2016 Year In Review: Part Four
70. Rory wins the Irish Open in style
As we sit here in December, it’s very easy to look back on Rory McIlroy’s 2016 and say that even though he went winless in the major championships for the second consecutive season, that he had an outstanding year. He won two of his final three starts on the PGA Tour, en route to capturing the FedEx Cup for the first time, and was one of the lone bright spots on a European Ryder Cup team that got blown out of the water at Hazeltine, but what started it all was his performance at the Irish Open in May.
For reasons which are still unclear to me, Rory was getting some heat for his play prior to this win despite good finishes, and the fact that it had only been six months since his last victory when he took the DP World Tour Championship in November of 2015. The way that Rory went about winning at the K Club is something I’ll never forget. He held the 54-hole lead, but after some weather delays, he ended up tied with Russell Knox as they stood on the 15th tee. Knox would go on to birdie the 15th to take a one shot lead, but it should have been more than that as Rory somehow made a miraculous par after hitting his drive well into the trees.
It was then that Rory took over. With two of the final three holes at the K Club playing as par-5’s, Rory had a distinct advantage over just about anyone with his length and superb approach game, which produced these two mind bending shots on 16 and 18:
The win came in the middle of a great run of champions, as Jason Day won the Players in the previous week, Sergio Garcia would take the Byron Nelson later that day and Jordan Spieth would triumph at Colonial one week later, but this one was special for Rory. Here’s what I wrote at the time:
Also understand that despite this not being a major, this win means a whole lot for Rory. Not only is this tournament his national open, but with his foundation as the title sponsor, it’s also a reminder of how far he has come as a player and person. He donated all of his winnings to the foundation, and sure, he doesn’t need the money but he knows exactly who does and the kids that he’s been able to help are important to him. This win means as much to them, if not more, than it means to Rory.
After that approach on 18, Rory was walking down the fairway with J.P. Fitzgerald, his longtime caddie and friend. With the crowds of people walking around him, Rory took a moment to breathe it all in and hold back the tears. The tournament was his and the relief, on multiple levels, was apparent.
It seems like over the past few months, we’ve all forgotten that this game is super difficult, even for someone as good as Rory McIlroy. The way he closed this tournament was his way of telling us, and maybe even Jordan and Jason, to not forget just how good he really is. With moments like this, it’s hard to fathom how we ever forgot in the first place.
69. Paul Casey doesn’t play in Ryder Cup
Three things are worth noting in the picture above from the 2008 Ryder Cup:
- I don’t know who designed the attire for the team that year, but I’m happy to say that the Europeans have stepped up their games in the eight years since.
- Long-haired Sergio!
- This was the last time Paul Casey played in the Ryder Cup.
Now, he absolutely should have been there in 2010 when he was the 8th ranked player in the world, but much like Bubba Watson this year for the Americans, there was obviously something that European captain Colin Montgomerie didn’t like about Casey for the spot. He was struggling with his game in 2012, and while he got some of it back in 2014, he wasn’t really in the conversation for a spot at any stage. So, in 2015, Casey decided to give up his European Tour card in an attempt to get his game fully back in order but since that card is a requirement for entry to the Ryder Cup, he was ruled ineligible.
Would Casey have made enough of a difference to change the result of the Ryder Cup? Not on his own, but the fact that incoming captain Thomas Bjorn has already said that they are looking at the selection criteria is proof that they know something should change. The move to focus solely on the PGA Tour has seemed to pay off for Casey, as his game is in much better shape as he enters 2017 than it has been in previous years. He’s currently ranked 14th in the world, and will finish the year ranked in the top-20 for the first time since 2011.
There really isn’t a good reason why the best players shouldn’t be at the Ryder Cup, and Paul Casey is one of the best options that Europe has as they look towards France in 2018.
68. Peggy Kirk Bell passes away
At the end of November, the golf world said goodbye to Peggy Kirk Bell, who passed away at her home in Southern Pines, North Carolina at the age of 95. Bell was a fantastic player in her day, winning the 1949 Titleholders Championship, but really made her mark on the game as a teacher, being elected to the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame in 2002. In the days following her passing, some lovely tributes were written about her that I encourage you to read.
- Jaime Diaz for Golf Digest: Here’s why Peggy Kirk Bell held such a unique place in golf
- Golf Channel: Peggy Kirk Bell, teacher, major champion, dies at 95
- USGA: Peggy Kirk Bell, Women’s Golf Pioneer, Dies at 95
67. Phil Mickelson has multiple hernia operations
Back in October, Phil Mickelson underwent sports hernia surgery after he completed his final tournament of 2016 at the Safeway Open. His plan was to have the operation in October so that he could be ready to go for the CareerBuilder Challenge in January where he is now serving as tournament ambassador, but that 2017 start is now up in the air. Mickelson had to have a follow-up procedure in December after the hernia re-appeared, and while he still plans to be in La Quinta for that tournament, it is now unclear if he’ll be able to play or just serve as host.
Even though a full recovery is expected, I feel like this has the potential to be a big story in 2017. Mickelson has never really struggled in the past with injuries, and even though he played quite well in 2016 (and under normal circumstances, would have won the Open), he’s approaching the fourth anniversary of his last win. That doesn’t get easier when you turn 47 as he is set to do in June, where these smaller instances of health issues can pile up and cause players to slow down. Hopefully this is just a minor setback, but I do think it’s something to keep an eye on over the next few months.
66. Tiger hits a 9-iron in a simulator
As I said in part three of the 2016 Review, Tiger did a remarkable job over the past twelve months keeping himself in the news despite not playing in an actual tournament until December, and the first instance of this came back in February. Four months after his second back surgery in about 45 days, Robert Lusetich reported that Tiger’s condition was pretty dire.
At this point, we hadn’t seen Tiger on the course in six months and the only news we received out of his camp was that he had two back surgeries; one in September and a second in October. Just two days after Lusetich reported on his condition, Tiger essentially melted Golf Twitter down to the ground in one tweet.
The only thing that was missing from Tiger’s tweet was the middle finger emoji. Granted, it’s very possible that this was the only ball Tiger had hit since his surgery and who knows, maybe after the camera stopped recording, he fell down and had to be carried back to the couch for more Call of Duty, but it was a sign that he wasn’t dead after all and a welcome one at that.
65. Colt Knost’s group gets incorrect pin sheet at Baltusrol
It wasn’t exactly a banner year for golf’s governing bodies, and while the USGA deserves a lot of flak for the mistakes they made in 2016, the PGA of America made a pretty significant gaffe at Baltusrol in July. For the second round on Friday, Colt Knost, Joe Summerhays and Yuta Ikeda were the first group off the tenth tee and conditions were less than ideal, as rain covered Baltusrol for a good portion of the week. The players were provided pin sheets by the PGA of America just like they are at the start of each round, but the problem was that the pin on the tenth hole was listed in the incorrect spot, as it was on the complete opposite side of the green as displayed on the sheet. Other holes were affected as well, as you can see in the tweet below from ESPN’s Michael Collins:
Here are the THREE pin sheets some caddies and players have had to use for Round 2 of the PGA Championship. 😳 pic.twitter.com/4n4YXKuot3
— Michael Collins (@ESPNCaddie) July 29, 2016
Knost would go on to bogey the hole, and he had every right to be upset after the round. There’s no excuse for this sort of thing to happen, not to mention that they had to print out a third pin sheet to actually get it correct.
Thankfully, that bogey didn’t end up being the difference between Knost making and missing the cut, as he got in just on the number before finishing tied for 70th.
64. Alex Noren’s incredible run
Back in June of 2013, Alex Noren finished tied for fourth place for the second consecutive week at the BMW International Open in Germany, which moved him into 62nd place in the Official World Golf Rankings. He had been hovering in and around this area for some time, with his career best being 48th just eight months prior. In other words, he was consistently proving to be one of the best 50-60 players in the world, but it was after that tournament in Germany where things went all downhill.
He played in eight more events in 2013, with three missed cuts and two WD’s. The last WD came in Turkey in November, where he injured his wrist and he didn’t tee it up again until the following May. He finished in 56th place in Spain before heading to Wentworth the following week where he had to WD again after hitting a tree root and he didn’t play again for the rest of the season. This amount of time off knocked him down to 653rd in the OWGR at the end of 2014, but Noren’s wrist problem started to heal and in 2015, he made 17 of 18 cuts and picked up a win in his native Sweden at the Nordea Masters. This run allowed him to jump back into the top 100, in 96th place.
I give this amount of background prior to discussing what he did in 2016 because I think what it shows is that Noren has proven to be quite capable in the past. However, the run he went on in 2016 is absolutely bonkers. He posted three top-10’s in his first ten starts of 2016 before winning against a great field at the Scottish Open in July, finished in second at the Paul Lawrie Match Play and then all he did in the “offseason” was rack up three wins in his final nine starts in Switzerland, England and South Africa.
It’s this run that has vaulted Noren all the way up to 9th (yes, 9th) in the OWGR, just two years after he was down at 653. It’s a remarkable jump, and yes, there is an argument to be made that outside of the Scottish Open, Noren didn’t really dominate against an elite field, but when you win four of your last twelve starts, you deserve to be way up there.
I have zero idea at all what to expect from Noren in 2017, but I feel like he’s a fascinating player to keep an eye on over the next twelve months.
63. Greg Norman is replaced at FOX by Paul Azinger
Personally, I didn’t feel that FOX’s coverage of the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay was as bad as many others did, but when you (unfairly) compared it to the other networks, it did lag behind. As the lead analyst, Norman struggled and a lot of it had to do with the fact that he really isn’t around the game as much these days as he used to be, so knowing the players wasn’t going to be his strong suit. But, he was a big name who is never short on opinion, so it made sense for FOX to go down that path.
Early in 2016 though, FOX decided to let Norman go and went with former ESPN and ABC analyst Paul Azinger as his replacement. FOX’s coverage was vastly improved in 2016 at Oakmont, and a lot of that had to do with the quality work that Azinger put in, especially as things were getting crazy with the USGA. Azinger brought an energy to the broadcast that Norman simply didn’t have, and even as FOX had to dance around all of the weather delays, Azinger provided a ton of entertainment value.
I legitimately believe that FOX surpassed CBS in 2016 in the Golf Broadcast Network Power Rankings, and Azinger was a big reason why. I can’t wait to see him at Erin Hills in 2017.
62. Rickie Fowler wears high tops and joggers
Since turning pro in 2009, Rickie Fowler has blessed us with a lot of different looks on the golf course, proving that he’s not afraid to stray from what is considered standard golf attire. He’s been a traffic cone, a pirate, a thuggish jingoist according to one columnist for this haircut and my own personal favourite was his tribute to Payne Stewart at the 2014 U.S. Open. While his style has definitely trended more towards traditional recently, he added a new wrinkle to his lineup in 2016 by debuting the above high tops and joggers at the Tournament of Champions in January.
Apparently, it was Fowler’s idea to debut this kind of look and even though I will never be seen on the course looking like that, I like that Fowler continues to push the attire envelope. Understandably, it’s not going to be for everyone (although I’d pay a lot of money to see Phil take them for a spin), but Fowler pulls it off well and other players like Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy wore similar things at points during the year, too. We also got this (multiple times) out of Sir Nick Faldo:
I’m positive Faldo doesn’t know what exactly he’s saying, but that doesn’t really matter.
61. TaylorMade re-signs Jason Day and Dustin Johnson
Usually around this time each year, we start to hear about what players are changing equipment and apparel providers for the coming season. Nike’s exit from the equipment business is only going to make this period more hectic, as big name players like Tiger, Rory and Brooks Koepka are all technically free agents as of this writing. Two players who aren’t available right now though are Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, who re-upped their equipment deals with TaylorMade at the end of September. However, it is expected that Day will be signing with Nike for apparel, while it is unclear what Johnson will be wearing in 2017.
Day and Johnson are both longtime TaylorMade players, having played their clubs for the last decade and obviously it’s worked out pretty well for them. What’s interesting is that TaylorMade’s parent company, Adidas, has put TaylorMade up for sale and whoever ends up buying the company has to love that two of the best players in the game, along with Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose, are under contract.
Part five of the 2016 Year In Review will examine stories 60-51.