LONDON -- There was one very big star at the top of the tree in 2012: Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy.
While Tiger Woods posted his first PGA Tour wins (three of them) since 2009, his return to the victory podium was merely a side-story.
Instead, after a period of transition that saw Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald flirt with top spot in the rankings, 23-year-old McIlroy marked himself down as Woods' natural successor and the next genuine world No. 1 by winning the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic and capturing his second major by a whopping eight shots.
That victory in the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island was one of four wins in the United States, while he iced the cake on his amazing year by winning the European Tour's season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
McIlroy had already wrapped up the Race to Dubai before the event started (prompting the European Tour to produce a more competitive closing schedule in 2013). But, wanting to go out on a high, he thrillingly birdied the final five holes to overtake Justin Rose and confirm his status as a genuine superstar.
To prove he could do no wrong, McIlroy also won his Ryder Cup singles clash against Keegan Bradley after arriving at the course just minutes before his tee time. Had he missed it by five minutes, he'd have forfeited the point and Europe would have lost; as it happened, his singles win played a key part in one of the most astonishing comebacks in Ryder Cup history.
Trailing 10-4 with two matches to play in Saturday's afternoon four-balls at Medinah Country Club near Chicago, Jose Maria Olazabal's men had been dragged back into the contest by an astonishing display from Ian Poulter.
Already renowned for being one of the event's most inspired performers, the Poulter Ryder Cup legend grew to epic proportions as he holed birdie putts at each of the final five holes to give he and McIlroy (Rory a passenger on this occasion) an incredible last-hole win over Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner.
Buoyed by Poulter's superhuman performance and a collective will to do it for the late Seve Ballesteros, Europe top-loaded its Sunday singles line-up, won the first five matches and completed an almost impossible turnaround as Kaymer holed a nerves-of-steel putt on 18 that retained the trophy.
Moments later, the jubilation became euphoric disbelief as Woods conceded a putt to Francesco Molinari, meaning Europe had actually won the contest outright 14.5-13.5.
At least there was some serious consolation for some of the beaten U.S. team. Bubba Watson produced a mind-blowing hooked wedge from the trees to beat South African Louis Oosthuizen in a playoff at the Masters, while Webb Simpson came with a late burst to edge out Graeme McDowell and win the U.S. Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco. Brandt Snedeker, meanwhile, landed the $10 million jackpot for winning the FedExCup.
The 141st British Open at Lytham was a classic case of triumph and despair. The latter befell Australian Adam Scott, who blew a four-shot lead with four to play, while the glory belonged to Ernie Els, who holed a key putt on 18 that turned out to be the one that gave him a second Open title and fourth major in total.
Simpson and Els won using belly putters, and the season ended with the R&A and USGA proposing a ban on anchoring the putter to any part of the body. The rule is set to come into play in 2016.
MOMENTS OF THE YEAR
1. Martin Kaymer's putt to retain the Ryder Cup: Had he missed, Tiger Woods would surely have taken more care in the final match -- by either holing his putt and definitely not conceding Francesco Molinari's -- and the final outcome would have been flipped. As it was, the German showed nerves of steel to hole out and retain the trophy for Europe.
2. Poulter's five closing birdies in Saturday's Ryder Cup four-balls: One went in, then two, then three. The eyeballs were popping wildly. Surely Poulter couldn't keep this going, could he? He could. A fourth birdie putt dropped at the par-3 17th and, ridiculously defying the odds, he sank the match clincher on 18. It proved the catalyst for the Europeans' amazing Sunday fightback.
3. The first-tee Ryder Cup crowds shouting through Bubba Watson and Ian Poulter's drives: Golfers can get tetchy if someone rustles a candy wrapper during their swing, so it was startling to hear the din as Bubba launched his drive. He had asked the crowd to go wild as he said the eerie quietness would make him more nervous. Typically, Poulter responded in kind and whipped up the fans to cheer through his tee shot, too.
4. Rory's five closing birdies to win the DP World Tour Championship: Having watched playing partner Poulter do it in the Ryder Cup, Rory thought he'd have a go, too. And what a time to do so. Justin Rose's flying finish looked set to be decisive in the European Tour's finale, but Rory found an extra gear to sprint past him with birdies at each of the final five holes and crown a magnificent season.
5. Bubba Watson's hooked wedge from around trees in the Masters playoff: Watson looked to be in all sorts of trouble after going way right off the tee at 10, the second playoff hole, but he produced a shot for the ages to curl his wedge 90 degrees around the corner to set up a two-putt winning par.
6. Louis Oosthuizen's albatross at Augusta in the final round: Although Sunday would ultimately prove a huge disappointment for the South African as he lost to Bubba's playoff wonder-shot, he did produce a thunderclap moment of his own. Tied for the lead at -7, his second to the par-5 second smacked down on the green and tracked straight into the hole for an astonishing albatross. The noise was off the scale.
7. Justin's Rose birdie putt vs. Phil Mickelson in the Ryder Cup: For most of Ryder Cup Sunday there was a feeling that Europe's brave comeback would fall just short. But when Rose sank his monster 35-footer for birdie at 17, the mood changed suddenly, and dramatically, to "wow, we can do this."
8. Tiger Woods' chip-in at the Memorial: One behind with three to play. Woods had left himself in thick greenside rough at 16. But with every chance of chipping into the water beyond the flag, Woods, with a full swing, floated a perfect lob wedge onto the treacherously fast green and watched it topple into the hole for a birdie that paved the way for victory.
9. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps' 153-foot putt in the Dunhill Links Championship: Terry Wogan's 99-foot putt at 2014 Ryder Cup venue Gleneagles was previously regarded as the longest televised putt, but Phelps, playing alongside Paul Casey, smashed it with a ludicrous effort at Kingsbarns in October. The ball took 17 seconds to drop into the hole.
10. Kyle Stanley's collapse and bounce back: The big-hitting American, seeking a first PGA Tour win, arrived at the final hole at Torrey Pines with a three-shot lead. Fifteen minutes later he was holing out for an 8 before, still in shock, losing a playoff. His response? Winning the following week's PGA Tour event in Phoenix.