Golf in 2013: Sharing the spoils

Wanting to return among the elite in golf, Graeme McDowell

mapped out a plan last autumn. He worked out how many ranking

points he would need to get back into the top five in the

world.

And he went about it the right way. It started with his win at

the World Challenge a year ago. He won at Hilton Head on the U.S.

PGA Tour. He won the World Match Play Championship and the French

Open on the European Tour. He was third at the World Golf

Championships in Doral and Shanghai.

”I’ve got to say, I got pretty close to that target that I set

myself,” McDowell said.

Little did he know how much the target would be moving in an

extraordinary year for golf.

McDowell ended last year at No. 15 in the world. Now he is all

the way up to No. 12.

”I wasn’t really factoring on how many great players around me

were going to have incredible seasons,” McDowell said. ”So making

an impact in that top 10 in the world has been very difficult to do

this year because you just get so many guys playing incredibly

well.”

Call it bad timing for McDowell, and happy days for golf.

Rarely has the golf season – men and women – felt so rewarding

for so many players. Perhaps that explains why Tiger Woods could

win five times – more than any other player in the world – capture

the U.S. money title and the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring

average, and then listen to people discuss the definition of player

of the year and whether he is worthy without having won a

major.

Woods won the vote as the best player on the U.S. PGA Tour.

He is used to playing under a different set of standards, a

victim of his own success. Anyone else with five trophies from the

courses where he won – Torrey Pines, Doral, Bay Hill, TPC Sawgrass

and Firestone – and there would be no debate.

But this wasn’t just any other year.

Adam Scott became the first Australian to win the Masters, and

along the way earned redemption from blowing the British Open

nearly nine months earlier. He had the outright lead on the back

nine at the British Open this year before faltering. A month later,

he won The Barclays during the FedEx Cup playoffs, arguably one of

the strongest fields of the year with the tour’s top 125 players

who are all on form.

When he finally went home to show off his green jacket, Scott

won the Australian PGA Championship and the Australian Masters, and

teamed with Jason Day to give Australia its first World Cup title

in 24 years. He was poised to capture Australia’s triple crown

until Rory McIlroy beat him on the last hole in the Australian

Open.

A better year than Woods? Probably not, though it depends how

much weight is given a major.

Perhaps a better question: Did he have a better year than Phil

Mickelson?

Lefty came within a cruel lip-out of shooting a 59 in the

Phoenix Open, which he wound up winning. Showing off a short game

like no other, his chip on the 18th hole at Castle Stuart gave him

a victory in the Scottish Open. And his Sunday at Muirfield gets

little debate over the best round of the year. Mickelson made four

birdies on the last six holes for a 66 to capture the one major

that not even he thought he could win.

Who won the most meaningful major this year? Mickelson or Scott?

Best to save that argument for the bar.

Not to be forgotten is Henrik Stenson, who in April wasn’t even

eligible for the Masters. He finished one shot behind in the

Houston Open, which got him to Augusta National. But it was the

summer when the Swede began to shine.

A tie for third in the Scottish Open. Runner-up at the British

Open. Runner-up at Firestone (by seven shots to Woods), third at

the U.S. PGA Championship. He won two FedEx Cup playoff events to

win the $10 million FedEx Cup. And for good measure, he won the

final event in Europe to become the first player to win the FedEx

Cup and Race to Dubai in the same season.

Missing from the equation this year was the guy who started the

year at No. 1 – McIlroy. He still had a good view.

”You’ve got Tiger with five wins this year. Adam breaks through

for his first major. Phil wins the major he thinks he’s never going

to win. Henrik comes back,” McIlroy said. ”Yeah, it’s deep.

You’ve got to play really well to win. … Golf is in great

shape.”

On the U.S. LPGA Tour, the points-based player of the year came

down to the next-to-last week, even though Inbee Park had won three

straight majors among her six titles. Suzann Pettersen and Stacy

Lewis won the other majors. Lewis won the Vare Trophy for lowest

scoring average. Pettersen had a chance to win the money title

until she faltered in the Titleholders.

That’s what inspired tour commissioner Mike Whan to say,

”Sports are at their absolute best … when the best athletes in

that sport are having the best years of their lives.”

It’s hard to say with certainty that Woods was at his absolute

best, and not just because he didn’t win a major. It used to be

that when Woods was at his best, there was not enough wealth to go

around. Now there is.

What a year.