5 most impressive individual performances of 2016

Justin Rose
USA Today Sports Images
Here's a look at five individual performances from 2016 that really stood out above the rest, including Justin Rose's march to golf in the Rio Olympics.
By T.J. Auclair
PGA.com
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Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Monday, December 19, 2016 | 11:08 a.m.

When it comes to the five most impressive individual performances in men's golf in 2016, no one would argue if you pointed at the four majors and the Olympics.

Case closed? Perhaps. What tops winning a major?

But with this list -- while some of those are included -- we also wanted to recognize a couple you may not have otherwise remembered.

RELATED: Best aces of 2016 | 15 best shots from 2016 | Best golf quotes

Here are what we believe to be the five most impressive individual performances of 2016.

5. Hideki Matsuyama at the WGC-HSBC Champions
Why?:
The WGC-HSBC Champions is also known as "Asia's major." So imagine the pressure Matsuyama had to have felt before the tournament even began. He is his continent's best player in the game today and is not only establishing himself as a regular contender on the PGA Tour, but also a frequent major contender. The 24-year-old Japanese star blew the doors off the competition at the HSBC. He holed an 18-foot par putt on the 72nd hole to shoot a final-round, 6-under 66 to win by seven strokes over runners up Henrik Stenson and Daniel Berger. Matsuyama's masterpiece was the largest margin of victory at the HSBC Champions, and the largest in a WGC since Tiger Woods won by seven in the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Matsuyama should be on everyone's "first-time major champion" radar for 2017.

4. Justin Rose in the Rio Olympics
Why?:
For the first time in 112 years, golf was a part of the Olympics. Unfortunately, due to health concerns over the Zika virus, many top players -- most notably Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy -- decided to take a pass on the opportunity to play for an Olympic medal. Even in their absence, the Games went on... and it was spectacular. In the first round, Rose became the first known player to make a hole-in-one in Olympic play, jarring an ace with a 7-iron on the 189-yard, par-3 fourth hole on the Olympic Course in Barra da Tijuca. On the final day, Rose was tied with Stenson going to the 72nd hole. Rose hit a magical shot to within a few feet and converted the birdie putt, while Stenson 3-putted for a bogey, giving Rose the gold. Afterward, Rose said, "That felt better than anything I've ever won." And that's coming from a man who won the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion.

3. Dustin Johnson at the U.S. Open
Why?:
Even though he's still in his early-30s, it's not unfair to day Johnson was long overdue for a major win. He'd gotten himself close so many times -- including heart breakers at the 2010 U.S. Open and PGA Championship -- but hadn't yet closed the deal. Until he arrived at Oakmont this past June. Johnson entered the final round trailing leader Shane Lowry by three strokes, but quickly snagged the top spot on the leaderboard. Then came the famous "moving ball" penalty on the fifth green. Johnson would go on to play his final 13 holes not knowing whether or not he would be assessed a penalty. As if winning a major championship on what many would argue is the most difficult course in North America wasn't enough, Johnson had to play wondering where he actually stood score-wise... and so did the rest of the field. Like the major champion he was soon to become, Johnson brushed it off and played brilliantly the whole way in. He capped off his first major title with a glorious approach to the final hole and nailed the birdie putt. We was assessed a penalty for that mishap at No. 5 before signing his card, but it proved to be a moot point. Now instead of wondering if Johnson will win a major, we're left to ponder Oakmont as the first of how many majors?

2. Billy Hurley III at the Quicken Loans National
Why?:
This might just be my favorite story from 2016. It requires a little background. Hurley is a veteran of the Navy and this particular tournament played right around Fourth of July weekend, is incredibly supportive of our military. In 2015, however, this tournament week was a dark one for Hurley. He announced at a pre-tournament press conference that his father was missing and begged for the public's help in locating him. Hurley's father turned up in Texas and said he was there on his own accord. Something clearly wasn't right and in August of 2015, Hurley's father was discovered dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Now fast forward to 2016 and the same event where Hurley III revealed what was going on a year earlier. Certainly there had to be some anxious memories that he'd rather not have to recall. But Hurley marched on, playing the best golf of his life and -- in the end -- earned his first PGA Tour victory. Now don't get this twisted -- life is far more precious than anything. But after the heartbreaking 12 months the Hurley family experienced, this gave them -- and the rest of the golf world -- something to smile about.

1. Henrik Stenson at the Open Championship
Why?:
In one of the greatest major duels in the game's history, Stenson outlasted Phil Mickelson -- to 40-somethings -- during an epic week at Royal Troon to claim his first major championship. Stenson and Mickelson entered the final round six and five shots, respectively, ahead of the next closest competitor. That equaled a one-stroke advantage over Mickelson for Stenson with just 18 holes to play -- a two-horse race. Mickelson went out and fired 6-under 65, surely enough to win any major handily with a final-round number like that, right? Not so fast. Stenson played the round of his life, matching Mickelson shot for shot and then some and carded a mind-blowing, 8-under 63 to top Mickelson by three. J.B. Holmes finished alone in third at 6 under, an astounding 14 shots behind the winner. It was a performance for the ages.

 

T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.