Doug Ferguson: Looking back at the shots that defined this year in golf
Every club in the bag had a story to tell this year.
Some of them were breathtaking, such as Gary Woodland boldly going for the green on the 14th hole at Pebble Beach in the U.S. Open. Some of them were devastating, such as Francesco Molinari going into Rae’s Creek at the Masters.
What follows are 14 shots from every club in the bag of those who won majors, those who didn’t and some who didn’t win at all.
Jordan Spieth was in range of the lead Saturday in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am when he hit a drive so far left on the 13th hole he had no idea where it was. He looked along the edge of the adjacent ninth fairway. He even went down toward the ocean in case the ball ran through the ninth fairway and over the cliff. Finally, it was found 150 yards off the tee after striking a tree. Spieth made double bogey, and then another on the 18th with a drive off the rocks and into the ocean. It was the one club that contributed to a second straight year without a win.
Gary Woodland had a one-shot lead in the final round at Pebble Beach, with Brooks Koepka one shot behind and applying enormous pressure. He had 263 yards on the par-5 14th. Miss left and there’s no chance to get it close. Out-of-bounds stakes were on the right. He pulled 3-wood and narrowly cleared a cavernous bunker, leaving him a simple up-and-down for birdie that sent him to his first major.
For the first time in 68 years, the British Open returned to Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, the homeland of Rory McIlroy. This is where he shot 61 to win the North of Ireland Amateur, heralding his future as a star. This is what the people came to see. And on Thursday, after a raucous ovation, McIlroy hit 2-iron left and out-of-bounds. He made quadruple-bogey 8 and wasn’t around on the weekend.
Jennifer Kupcho was two shots behind with six holes to play in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur when she hit 3-hybrid twice that added her to the back-nine lore at the home of the Masters. With the ball above her feet, she hit her second to the par-5 13th from 211 yards to 6 feet for eagle to tie for the lead. Two holes later, she hit a hard draw with her 3-hybrid around a tree, over the water to the back edge of the green on the par-5 15th. She played the last six holes in 5 under to win.
Shane Lowry had a two-shot lead over Tommy Fleetwood late Saturday at Royal Portrush when he came to the par-3 16th known as “Calamity Corner,” with a 50-foot drop to the right that is daunting with a back pin. Lowry ripped a 4-iron that never left its target and rolled out to 10 feet for birdie. Another birdie on the 17th sent him to a 63, a four-shot lead, the loudest noise he’d ever heard on a golf course and his first major at the British Open.
Dustin Johnson went from a six-shot deficit to one shot behind in one hour on the back nine Sunday at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. He was in perfect position on the 16th fairway to apply enormous pressure on Brooks Koepka. He had 194 yards into the wind on a slightly elevated green. He switched from a 4-iron to a 5-iron to be sure to stay short of the flag. He still doesn’t know how that 5-iron one-hopped over the back of the green, leading to bogey to end his chances. Johnson ended another year without a major. “I don’t know how it flew 200 yards into the wind like that,” he said.
Rory McIlroy was coming off a bogey and suddenly was one shot behind Sunday at The Players Championship when he sent his tee shot well right and into a bunker right of the 15th fairway. It was an awkward angle and a tough shot. He went with 6-iron into 15 feet for a birdie and was on his way to victory. McIlroy called it one of his best shots of the year. His caddie, Harry Diamond, might have said it in simpler terms as the ball was in the air. “Some shot, there.” Indeed.
Jim Furyk wasn’t even eligible for The Players Championship until a top-10 finish two weeks earlier made him one of the last into the field. He almost wound up first. Furyk hit 7-iron into the 18th at the TPC Sawgrass so good he started walking after it before it plopped down 3 feet from the hole for birdie and a closing 67. That gave him a one-shot lead until McIlroy rallied to beat him. At 48, after his Ryder Cup captaincy, the finish made Furyk eligible for the last three majors of the year.
Francesco Molinari appeared to be in total control at the Masters. He had a two-shot lead and had made only one bogey in 54 holes. Going with a chip 8-iron, he caught enough wind on the par-3 12th that his ball landed on the bank and rolled into the water, a double bogey that enabled Tiger Woods to tie for the lead. Woods took the lead for good two holes later, and Molinari’s hopes ended with a double bogey on the 15th.
Tiger Woods stood on the 12th tee in the final round of the Masters as the two other players in his group, Molinari and Tony Finau, went at the pin and wound up in the water. Woods chose 9-iron and played it some 60 feet away from the flag, safe in the heart of the green. He two-putted for par. There was nothing exciting about the shot except for the decision that went into it, which ultimately led to a fifth green jacket.
Jeff Maggert was given new life in the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship when Retief Goosen missed a 3-foot birdie in a playoff for the win. Two holes later, with Goosen already 8 feet away for a birdie chance, Maggert hit pitching wedge into the 17th that landed in front of the cup and dropped for eagle. The final shot of the PGA Tour Champions season was one he won’t forget.
Brooks Koepka already had mauled Bethpage Black into the PGA Championship record book with the lowest 36-hole score in major championship history and largest 54-hole lead (seven shots) in tournament history. While it turned tight at the end, one moment illustrated his sheer power. On the 502-yard 10th hole with a helping wind, Koepka hit gap wedge to 2 feet for birdie that gave him a six-shot lead. It was big enough that not even a sloppy back nine could keep him from repeating as PGA champion.
Gary Woodland added his own memory to the 17th hole at Pebble Beach in the U.S. Open. He was on the far right side of the hourglass green, with the pin in its Sunday position to the left. Brooks Koepka was just behind the green on the par-5 18th, two shots behind. Woodland couldn’t afford bogey. With the ridge in the middle making it impossible to get it close, Woodland opted for a 64-degree wedge that came off so perfectly he nearly holed it. Instead, he tapped in for a par and had a beautiful stroll to the 18th green for his first major title.
Suzann Pettersen was a last-minute pick for the Solheim Cup, and she had the last shot on Sunday at Gleneagles. Make the 7-footer and Europe wins the Solheim Cup. Miss it and the Americans win. Pettersen thrust her arms in the air as the ball took its last turn into the cup. Not since 1933 had any of the professional Cups been decided by a putt with the last stroke. Pettersen, still soaked in champagne, announced her retirement an hour later. The ultimate walk-off.