The only mystery with Scott was when he was playing. Stricker nearly walked away from the PGA Tour at the start of the year, instead severely reducing his schedule so he could spend more time with his wife and two daughters in Wisconsin. Scott congratulated him on his “semi-retirement,” and then he added with a smile, “Welcome to the club.” Scott shifted to a reduced schedule a few years ago, though not for any personal reasons.
His record in the majors was woefully lacking. It wasn’t so much that he hadn’t won a Grand Slam event, he never even came close. There was a tie for third at Medinah in the 2006 PGA Championship, but he was six shots behind Woods. He looked like a winner at Augusta National in 2011 when he made a 10-foot par putt on the 17th hole, only for Charl Schwartzel to close with four straight birdies and reduce Scott to also-ran. So the hand- some Australian chose to play less and work more, even if hardly anyone saw him. When he wasn’t at a tournament, Scott retreated to what amounts to his “Bat cave” in the Bahamas, where he stuck to a routine in the gym and on the range. He wanted to make sure he was ready when he did tee it up. And for the most part, he was.
In a year filled with a great debate over who had the best year, this might be an even tougher question to ponder: Which player won the more historic major, Scott or Mickelson. The answer depends on whether you’re from America, Europe or Australia. Mickelson scores big points for the claret jug, the oldest trophy in golf on a links course that many thought he could never master. And while he’s still one major shy of the career Grand Slam, the Open showed he could win on any surface. That showed Mickelson to be a complete player. Scott, however, carried the burdens of an entire nation. Australians have been teased with a green jacket for a half century, with Greg Norman the face behind the frustrations given all his close calls. For Scott to become the first Aussie to win the Masters, to make a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation, to win in a playoff with two exquisite shots — the six iron and the 10-foot putt — and to pay tribute to Norman in the midst of his own achievement, it was a major that won’t be forgotten. “Sitting there watching Adam, I had a tear in my eye. That’s what it was all about. It was Adam doing it for himself, and for the country,” Norman said.
It was a Masters victory worthy of a parade, one that was mentioned in the halls of government that Monday morning in the hours after he won. But if a limited schedule required patience, Scott showed he had an abun- dance of that. Imagine the crowning achievement and then waiting until the end of the year to return home to celebrate. Yet that’s exactly what he did. “Yes, it’s cause for celebration, but we have a plan in place,” Scott said when he showed up again a month later at The Players Championship. “It’s hopefully not going to stop with the Masters at the moment. I want to keep focused while I can and try to make this my biggest year yet. I think we can rustle up some celebration when I get home at the end of the year.”
He returned to the scene of his unimaginable collapse — the Open Cham- pionship — in July and showed he was true to his word. Scott featured all week at Muirfield and briefly had the lead to himself on the back nine Sunday until Mickelson’s magical ride over the final two hours. The PGA Championship ultimately was a two-man show between Dufner and Furyk, though there was that determined Aussie again, tied for the lead after 18 holes, still only three behind going into Sunday until Scott finally faded to a tie for fifth. Next up were the FedExCup Playoffs, and Scott was a big winner again. He played bogey-free on the last day at Liberty National for a 66 and a one-shot victory over Woods and Rose. It moved Scott up to a career-best No. 2 in the world, though he still was a fair distance away from catching Woods. Scott was No. 3 in the FedExCup going into the Playoff finale at the Tour Championship, and he was in the last group with Stenson going into the weekend, four shots behind. Finally, a spell of bad luck. He fell so ill overnight and into the morning that Scott had intravenous fluids administered at East Lake and didn’t even show up to the practice range until 25 minutes before his tee time. He shot 40 on the front nine, wound up with a 74 and lost all hope of capturing the FedExCup and its $10 million prize. Not to worry. More bounty awaited Down Under.
The celebration for Australia was worth the wait. Their hero returned, showing off the green jacket, which until then must have seemed like only a myth. Scott was there to play golf, too, and he showed that straight away by winning the Australian PGA Championship, and then the Australian Masters at Royal Melbourne. A week later, he rallied from a poor start and made a run at a third straight title, though he couldn’t catch Jason Day. That was okay, for he and Day were teammates and captured the World Cup for Australia at Royal Melbourne. One leg remained in his season at the Australian Open, and Scott looked like a winner. He was on the cusp of the Australian Triple Crown, sweeping the main tournaments, a feat last achieved by Robert Allenby in 2005. Scott had McIlroy beat all day, but a few missed putts down the stretch proved costly. On the 18th hole, with a one-shot lead, Scott went over the green, missing his target by no more than a yard. McIlroy stuffed his shot into about eight feet. Scott made bogey, McIlroy made birdie, and the 24-year-old from Northern Ireland had his first win of the year. McIlroy stopped just short of apologizing for winning and taking the title away from Scott.
No matter. Scott, indeed, had his “biggest year yet.” He won the Masters and a FedExCup Playoff event. He won two individual titles in Australia and helped his country win the World Cup on native soil. And he finished the year just 2.09 points behind Woods in the World Ranking. Scott headed into the early part of 2014 with at least a mathematical chance to going to No. 1 before Woods returned from his winter break. Scott didn’t think this was possible seven years ago, when Woods looked as though he would never get old, never slow down. He said at the end of 2006, “You can’t give up on your hope of being No. 1 in the world. I want to be No. 1, and I believe I can be. But I’ve got to be realistic. If I play my best golf in the next five years, then I might be No. 1. And it depends on what he does.” Maybe his best is yet to come.
Those four — Woods, Mickelson, Scott and Stenson — are the corner- stone of an argument over who had the best year. At least in men’s golf.
In women’s golf, one player rose above the rest with a run through the majors that was remarkable, historic and, at times, confusing. Inbee Park won her first major in the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open at Interlachen, the first fruits of the great pioneer Se Ri Pak. Park was a 10-year-old who was woken in the middle of the night by the cheers of her parents, who were watching Pak win the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open. Their daughter put a club in her hand the next day, and a decade later, she was a major champion. Park also won the money title on the LPGA Tour last year. But nothing could have braced the women’s circuit for what unfolded in 2013.
It started innocently enough with a splash in the pond at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, giving Park the first major of the year. Less than a month later, she ascended to No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings and picked up her third victory of the year in Texas. In the month before the major season got under way, Park was struggling with her swing. In the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic, she missed one par three by some 30 yards. On the next hole, she hit what could only be described as a half-shank into the middle of a pond, and her next tee shot also found the water, some 30 yards short of the flag. She made a nine on the hole. Who could have guessed that this “Silent Assassin” was on the verge of taking aim at the record books. She won the Wegmans LPGA Championship in a playoff over Catriona Matthew, making her the first player since Annika Sorenstam in 2005 to capture the first two majors of the LPGA Tour season. This piqued the interest of everyone from Sorenstam and Pat Bradley, both of whom failed in their bid to win a third straight major. And when Park did what they couldn’t — win the U.S. Women’s Open for a third straight major — it even got the attention of the great Mickey Wright.
Wright is the only woman to hold all four majors at the same time — the U.S. Women’s Open and LPGA Championship in 1961, the Titleholders and Western Open in 1962. She marveled at how composed Park looked in winning her third straight major at Sebonack. Two things stood out to Wright in an interview with The Associated Press. “She certainly is an unflappable young lady. She’s probably the best putter I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some good ones. I’m hoping she can pull it off, and then win the fifth one in France. No one will ever come close to that unless the LPGA adds a sixth major.”
A fifth major? Thus the confusion. The LPGA Tour had previously agreed that the Evian Masters in France, which offered one of the richest purses in women’s golf and had been a steadfast partner, would be elevated to major championship status in 2013 and changed to the Evian Champion- ship. Just the LPGA’s luck. The year it goes to five majors, it has a player with a chance to become the first woman to win the calendar Grand Slam. If nothing else, it allowed for some historical research. On one side of the equation, the argument was the sanctity of only four majors. A Grand Slam had baseball connotations in America, and it scores only four runs. But the Grand Slam didn’t enter golf’s vernacular until Bobby Jones and the “impregnable quadrilateral” of 1930 when he won the U.S. Open, British Open, U.S. Amateur and British Amateur. Grand Slam was derived from a bridge term of a clean sweep. So in that case, a Grand Slam would have to be all five majors. Then again, no one ever had won four majors in one year.
All the semantics turned into a moot point. Whether it was the internal and external pressure, a strong wind at St. Andrews or a poor week lag-putting, Park never came close. She tied for 42nd, a whopping 14 shots behind Stacy Lewis in the Ricoh Women’s British Open. At that point in the LPGA season, she already had six wins, including three majors. The end of her run left her so flat that Park didn’t win again the rest of the year. It was reminiscent of the mental hangover suffered by Curtis Strange after his gallant bid for a third straight U.S. Open in 1990.
The LPGA Tour uses a points system to determine its highest honor, the Rolex Player of the Year, and for all that Park had achieved through July, she didn’t clinch the award until the second-to-last week of the year. Lewis, who rose to No. 1 briefly at the start of the year, found her form at St. Andrews to win the Women’s British Open. Suzann Pettersen came out strong in the late summer, winning the Safeway Classic in Portland and that fifth major, the Evian Championship, a few weeks later. She wound up with five wins this year. Going into the final tournament of the year, the CME Titleholders in Naples, Florida, there was a chance for the women to share the spoils, too. Park was Player of the Year, but Pettersen had an outside shot at the money title and Lewis was leading the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average. Lewis held on to win that award, but Pettersen couldn’t overtake Park for the money title.
Park summed up her year in a heartfelt speech to receive her Player of the Year award, which drew a long and loud standing ovation when she finished. She conceded that the pressure around her amazing run in the majors was almost too much to bear, even though no one around might have imagined that. Most intriguing was her main goal for the year. She wanted to be happier than she was the year before. “Don’t we all want to be happy? Aren’t we all doing whatever we do in order to be happy? Unexpectedly, as soon as happiness became my goal, I achieved more things than ever.”
Golf was just as busy outside the ropes.
The stage was set at the end of 2012 for a great debate on the method used for long putters. “Anchoring” became as much a part of the golf ver- nacular as birdies and bogeys when the Royal & Ancient Golf Club and the U.S. Golf Association announced their intentions to create a new rule that banned any stroke in which the club was anchored against the body. That effectively would outlaw broom-handle and belly putters, which had been used by three of the past five major champions (Scott at the Masters made it four of the last six). In a rare move, the ruling bodies allowed for a 90-day comment period before deciding whether to adopt Rule 14-1b. Following a meeting of PGA Tour players in January, commissioner Tim Finchem cranked up the passion over the debate when he stated the PGA Tour’s opposition to the proposed rule. “We think if they were to move forward they would be making a mistake,” Finchem said. He said the players’ opposition stemmed from an absence of data to show there was a competitive advantage from anchoring a putter. PGA of America president Ted Bishop weighed in by suggesting the growth of golf would be hurt by taking away a style of putting that had been allowed for some 40 years. After all the comments, and some rancor, the R&A and USGA approved the new rule in May. It goes into effect on January 1, 2016.
The USGA and R&A were equally busy with video, and Woods helped move the conversation along. The governing bodies two years ago came up with Decision 33-7/4.5 that allowed officials to waive disqualification for an incorrect scorecard if a violation was detected only through the use of high-definition TV. The best example of that was Peter Hanson, who double-hit a chip shot and was not aware until high-def TV was shown in super slow motion. Officials announced in November a new decision effective in 2014. Under Decision 18/4, a player would not necessarily be penalized if his ball moves at rest when the movement can only be detected by enhanced video. The new decision went through several drafts before including the language, “reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time.” This would seem to apply to Woods at the BMW Championship, when video showed his ball moved a fraction of an inch. But the USGA stopped short of saying Woods would have been off the hook in such a situation. An entirely new set of questions would have to be asked, and the USGA chose not to get into a hypothetical situation. Woods’ incident in the BMW Championship already was inflammatory enough.
At the heart of this decision was television technology. Over the last decade, the number of cameras in use at a golf tournament has increased substantially. The pictures are clearer. The broadcast is longer. The question is whether this will limit the number of television viewers who call in vio- lations. The governing bodies seemed clear that they welcome any outside help in a sport with such a large arena. That was the case with Woods at the Masters, when rules expert David Eger was the one who noticed his wrong drop. And the use of HD also was raised when Woods’ ball moved at Conway Farms. “Our Rules of Golf committees — the USGA and R&A — are always trying to look forward at what they should address. Certainly, HDTV has been on the forefront for the last several years,” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of rules and competition. “Who knows where we’re going to be a year from now?”
Indeed, golf continued to change in so many ways.The game has been shifting toward a global sport for the last decade or more, and it might be gaining traction. The PGA Tour remains the stron- gest tour in the world by miles, proof of that in the membership rolls. Of the top 50 players in the world at the end of the year, 42 had PGA Tour membership. Finchem spoke three years ago about the possibility of a world tour, though he had no idea what form it might take. The World Golf Championships began in 1999 to bring together the best from every continent and every tour. Now, the world’s best are gathered far more often. The Middle East swing on the European Tour is a hot spot at the start of the year, while Asia is the place where the stars go late in the year. And if golf is to be observed through a truly global lens, ask this question: Who was the best rookie?
Spieth received all the attention, primarily because he was in America. He failed to advance beyond the second stage of qualifying school last year and was content to try to earn a PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour. But after a strong start on the smaller circuit, he honored a commitment to the Puerto Rico Open and finished second, which sent him on his way. Spieth had enough money for special temporary membership after the Tampa Bay Championship. He had enough money for PGA Tour membership the following year in June, and then he won the John Deere Classic in July. Spieth had to reset his goals four times during the course of an amazing year, which concluded with being the youngest American to ever compete in the Presidents Cup. It was strong stuff from a 20-year-old who only one year earlier had been a sophomore at the University of Texas. And it was arguably the best rookie season since Woods won twice in seven starts after turning pro in 1996.
But what about Matsuyama? He won on the Japan Tour as an amateur, but after turning professional in April at 21, went on to win four times and earn a spot on the Presidents Cup team. Ryo Ishikawa carried the flag of the Rising Sun for so many years, though he never had as strong a per- formance as Matsuyama. And what set Matsuyama apart from Spieth were the majors. It would be easy to dismiss his four Japan Golf Tour wins as coming against lesser competition. But he had three top 20s in the majors, while Spieth only played in two and was not a factor in either.
The global game showed itself in other ways. Peter Uihlein, the son of Titleist chief Wally Uihlein and the 2010 U.S. Amateur champion, also crashed out of the second stage of qualifying. Uihlein, as a former Amateur champion and with plenty of connections, could easily have taken his allot- ment of exemptions on the PGA Tour. Instead, he began his professional career in Europe on the Challenge Tour. He broke through for his first victory in Portugal at the Madeira Island Open. He had a putt for 59 in the Dunhill Links Championship, where he wound up losing in a playoff. He had a terrific duel with Gregory Bourdy in the Wales Open at Celtic Manor, losing by one shot. He turned out to be one of the top 15 players on the European Tour. And he had some company. His roommate in Florida is Brooks Koepka, who also started out his career on the Challenge Tour. Koepka went on to win three times to earn an automatic promotion to the European Tour. Not since the days of Payne Stewart in the 1980s have Americans traveled so extensively around the world to round off their games.
There were other reasons for that. The PGA Tour had tournaments in the fall, after the FedExCup, that enabled players to earn money toward finishing in the top 125 on the money list. Those tournaments attracted fields not much stronger than a Web.com Tour event, and there were rumblings the sponsors were no longer interested in being looked upon as second-class citizens. The winners did not get invited to the Masters, for one thing. That led to the PGA Tour to go to a wraparound season for the first time in its history, with the 2013-14 season beginning just three weeks after the FedExCup season ended, and one week after the Presidents Cup. Suddenly, tournaments like the Frys.com Open and the McGladrey Classic were treated equally with the likes of the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Shell Houston Open.
Because of the new season starting in October, the tour thought it would not make sense for cards to be awarded at qualifying school. Thus, the qualifying tournament was only for Web.com Tour cards. In a unique sys- tem, the tour brought together the top 75 players from the Web.com Tour money list and the top 75 players who failed to qualify for the FedExCup Playoffs. They played a series of four straight Web.com Tour events in which the top 50 money earners from those events earned cards (the top 25 from the Web.com Tour regular-season money list already were guaranteed cards). Because a direct route to the PGA Tour from qualifying school was no longer available, Uihlein and Koepka chose Europe. Four Americans earned European Tour cards at qualifying in November. “Looks like I’ll have company next year,” Uihlein said. Yes, it’s a big world of golf out there.
The PGA Tour, meanwhile, began to branch out with its brand. It took over top golf in South America by bringing together a series of loosely run tournaments under the umbrella of the PGA Tour Latinoamerica, in which the top five from the money list earned access to the Web.com Tour. Then, it took over the Canadian tour with the PGA Tour Canada that offered the same perks. And late in the year, Finchem showed up in Shanghai to announce the new PGA Tour China series. “Historically, the elite player comes first, strong growth comes second, and certainly that’s been the case in the United States since Arnold Palmer came along in 1960 and it’s been 40, 50 years of continuous growth,” Finchem said. “So anything we can do to assist the expedition and acceleration of growth is very much in the interest of the professional game, but also golf as a whole.”
Is the PGA Tour trying to take over the world? Not yet, maybe not ever. That was still years away. But it was clear that America was setting up smaller circuits that would feed toward the Web.com Tour, and that had become the primary path to the PGA Tour. However it unfolds, it was becoming increasingly evident that golf was producing players from every continent, more countries, and the competition was getting more difficult each year. It showed the strength of Woods that he still won five times. It showed the strength of golf that he was challenged every step of the way — by Scott, by Stenson, by Mickelson and a host of others on the horizon.