grounded his club, charged him with a two-stroke penalty. Heartbreak. From there of course, Kaymer went on to win the first of surely many majors, and it's sad for him that the thing we'll most remember about Whistling Straits happened to a man who ultimately tied for fifth.
HOLE 11: A ONE-WAY WILD CARD TO WALES
In 2009, Edoardo Molinari impressed in heading a stellar cast on the Challenge Tour, Europe's breeding ground for future stars. Even so, few could have predicted the magnitude of his rise through the ranks in 2010, starting with victory in the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond. Edoardo played with his brother Francesco that day and, six weeks later, found himself in a familiar position at Gleneagles in the Johnnie Walker Championship. In difficult conditions, Australia's Brett Rumford looked to have done enough by carding a 9-under-par total, leaving Edoardo two shots behind with three to play and his Ryder Cup dreams in tatters.
A birdie at 16 restored hope, but it was on 17 that the tournament turned into his -- 40 feet right of the flag from the tee, two putts would've been in the mind of anyone else, but not Molinari. Right-to-left and very quick, Molinari's ball found the center of the cup at a fair old pace. Brilliance under the most severe pressure and, when followed by a tap-in birdie on the par-5 18th, enough to seal not only victory but a wild-card spot on Monty's Ryder Cup team.
HOLE 12: DUSTIN DRIVES OUT THE DEMONS
The BMW Championship isn't a major, it isn't a WGC event and it isn't even the apex of the FedExCup playoffs, but for Dustin Johnson it was the most important tournament of 2010. Faltering on Sunday at Pebble Beach and losing out at the PGA Championship in such disappointing fashion would be enough to end the careers of lesser men, but the resilient 26-year-old arrived on the back nine at Cog Hill with a chance to end the year on a high, one that he took in style. He was, of course, aided by Paul Casey's troubles as the Englishman had failed to put his stamp on the event despite at one point opening up a three-shot lead, but arriving on the 17th tee D.J. still had to make something happen. And make something happen, he did. A typically long, crunching drive over the corner left him with a sand wedge in and he made no mistake, stiffing the ball inside three feet for the simplest of birdies. Par on 18 involved an impressive two-putt from 40 feet, but it was no problem for the talented South Carolinian, proof if it was needed that this is a man who can get back into contention in majors and see it out next time.
HOLE 13: ROCK ON, ROCCO
In the third event of the Fall Series, Rocco Mediate went into the final round of the Frys.com Open with a three-shot advantage, a narrow one considering how long it'd been since he held a Sunday lead and the quality in behind, notably in the shape of the in-form Bo Van Pelt, Players champion Tim Clark and bright young thing Rickie Fowler. After three days of perfect scoring conditions, Sunday was torrential. Rain and wind made life tough for everyone, nobody more so than Rocco who was 5 over through 13 holes and struggling with back pains, losing the lead and maybe his final chance of PGA Tour success.
But he found a second wind; first a huge putt on 14 kept him in the tournament before his 20-foot birdie effort on 16 dropped, to the delight of the adoring, soaked crowds. But the real drama was saved for 17, a drivable par 4 over water. Big-hitting Alex Prugh almost aced it from the tee and went on to make a tap-in eagle, but Mediate matched him in the most spectacular way by holing out from 117-yards for one of his own -- his fourth eagle of the week, all from the fairway. That wasn't job done, though, as Prugh and Van Pelt birdied the 18th to leave Rocco with five feet for the win. He saw the putt straight, hit it dead center, turned and embraced his caddie before announcing "I have a job again."
HOLE 14: A ONE-SHOT WIN LIKE NO OTHER
To the very best, the Fall Series at the end of a long PGA Tour season provides an opportunity for rest and recuperation. For the less fortunate, it's a final chance to make the money required to retain their livelihood. In 2010, golf fans were served up a spectacular treat. In the fourth event of this year's five-tournament schedule in Las Vegas, a typical late-season birdie-fest, three men could not be separated by 72 holes and a playoff ensued. Three holes later and with the deadlock still unbroken, Jonathan Byrd, Martin Laird and Cameron Percy discussed whether there was enough light to continue. Their decision to play one last hole proved the right one for Byrd, who struck the shot of his life into the 204-yard 17th. It went in for an ace that was so much more than a hole-in-one -- it meant that victory and a two-year exemption was his.
HOLE 15: THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
With McIlroy winning in the States, Ishikawa once again collecting victories in Asia and Rickie Fowler showing steel in the Ryder Cup, it was a fine year for the youngsters. That was underlined by the victory of Matteo Manassero in the Castello Masters in Spain, coming from four shots behind overnight leader Gary Boyd to score by four in the end. It was his back-nine performance that really impressed, with three successive birdies from 13 through to 15 in a faultless return beating the life out of Boyd, who had looked unflappable before the young Italian's charge. Aged just 17 years and 188 days old, Manassero confirmed his untapped potential by becoming the youngest-ever winner on the European Tour, and the quality of his ball-striking and fluidity of his putting stroke should mean that victory in Spain was the first of many.
HOLE 16: THE CROWNING OF KINGS
The Race to Dubai has already proved to be a huge success. In 2009, Lee Westwood scored in the Dubai World Championship to crown a superb year and steal the title of Race to Dubai champion from Rory McIlroy, before this year two men went head-to-head at the end of a glorious year. For U.S. Open Graeme McDowell, his efforts were to end in defeat despite a hugely impressive victory at Valderrama as well as an earlier win in the Wales Open and of course his U.S. Open success. For Kaymer, a year that exceeded all expectations ended with recognition as Europe's No. 1 as he held off the Northern Irishman by just over $500,000.
It's hard to argue that the PGA Tour’s FedExCup playoffs, are quite as fair, but they threw up their fare share of excitement, too. First, Matt Kuchar gained a deserved victory after Martin Laird three-putted from 20 feet with victory in the Barclays in his hands before Charley Hoffman produced the round of his life to win the Deutsche Bank. Then we had the redemption for Dustin Johnson at Cog Hill before Jim Furyk capped a fine year with success in the Tour Championship, also securing the PGA Tour's coveted Player of the Year award in the process. Furyk had to fend off challenges from Luke Donald, Nick Watney and Paul Casey down the stretch and did so in typically gutsy fashion, a superb up-and-down from the sand on 18 rather personifying his season, and his droll interview afterward provided yet another quiet highlight.
HOLE 17: HOW TO TAME A TIGER
Y.E. Yang knows how to go head-to-head with Tiger Woods and win, but only one man has been able to reel him in from four shots back on a Sunday: Graeme McDowell. Woods returned to Sherwood Country Club for the Chevron World Challenge for the first time since 2007 at the start of December, having missed '08 through injury and '09 through, well, you know. With one last chance to put a win on the board in 2010 and a chance to regain his position at the head of golf, Woods was fancied by many and made a near-faultless start to shoot 65 in Round 1. Two more rounds in the 60s followed and come Sunday morning only McDowell had any hope of reeling in the man who simply doesn't blow leads. Or should that be simply didn't blow leads, because the combination of Woods' cold putter and a fast-starting McDowell meant that come the 17th tee, Tiger was a shot behind.
But then, a chance to regain the lead, McDowell makes bogey and Tiger has 20 feet for birdie -- he misses, it's short and to the right, but they'll go level up the last. Surely now Woods would take advantage and show to the world that he's far from done with? To an extent, he did. A stunning 7-iron inside four feet looked to have won it for him, especially when McDowell could only strike his approach to 25 feet. But the Irishman has become the best clutch putter in the world and once more demonstrated why by rolling in a crushing blow to take them back to the tee. Again both found the fairway, Tiger hit his approach to 15 feet, McDowell only to 25, but again he holed the putt and this time Tiger wasn't close enough to respond. Phenomenal stuff by G-Mac. Simply phenomenal.
HOLE 18: TELL ME WHY I LIKE MONDAYS
Celtic Manor 2010 will live forever in the memory. October in Wales meant severe rain delays and a Monday finish, but if anything that only added to the drama of what was a most compelling Ryder Cup. It all started with a dominant victory for Westwood and Kaymer in the first match on Thursday, but the Americans would respond, ending Session 1 with a 2.5-1.5 advantage as they attempted to retain the cup. In an unprecedented reformatting of the most important competition in golf, Saturday saw all 24 men on the course in six foursomes, something that again added to the drama. Unlike other years where rookies might be kept out of the pressure cooker for as long as possible, this time around every man had to stand up and be counted, and once again it was the Americans who edged it, taking a 6-4 lead into Session 3, which began on Saturday afternoon.
It's here that Europe won the Ryder Cup, taking 5.5 points out of a possible 6 in a spectacular session, spearheaded by Luke Donald and Lee Westwood demolishing Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker and capped by a fantastic recovery from the Molinari brothers to gain what would prove to be a crucial half-point from their match against impressive American pairing Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar. That would leave Europe three points clear into Monday's singles, but despite a blue start there would be a typical American fightback with Mickelson and Woods stamping their class on proceedings and rookie Rickie Fowler holing a stunning 25-foot putt on 18 to steal half a point from Edoardo Molinari.
That meant it all came down to the final match, Graeme McDowell against Hunter Mahan, and the American did well to fight back having been 3-down early on. But G-Mac -- with a new-found confidence courtesy of his U.S. Open victory -- reveled under the most intense pressure he'd ever experienced. On 16 -- a tough, sweeping par 4 -- McDowell left himself 20 feet for birdie. Moving quickly from left-to-right, the putt threatened to slip low, but perfect pace allowed the ball to drop into the right-hand edge of the cup and put McDowell two ahead again, with two more to play.
That was to prove the knockout blow for Mahan and America as the match ended on 17, triggering scenes of jubilation rarely seen on a golf course. For Europe it was a huge success for a very close group of players who idolize their captain, but the American team lost nothing in defeat. A Ryder Cup played in the best of spirits by a truly brilliant generation of golfers ended in spectacular fashion on a wet Monday in Wales; subsequent renewals have a lot to live up to.
There may be no Ryder Cup in 2011, but with Woods suggesting a return to form is imminent and European golf as strong as it's ever been, we expect to be providing another exciting 18 in 12 months’ time.