Normally lists are done in tens. The 10 best golfers of all time … The 10 best shots of the year … But in golf, 10 isn't the number we surround ourselves with. It's nine. We play nine holes. We hope to end our round with a "9" in it (be it, 89, 79, 69, or even, gasp, 59), and so this year, we've decided to focus our end of year awards in nines. These are the biggest surprises of the year.
9.) Bill Haas' win of the FedEx Cup -- Sure, Haas has always been a big name in golf, but that was mostly because of Bill's dad. The FedEx Cup playoffs have allowed us the opportunity to make a regular player a star, but up until 2011, haven't do that. Not this time. With what we named the shot of the year from a lake, Haas won the $10 million bonus, made the Presidents Cup, and moved from good player to big name.
8.) The resurgence of Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia -- We group golfers together because of age, and when Scott and Garcia both started to come up, we thought of them alike. Both ruggedly handsome with an incredible ability to hit the ball and a short-stick problem, they seemed destined for greatness. Unfortunately, both flopped, but 2011 was the year they returned to greatness. Watch out for both these names in the coming year.
7.) Charl Schwartzel's run to close out the Masters -- We are used to legends doing legendary things, but when a relative no-name does it, eyebrows raise. That's why when Schwartzel closed out his Masters win with four straight birdies, becoming the only player to ever do so, we all were left with jaws on the floor.
6.) Yani Tseng going from good player to great player -- Can you believe Yani is only 22? She sure doesn't play like it. With 12 worldwide wins this year including two majors, she was the player of the year over both tours and showed us that dominance can come even when a certain Mr. Woods struggles.
5.) Darren Clarke's improbable British Open win -- Maybe my favorite major of the year was one of the least dramatic, but that didn't mean you couldn't stand up and applaude the play of Clarke. A good guy from all accounts, Clarke beat the field at Sandwich for his first (and most likely only) major win. When David Duval won the British back in 2001, he mentioned after that he really felt disappointed in a "This is it?" sort of way. I think nobody would say Clarke felt that way.
4.) Webb Simpson's breakout year -- Golf produces plenty of flashes in the pan, but it seemed every week young Simpson was in the hunt. He had two wins, three second place finishes and 12 top-10s total. Don't expect Smiling Simpson to go anywhere.
3.) Rory McIlroy's bounce-back at Congressional after falling apart at Augusta -- Most of the time, adversity can hurt you, but for some reason, the Masters collapse by McIlroy lit a fire under him. He came to the second major of the year with a purpose, and made the tournament a relative snoozer. His win was the most impressive of the year (if not, the last 10) and showed that when his game clicks, he is truly unbeatable.
2.) The struggles of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson -- The two biggest names in the game (Sorry, Rory) are still supposed to produce results even as they get older, but they combined for only one PGA Tour win and really struggled for most of the season. At times they showed they still belong (Tiger at Augusta and Phil, strangely, at the British), but for the most part, it was a forgettable season for the two.
1.) Keegan Bradley's incredible rookie run -- I went to dinner during Bob Hope week with a friend, and Bradley was at the table with us, and at the time, wasn't even the second most popular professional golfer at the table, and it was just four people! He made his mark by winning the Byron Nelson, already a dream year for a rookie, but it was the PGA Championship that really made him the surprise of the year. Right when we counted Bradley out of that major, he stormed back with emphatic birdies and matched great shots in a playoff he would eventually win.