As 2010s wind down, golf’s transcendent star stands out in a 10-year era of major achievers and unforgettable moments
As the 2010s come to an end, the decade was filled with events that elevated players to the top rungs of golf, changed the way other players were perceived and, in many ways, altered the way the game was played. Here are 10 of those moments:
Tiger’s resurrection (2019) – It was the seminal event of the past 10 years. The greatest player of his generation, and arguably the greatest ever, had been written off by nearly everyone in golf after physical and personal issues had taken Woods out of the game. His last major title was the 2008 U.S. Open, when he won at Torrey Pines in 91 holes on a broken leg. So, for Woods to win the Masters at age 43 for his 15th major, was one of the great sports stories of all time. He put an exclamation point on the comeback by winning the Zozo Championship in Japan in October for his 82nd PGA Tour victory, tying the late Sam Snead. When it appeared the game was leaving without him, Woods sent the message that he was far from done.
Open repeat (2018) – When Brooks Koepka won the 2017 U.S. Open, it was contested at Erin Hills, an untested Open course that Koepka manhandled at 16 under par. But when the Open came to Shinnecock Hills the following year, it would take a complete player to win. Koepka still was thought of as strictly a bomber, but he demonstrated that he could excel at every phase and wound up as the only player to survive under par. He was No. 1 in the world and became the prototype for the modern player.
Back-to-back again (2019) – Koepka’s second consecutive PGA Championship at Bethpage Black proved a couple of things. One, that Koepka could win a major under duress. In the final round, he made four bogeys in a row, which reduced his seven-shot lead to one. He ended up winning by two. The other, that Koepka had become a major force. He was the first player to hold back-to-back majors simultaneously. Plus, he had won three of five majors at the time and four of the eight in which he had competed. Now, when major favorites are listed, Koepka is near the top of the chart.
Chasing the Grand Slam (2015) – Jordan Spieth was all of 21 when he won his first major, tying the 72-hole scoring record at the Masters and becoming the second-youngest player to win a green jacket. At the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, he survived Dustin Johnson’s three-putt on the final hole to win by one. But at the British Open, with visions of a Grand Slam, Spieth bogeyed the 17th on Sunday and missed a playoff by one shot. Anticlimactically, Spieth was runner-up to Jason Day at the PGA Championship. But it was the greatest individual major year since Woods in 2000.
Miracle at Medinah (2012) – Ian Poulter established himself as the emotional leader of the European Ryder Cup team during the week. Whether with a partner or in singles, Poulter seemingly was making another birdie at every turn, accompanied by a wild-eyed scream. His influence seemed to rub off during the Sunday singles when, especially late in the day, putts were flying in from everywhere as the Europeans came storming back after falling behind 10-6 after the foursomes and four-balls. The Americans needed only 4½ points on Sunday to win the cup. Instead, Europe won eight and tied one singles match to complete a dramatic and improbable comeback.
Prize at Pinehurst (2014) – Michelle Wie was one of women’s golf’s most popular players, plus someone with a world of promise since she qualified for a USGA event at age 10 and received an exemption into a PGA Tour event at age 14. But 10 years later, she still hadn’t won a major championship on the LPGA Tour. The U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2 was the first time the men’s and women’s Opens were played in consecutive weeks at the same venue. Wie elevated the level of her game to suit the occasion, winning by two over Stacy Lewis, who at the time was No. 3 in the world. At least for a week, Wie had fulfilled her considerable potential.
Major McIlroy (2014) – Rory McIlroy had two major championships to his credit at the turn of 2014, but he had come off a disappointing 2013. In the second half of the year, he cemented his place as one of the brightest young talents in the game. At Royal Liverpool, he beat Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler by two strokes to win the British Open. And at Valhalla, he kept Phil Mickelson from his sixth major by winning the PGA Championship, beating Mickelson by one, finishing in darkness. Four majors at 25 put McIlroy in the company of Woods and Jack Nicklaus.
Hallelujah, Hazeltine (2016) – The stakes were high for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. The Americans broke a three-match losing streak when Paul Azinger led the U.S. to victory in 2008. And now, the U.S. had lost another three in a row, six of the previous seven. A U.S. task force had been formed to try to find a way to duplicate the 2008 success, which led to snickers from Europe. Love was brought on for a second stint as captain. The U.S. ran away with a 17-11 victory, accentuated by Patrick Reed’s emotional singles victory over McIlroy, which has become a symbol of the modern Ryder Cup.
Dustin time (2016) – Dustin Johnson had chances at major championships, but fate or poor play had kept him from claiming his first big title. But at Oakmont, Johnson not only survived perhaps the toughest major venue but he also managed to compartmentalize another seemingly colossal bad break. He was told on the 12th tee that he might be penalized for his ball moving on the fifth green, even though he had been absolved by the walking official. Johnson put his head down and finished the round with a four-shot lead. Johnson was, indeed, penalized one shot but won by three anyway. Most importantly, it led to a rule change about a ball moving on the green.
Lefty and links (2013) – Phil Mickelson never had a love-hate relationship with the British Open because there was no love. Mickelson had but two top 10 finishes at the Open in 19 tries before 2013. Coming into the Open, Mickelson had suffered another close call at the U.S. Open at Merion, his sixth runner-up finish in the national championship. The week before the British Open, he inexplicably won the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart in a playoff. Then, at Muirfield, he made birdies on four of the final six holes to win by three. It wasn’t the Open that he was expecting, but it was his fifth major.