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| BEST OF 2012

Player of the Year

The Best of

OK, so he didn’t exactly thrill us at the UBS Hong Kong Open this time around but with five victories – including a second career Major at the US PGA Championship – Rory McIlroy well and truly lived up to world number one billing. Not that he had everything go his way. A string of missed cuts if the first half of the season – which came after a disappointing weekend at Augusta – had the naysayers out in force, but the 23-year-old Ulsterman roared back when it mattered, claiming two of the four FedEx Cup Playoff events on the PGA Tour, the aforementioned US PGA (by a staggering eightshot margin of victory) and the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. McIlroy won the money list titles in both Europe and America and played a significant role in Europe’s epic Ryder Cup win. He also beat his childhood hero Tiger Woods in an exhibition match in China, the so-called ‘Duel at Jinsha Lake’. Ten years ago they were all chasing Woods; now McIlroy is the man to beat.

2012

Alex Jenkins turns his attention to the winners (and losers) over the past 12 months

Winner: Rory McIlroy

Performance of the Year

Photo credit: Charles McLaughlin (Ryder Cup); AFP (Rory McIlroy)

Clockwise from top: Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald, Justin Rose and Graeme McDowell celebrate Europe’s dramapacked win at last year’s Ryder Cup, for us the best tournament of the year; while Rory McIlroy failed to fire at Fanling, his form over the course of 2012 was easily enough for him to win player of the year; the colourful Ian Poulter was the driving force for the Europeans at Medinah, where he put in a quite stunning performance 24

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Tournament of the Year

The Masters was t hrilling, t he Open Championship absorbing, but no event in 2012 came close to providing the sheer drama of the Ryder Cup, not even the UBS Hong Kong Open which saw Miguel Angel Jiménez cement his place in Fanling history with a third title in nine years. Rallying back from four points adrift with a gripping final-day singles performance, the Europeans at Medinah echoed what the United States had done in 1999 in making the seemingly impossible happen. “I don’t know what heaven feels like, but it must be close to this,” said euphoric European skipper José María Olazábal after Martin

Kaymer holed a five-foot putt to ensure the Cup would be heading back across the Atlantic. The style of Europe’s victory was a fitting tribute to the late Seve Ballesteros, the man who did so much to reinvigorate the competition and whose trademark navy blue and white the team wore on the final day in Chicago. “Seve will always be present with this team,” continued Olazábal, Ballesteros’ longtime foursomes and fourballs partner. “He was a big factor for this event, for the European side. Last night we had a meeting, I think the boys understood that believing was the most important thing. And I think they did.”

Love him or loath him there’s no doubt that Ian Poulter put in a performance for the ages at the Ryder Cup. He may not be the best ballstriker on Tour, nor the longest hitter, but the colourful Englishman, the 2010 Hong Kong Open champion, has belief and determination by the bucketload. Match play golf is what he does best – and the Ryder Cup, judging by his numerous tweets, is what he lives for. At Medinah, Poulter was unstoppable. Wielding a putter that can only be described as furnace-hot, he single-handedly took the fight to the Americans at a time when Europe, trailing by six points with only two games left of the Saturday fourballs left out on the course, looked completely out of it. In partnership with McIlroy, Poulter made five consecutive birdies – his eyes bulging out of their sockets and his fists pumping as every putt dropped – to close out their match against Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson 1up. But just as importantly, it gave his team hope. A 2-up win over US Open champion Webb Simpson in the singles also gave him his seventh win in a row at the Ryder Cup. “He’s a guy like Monty or Seve,” the likeable US captain Davis Love said at the time. “This is what they live for. He loves playing on this kind of stage. It was tough on us, but it was very exciting.”

Winner: The Ryder Cup

Winner: Ian Poulter (Ryder Cup) HKGOLFER.COM

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Ernie Els took advantage of Adam Scott’s dramatic late collapse to win the 2012 Open Championship

AFP

Comeback of the Year

Having failed to qualify for the Masters in April for the first time since 1993, Ernie Els, aged 42, bounced back to win his fourth Major at the Open Championship at Lytham in July, courtesy of some brilliant final-round play and Adam Scott’s dramatic late collapse. The Big Easy started the final day six shots behind Scott and ended up winning by one – nearly 10 years to the day since he won his last major, the 2002 Open at Muirfield. Scott’s fall from grace – despite not playing anything like as well as on the first three days, he still lead by four from Els with just four holes to play – was uncomfortable to watch, but on the flip side, seeing the towering South African playing – and significantly, putting – like he did in his glory days was as pleasing as it was surprising. While he missed a chance at the 17th, the popular Els holed a tricky 12-footer on the last for a must-make birdie, and by the time the unfortunate Scott tapped in at the 18th for his fourth consecutive bogey, the R&A-hired engraver was already etching the shortest name – E Els – on the Claret Jug for the second time. “I feel for my buddy,” said Els of Scott. “I have been there, lost Majors, lost tournaments. I just hope he does not take it as hard as I did. I’m so happy to have won but I have been there at the other end more.” Winner: Ernie Els (Open Championship)

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Equipment of the Year

For the second year in a row, the Masters was decided in the woods lining the 10th fairway. In 2011 on Sunday it was McIlroy’s disastrous drive into the trees left of the fairway that knocked him out of contention and opened the door for Charl Schwartzel. This year, it was Bubba Watson’s hooked wedge shot from deep in the trees on the other side that somehow, against all right and reason, wound up 15 feet from the pin. Two putts later, he had defeated Louis Oosthuizen in a play-off and won the Green Jacket. “I had to keep it under 15 feet under a tree, then it started rising and hooked about 40 yards. Pretty easy,” said an unbelievably modest Watson of his 160-yard stroke of genius. Amazingly, Watson’s effort was the second truly historic shot of the day. The first came on the par-5 second hole when Oosthuizen holed out for an albatross from 253 yards with a four-iron. It was the first albatross ever recorded on that hole, and the fourth in Masters history. But, at the end of it all, it still wasn’t enough to defeat Watson and his own particular brand of “Bubba Golf”.

When it was confirmed that McIlroy wou ld b e play i ng his last tournament using Tit leist clubs a t t h e D P Wo r l d Tour Championship in Dubai, before h is expected – a nd purpor ted ly high ly lucrative – move to Nike equipment, the world nu mb er one quashed any doubts that this might affect his bl istering form in rather surprising fashion. “I think all t he m a nu f ac t u rer s make great equipment nowadays and it’s all very similar – a lot of them get their clubs made at t he sa me fac tories,” he sa id. W hat t he head of public relations at Nike t hought about t his has not been recorded, but McIlroy is right in the sense that, unlike 15 years ago and before, golf gear has never been better. And while our winner of this category in 2011 – the increasingly popular belly putter – has hit a snag given that the governing bodies have effectively banned its use from 2016 onwards, there is one piece of equipment which the pros continue to use in their droves: the Titleist Pro V1. The most-used ball on the PGA Tour, the European Tour, the Japanese Tour, the LPGA Tour and the Asian Tour, an estimated 60 per cent of professionals tee it up with a Pro V1 – or the Pro V1x – making it overwhelmingly the most popular piece of equipment in the game today.FFor those who can’t quite bring themselves to shell out the requisite HK$360 for a box of 12, we recommend the Titleist Velocity, which while lacking the same unparalleled feel of the Pro V1 around the greens, is still soft enough to generate spin and flies significantly longer. At nearly half the price of the Pro V1, the Velocity has found its way into an increasing number of amateurs’ bags since it was unveiled early last year.

Winner: Bubba Watson (Masters)

Winner: Titleist Pro V1

Shot of the Year

AFP

Bubba Watson played this miraculous 160-yard wedge to within 15 feet of the flag in a play-off to defeat Louis Oosthuizen for the Masters title. “Pretty easy” was how the American described his brilliant shot. 28

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Quote of the Year

“Annika told me that world number one is the loneliest place on the earth,” said Taiwan’s Yani Tseng, referring to Annika Sorenstam, at the unveiling of an exhibit in Taipei that celebrated Tseng’s rise to the top to the pinnacle of the game. Despite getting off to a brilliant start in 2012 – she won three of the first five events – Tseng has since struggled with her game and, despite clinging to her ranking, her name has been conspicuously absent from leaderboards in recent months. Winner: Yani Tseng

Despite winning three of her first five events of 2012, Taiwan’s Yani Tseng (right) has found life at the top of the rankings tough. “Annika told me that world number one is the loneliest place on the earth,” she is quoted as saying; Jungle Bird, our villain of the year, gets tossed off the 18th green at the US Open by USGA Chief Executive Mike Davis

Destination of the Year

Tom Harack

The 18th hole at Danang Golf Club, a standout course on the Central Vietnam Coast, our travel destination of the year. 30

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Scotland, the West coast of the United States, Melbourne, Ireland, South Africa – all rightly famous golf destinations, but ones that, for us in Hong Kong at least, aren’t exactly suitable for a quick break away. Enter Danang, Vietnam’s third city and a growing tourism destination in its own right. Three years ago, golf wasn’t even on the radar. Now, the place is home to three of the finest courses to have emerged in Southeast Asia in the last decade. There’s the Dunes Course at Danang Golf Club, a brilliant sandbelt-style track that lies within sight of historic China Beach. This Greg Norman design arrived hot on the heels of Montgomerie Links, an expansive modern layout

featuring the linksy characteristics of Colin Montgomerie’s homeland. The newest of this Great Triumvirate is Laguna Lang Co, situated about an hour north of the city on the road to the UNESCO World Heritage site at Hue. The work of Nick Faldo and the centrepiece of a Banyan Tree-led resort development, the course here winds through rice paddies, rocky outcrops and sandy wastes, and features several fantastic coastal holes around the turn. Combine this great golf with a slew of upmarket hotels, the charming old town of nearby Hoi An and an increasing number of fine restaurants and watering holes and it comes as no surprise to learn that Danang welcomed a record number of overseas visitors in 2012. Winner: Danang, Vietnam

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No, it’s not John Daly, who was fined by the European Tour for hurling a club during the second round of the Hong Kong Open, but Andrew Dudley, aka Jungle Bird, the onerous cretin who crashed Webb Simpson’s US Open trophy presentation in what he claimed was a bid to raise awareness about deforestation. USGA Chief Executive Mike Davis was so incensed by Dudley that he shoved him into a bunker before police officers arrested the 41-year-old Brit. He was later released without charge.

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Photo credit: AFP (Tseng); Charles McLaughlin (Jungle Bird)

Villain of the Year

That wasn’t the end of Jungle Bird however. Soon afterwards he invaded the pitch at an American Football game in Ireland and then made an appearance – without upsetting anyone – at the Open Championship at Lytham. Then, in September, he reappeared, this time at the Women’s British Open, where he interrupted winner Jiyai Shin’s press conference. He hasn’t been heard from since, thankfully. Winner: Jungle Bird

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