PGA Tour roundtable: POY debate, 2013's best major
Our crew of PGA Tour experts traveled the globe to cover the tour in 2013, and each of them took time to reflect on the year that was in our year-end Season In Review roundtable:
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Who is your global player of the year?
JEFF BABINEAU: Tiger Woods. Yes, I’ve listened to the arguments for Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson, and even Henrik Stenson, but c’mon, let’s be real. No, he didn’t get a major, but Woods won five times to Scott’s four and Mickelson’s three. Woods not only has the most victories, but the overall quality of his victories (The Players, two WGCs, Bay Hill and Torrey Pines) more than makes up for a year without a major.
JIM McCABE: With the key word being “global,” here’s a vote for Adam Scott. If you limited the choice to within the tighter boundaries of the PGA Tour, I’d say Tiger Woods, whose five wins trumped Scott’s two. But spreading things out, as we should, because in case you missed it, the game is played 24/7 in all corners of the world, the Aussie shines. He did something that is difficult to do – he won when he was supposed to win. And not just once, but twice, the Aussie PGA then the Aussie Masters. Toss in a team win at the World Cup of Golf in front of the home folks – again, a win he was supposed to achieve – and it was a massive return home to Oz for the first time since winning the Masters. Scott gets huge marks for doing what is incumbent of world-class marquee names – he played brilliantly in the majors, better than Woods, he won a playoff event, and he took his game on the road, not for money, but to do the right thing back home.
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ALEX MICELI: Adam Scott. It’s clear Tiger Woods did have a very good 2013 on the PGA Tour, but Scott first and foremost won a major and then backed it up with a FedEx playoff win and then the win-win-second in three starts at home in Australia. There’s nothing more difficult then having the entire population of a country expecting you to win and then actually coming through and winning.
JEFF RUDE: Inbee Park. She won the first three majors of the LPGA season. If we’re talking men, Tiger Woods. He won five times on the PGA Tour. That’s a big haul, major or no major. Had Phil Mickelson won a FedEx Cup playoff event for his fourth title worldwide, he probably would have gotten my vote.
ADAM SCHUPAK: Adam Scott in extra holes over Phil Mickelson. They each won a major that impressed – Scott less than six months after his collapse at the Open Championship and Mickelson at the major he never seemed capable of winning. To me, Scott’s late-season performance in Australia despite his failure to complete the Aussie triple solidified it for me. He won in April, August and November and took his game to new heights.
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What was the best major championship of 2013?
BABINEAU: The Open at Muirfield. Thoroughly enjoyed seeing Scott, Justin Rose and Jason Dufner break through to win first majors, but Mickelson’s triumph at Muirfield left folks misty-eyed and feeling pretty good for the big lug after two decades of failure and futility across the pond. Lefty’s Sunday 66 in challenging conditions was the round of the year.
McCABE: Muirfield ’13 will forever be cemented in the memory, one indelible moment after another. We got arguably the best storyline we could have imagined. Phil Mickelson. When he thrust the Claret Jug into the Scottish air and reveled in front of the best darn scoreboard in the entire golfdom as “Champion Golfer of the Year,” we were complete with not only the best major of the season, but arguably one of the very best in our lifetime.
MICELI: Hard to beat the Open Championship at Muirfield. Through three rounds, Lee Westwood had a two-shot lead on Tiger Woods and Hunter Mahan, and Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Zach Johnson and Angel Cabrera were all on the leaderboard. Five shots back? Phil Mickelson. The lead kept swinging back and forth and then Mickelson out of nowhere birdies four of the last six holes and it was all over. Great theater.
RUDE: Open Championship. Mickelson’s finishing kick against a star-studded leaderboard was remarkable and capped a fortnight in which he finally solved the puzzle of links golf.
SCHUPAK: The Open Championship gets the nod. There were so many great possible storylines and potential champions until Mickelson grabbed it by the throat with his closing 32.
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What's the one shot you'll remember most from the past season?
BABINEAU: Jordan Spieth’s improbable hole-out from a greenside bunker at the 72nd hole of the John Deere Classic, which got him into a playoff against Zach Johnson and David Hearn and on his way to hoisting his first PGA Tour trophy, becoming the fourth youngest winner in Tour history. It wouldn’t be the only time Spieth would stand on the 18th green at some tournament and show us all that he’s incredibly special. At the Wyndham in Greensboro a month later, he slammed in a 26-footer for an improbable, scrambling par to extend a playoff against eventual winner Patrick Reed, and a few weeks later, he’d close with 62 at the Deutsche Bank.
McCABE: If the ball doesn’t leave the ground (i.e., a putt), it doesn’t get my consideration. So the shot that still gets the blood flowing? Angel Cabrera’s approach into the 72nd green at the Masters. It was a 7-iron from 163 yards that fell out of the Augusta twilight and came to rest 3 feet from the 18th hole. The Argentine’s stuffed approach was emphatic and breathtaking, the sort of moment that makes you fall in love all over again with this greatest of games. Cabrera didn’t win, but he won me over.
MICELI: In an unofficial event, it has to be Zach Johnson’s wedge from the drop area on the 18th hole to force a playoff with Tiger Woods at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge. In an official event, Phil Mickelson hit consecutive 3-woods at the 17th hole in Sunday’s final round of the Open Championship; the second one found the green on a par 5 that seemingly no one could get to that day. One day later, former Open championTony Jacklin stood in the exact same spot and still couldn’t believe Mickelson pulled off what he did.
RUDE: Angel Cabrera’s approach shot in the rain to basically tap-in distance on 18 at the Masters, putting him in the playoff against eventual winner Adam Scott.
SCHUPAK: Jordan Spieth’s short iron to a tucked sucker pin at the 448-yard seventh hole at the Puerto Rico Open on Sunday. Doubt it registers in his memory bank but it showed me that a kid with no status was playing to win and not aiming for the fat of the green to get a top-10 finish. He didn’t win that March day, but I knew then it would only be a matter of time.
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What was the biggest surprise of the last 12 months?
BABINEAU: I’d have to say how poorly Rory McIlroy played throughout the entire year and how his sky-high confidence vanished after such a great run in late 2012. And how players such as Steve Stricker, Keegan Bradley, Jason Day and Hunter Mahan failed to win. A reminder to all just how difficult it is to win on Tour.
McCABE: As much as it was inspiring to watch Henrik Stenson pick himself up and not only revive his career, but take it to another level entirely, Rory McIlroy’s year-long struggle to find consistency and happiness befuddled me. Did his equipment change from Titleist to Nike contribute? In some part, sure, but it’s difficult to think that it was the only thing that held him back. He seemed so distanced at times, so confused at others, and the lackluster performances in big events are not indicative of his massive talent. He is a joy to watch, a pleasure to be around, so whatever disrupted him in 2013, let’s hope McIlroy figures it out.
MICELI: Henrik Stenson. The Swede was ranked 53rd in the world at the beginning of the season and now sits at No. 3 in the world. During a two-month stretch from the Scottish Open to the Tour Championship in Atlanta, they’re wasn’t anyone who played better.
RUDE: Rory McIlroy’s slump. Couldn’t see that coming after his Player of the Year season in 2012. Would be surprised if he doesn’t rebound in 2014.
SCHUPAK: I’m going outside the ropes and saying the USGA-Fox TV deal. Didn’t see that one coming, nor its announcement on the eve of the PGA Championship.