Top 5 Stories of the Year
31 OCT 2017
By Dave Kaplan
Here are the top five storylines that stand out as the most interesting narratives from the past year:
#5 Canadian Success
The 2016-17 season was, unquestionably, one of the most successful seasons ever for Canadians on the PGA Tour. In November, rookie Mackenzie Hughes won the RSM Classic in just his fifth start on the PGA Tour after outdueling three other players in a Monday morning playoff. The Dundas, Ont., native opened the tournament with a 9-under 61, made 23 birdies for the week, and took home a cheque for $1.08 million.
Two months later, Adam Hadwin dazzled golf fans everywhere by shooting a 59 in the third round of the CareerBuilder Challenge!
The Moose Jaw native made birdies on all but five holes in that incredible round, but ultimately finished the tournament in second place, just one shot back of winner Hudson Swafford. Fortunately, Hadwin found the winner’s circle for the first time in his career just five events later at the Valspar Championship, thanks to putts like this one in the final round:
And let’s not forget about Austin Connelly, who came out of nowhere to challenge Jordan Spieth and Matt Kuchar for the Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale! The 20-year-old, who started the week ranked 524th in the world, was one of the best stories of the tournament. Connelly opened the event with a 67, posted a 66 on Moving Day to jump into a tie for third place with Brooks Koepka after 54 holes, and then fired off a 73 in the final round to finish the week in 14th place. Not too shabby for a major debut!
#4 DJ’s Disappointing Four-Win Season
I know what you’re probably thinking — how can a four-win season possibly be considered a disappointment?
Well, I’ll tell you.
Dustin Johnson started his 2016-17 season like a bat out of hell. Not only did he rack up five finishes of 6th place or better over his first seven starts, but the South Carolinian also won three straight tournaments, including two WGC events, prior to the Masters in April.
During that stretch, Johnson surpassed Day as the top-ranked player in the world and appeared to be on the brink of a historic season. However, on the eve of the year’s first major, the 33-year-old slipped on a flight of stairs in his rental home and bruised his bask so severely that he was forced to withdraw from the tournament.
Johnson returned to action in early May at the Wells Fargo, where he finished the week in a tie for second place. Yet, despite the great result, it was abundantly clear that the 16-time PGA Tour winner was not firing on as many cylinders as he had before the injury. And unfortunately, he did not regain that mojo for the remainder of the regular season. DJ missed the cut at the US Open, tied for 54th at the Open, and only netted one more Top-10 finish prior to the FedEx Cup Playoffs (a T8 at the Canadian Open).
He did, however, salvage his year with a playoff victory over Jordan Spieth in the first round of the playoffs, when he turned the first extra hole into a pitch and putt with this gargantuan drive over the water:
(As a side note, Johnson continued his perplexing play at the WGC HSBC Champions last week where he blew a six shot lead in the final round and let Justin Rose steal a trophy that already DJ’s name pencilled in for the engraver.)
#3 Sergio’s First Major
After 73 previously unsuccessful attempts, Sergio Garcia finally captured his first major title at the Masters in April on what would have been the 60th birthday of his hero, Seve Ballesteros.
Yet what made this victory even more special was that practically no one saw it coming!
The Spaniard was essentially an afterthought heading into the event with so much of the pre-tournament hype surrounding DJ and Spieth. However, after DJ withdrew and Spieth opened the tournament with a three-over 75, an opportunity presented itself to Garcia and he seized it.
Garcia shot under par in each of the four rounds and held a share of the lead after both 36 and 54 holes. And despite making back-to-back hiccup bogeys on the 10th and 11th holes on Sunday to start his final nine, Garcia rebounded with a birdie and an eagle down the stretch to tie Justin Rose at 9-under and send the tournament into extra holes!
It only took one playoff hole for Garcia to claim his first Green Jacket. After Rose hit a wayward tee shot to the right, Garcia smashed a cut down the middle, hit his approach to 12 feet and then drained the putt for a birdie to win.
#2 The Emergence of Justin Thomas
After winning the CIMB Classic and racking up seven Top 10s in 2015-16, it seemed as if Justin Thomas was poised to break through as one of the next young superstars in the sport.
However, I don’t think anybody expected that transformation to occur as quickly as it did this past season!
JT successfully defended his title at the CIMB Classic in November and then won back-to-back tournaments in January at the SBS Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open. The 24-year-old also accrued Top 5 finishes at the WGC-Mexico, the Zurich Classic, and the Memorial, before bagging his first major title at the PGA Championship in August. In September, Thomas won the Dell Technologies Championship for his fifth victory of the season and then finished as the runner up at the Tour Championship to clinch the FedEx Cup.
During the season, Thomas shot a total of nine rounds of 64 or better, including a 59 at the Sony Open, and was one of the most consistent players in nearly every important statistical category. He also earned just shy of $20 million in earnings and was voted the PGA Tour Player of the Year by his peers.
#1 Spieth’s Final Nine at Royal Birkdale
Spieth began his final round at the Open Championship three shots ahead of Matt Kuchar, but that lead disappeared in less than an hour on Sunday as the Texan bogeyed three of his first four holes.
However, on the 13th hole, Spieth turned everything around with a bogey for the ages! After pushing his tee shot significantly right of the fairway into a giant grassy knoll, the 24-year-old spent over 30 minutes with his caddie, Michael Greller, looking for a suitable place to take relief.
Spieth eventually settled on a flat section of the driving range near the tour equipment vans and then proceeded to hit one of the greatest most clutch recovery shots that you will ever see.
The 11-time PGA Tour winner then got up-and-down to save his bogey, before going on the type of scoring spree that we amateurs can only dream about. Over the next four holes, Spieth made three birdies and an eagle to open a three-shot lead on Kuchar and clinch his first career Claret Jug.
Dave Kaplan is a Toronto-based freelance writer and golf fanatic who is sneaky long off the tee. He’s on a crusade to inject a youthful perspective into golf media, especially the broadcast booth. Follow him on Twitter @davykap