Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The 2012 PGA Tour season had highlights from the beginning to the very end.
Steve Stricker won the season-opener in Hawaii, and shed a few tears along the way as he is wont to do. More tears fell in the season's final event, the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, where Charlie Beljan overcame health issues to earn his first tour win.
Beljan shed many a tear that week, mostly on Friday when he barely managed to finish his round as he battled a high heart rate and had trouble catching his breath.
Tiger Woods won three times. Jason Dufner looked like he was going to win every event he started at one point, but it was Rory McIlroy who ended up having the best season.
Let's take a look at the season.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR -- The young Ulsterman
There was a time in late spring/early summer when people thought Rory McIlroy's game had abandoned him. In a span of five PGA Tour events, he missed three cuts and tied for 60th.
His best finish was a share of seventh at the FedEx St.Jude Classic. People worried that he was spending too much time with his girlfriend and not enough time playing golf.
McIlroy steadied himself with a share of fifth place at the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational. He then reminded everyone of how much talent he has.
The Northern Irishman went 11-under par over the final two rounds to cruise to an 8-stroke win over David Lynn at the PGA Championship. That was the largest margin of victory in tournament history.
After coughing up The Masters on the back nine in 2011, McIlroy has come back and won two of the next seven majors.
The PGA Championship title put him back atop the world rankings, and he quickly increased his lead atop the rankings by winning two of the four FedExCup playoff events.
Those three late wins propelled him to an easy win in the money race of Woods.
Prior to his mid-season struggles, McIlroy started the year in very good form. He lost in the final match at the WGC - Accenture Match Play Championship, and followed that with a win at The Honda Classic.
McIlroy posted two more top-3 finishes in his next three starts before his swoon.
In just 16 PGA Tour starts, McIlroy had the most top-5 finishes, eight, and matched Bo Van Pelt for most top-10 finishes with 10. Woods and Phil Mickelson were second in top-5s with seven.
With the money title, the second-place finish in the FedExCup race, the most wins this season, McIlroy was the clear choice as Player of the Year.
Woods, with three wins, was also considered as were Brandt Snedeker, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan, who all won twice this year.
TOURNAMENT OF THE YEAR -- The Olympic comeback
The U.S. Open at the Olympic Club had the perfect setup entering the final round: A former champion atop the leaderboard, a pair of long shots and several former major winners hovering not too far off the lead.
Also in the mix were two players having breakout seasons on the PGA Tour. At the end of the day, one would be crowned a major champion, but would it be the person you thought would get that crown?
The previous four U.S. Opens at Olympic Club had given us a surprise winner, and this time around would be no different.
Graeme McDowell, the 2010 champion, birdied the 17th hole to get within one of the lead, but his birdie effort at the last rolled by the left side of the cup.
Jim Furyk, the 2003 winner at Olympia Fields, led entering the final round, but had a pair of late bogeys to end two off the pace.
Michael Thompson, the first-round leader after an opening 66, closed with a 67 to post 2-over 282 after going plus-9 in the middle two rounds. Also hovering was 2001 PGA Champion David Toms, 3-time major winner Padraig Harrington, 2- time U.S. Open champ Ernie Els and Dufner, who was having a breakout season.
Toms and Harrington closed with 68s to move up the leaderboard, but it wasn't enough as the surprise winner also shot 68 in the final round.
Webb Simpson started the weekend tied for 29th at 5-over par. After a 68 in round three, he posted another 68 in the final round. Simpson, who started in the fourth-to-last group, then had to wait and see if it would be enough.
Simpson did his damage in the middle of his round. He poured in four birdies in a 5-hole stretch from the sixth to move to 1-over par. He then did what U.S. Open champions do. Simpson parred the final eight holes.
Blake Adams and Els were in the next group. Els shot 72 and finished at plus-4, while Adams closed with a 75. Lee Westwood and Fredrik Jacobson were in the penultimate group, but neither were a factor in the final round.
That left it to the final twosome of Furyk and McDowell.
McDowell struggled early, but fought back with birdies at 11 and 12. He tripped to a bogey at 14, but got within one thanks to a birdie at the 17th. He couldn't birdie the last to force a playoff.
Furyk had a bogey and eight pars on the front nine, and stood at even-par heading to the final nine. A bogey by Furyk at 13 dropped him into a share of the lead with Simpson at plus-1.
The 2003 champion hit a quick hook off the tee at 16 and scrambled for a bogey to fall one back. He parred 17 and needed a birdie at the last to force a playoff. Instead, Furyk dumped his approach in a bunker and that led to a closing bogey.
The win was the biggest of Simpson's career and propelled him to his first Ryder Cup appearance.
Other tournaments that were considered included were The Masters, which had a slew of impressive shots leading up with Bubba Watson's playoff win over Louis Oosthuizen, and the Europeans miraculous comeback at the Ryder Cup.
SHOT OF THE YEAR -- Bubba and the pine straw
This year's Masters Tournament could have been chosen as the shot of the year by itself.
First, you had Mickelson's crazy flop shot in the third round at No. 15. If that wasn't good enough, Louis Oosthuizen holed his second shot at the par-5 second for double-eagle in the final round.
He was the first to record an albatross on that hole, and became the fourth player in Masters history to post a double-eagle.
However, they were topped by the shot that won the tournament for Watson.
Watson and Oosthuizen matched pars on No. 18, the first playoff hole and moved to the 10th for the second extra hole. Watson pulled his drive into the right trees, but knew he would have a shot.
"I was there earlier today, so I was used to it," Watson joked at the green jacket presentation. "I had a good lie, had a gap where I had to hook it 40 yards or something. I just hooked it up there, somehow, it nestled close to the hole."
You have that shot, right? A 40-yard hook with a wedge to 10 feet to win the Masters. Not many do have that shot in their bag, but to the man that does, Watson, gets Shot of the Year honors.
Other shots in the mix were Mickelson and Oosthuizen's shots at The Masters as well as Nick Watney's double-eagle at the U.S. Open and Woods' chip shot on No. 16 at the Memorial.
ROOKIE OF YEAR -- No questions here
I've been known to call people by their nicknames once in a while, and one PGA Tour rookie had one bestowed upon him early in the year.
John Huh played his way onto the PGA Tour at via 2011 Q School. Prior to this season, he had never made a PGA Tour or Web.com Tour start.
Early in the season, Huh shared sixth at the Farmers Insurance Open, then tied for 12th at the Phoenix Open. One of those weeks, I believe it was Gary McCord from CBS that referred to Huh as the "Question Mark."
And soon enough, the Question Mark answered every inquiry. He teed it up at the Mayakoba Golf Classic at Riviera, an event being played opposite the WGC - Match Play Championship.
Huh closed with a 63 to match Robert Allenby at 13-under 271. The rookie and Australian veteran battled through seven holes of a playoff. They matched pars all seven times.
Finally, on the eighth extra hole, Huh made another par to deny Allenby his first tour win since 2001.
Huh also finished second at the Texas Open. He went on to become the only rookie to qualify for the Tour Championship, which made him just the fifth rookie to make that event since the inception of the FedExCup in 2007.
Any questions about who the Rookie of the year was?
Fall Series winners Jonas Blixt and Charlie Beljan were among the others under consideration, as were Bud Cauley and Ted Potter, Jr.
- Tiger Woods finally snapped his winless streak. In fact, he won three times and finished second on the money list. Just a good year though. It's only a great year if you win a major, as Tiger frequently reminds us.
- Therefore, Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els all had great years. They won the season's first three majors and all were in the top 20 on the money list. The year was extra special for Watson, who adopted his first child, and Simpson, whose wife gave birth to the couples second child.
- Brandt Snedeker won the Farmers Insurance Open early in the year, then closed the season with a win at the Tour Championship, which also gave him the FedExCup title.
- Jason Dufner had two wins and two second-place finishes, three of which came in a 4-event span between The Masters and the U.S. Open. He took fourth on the money list and his nine top-10 finishes were second-most behind Rory McIlroy and Bo Van Pelt.
- Charlie Beljan was the only player in the top 100 on the money list that made fewer than 10 cuts, but his performance at the season-ending Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic was one for the ages. He battled through a rapid heart rate and shortness of breath to win the title and keep his tour card. He started the week 139th on the money list, but ended it 63rd after earning the win and keeping his tour card for two more years.
- Jim Furyk did finish 12th on the money list, but he coughed up the U.S. Open and the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational and went 1-2 at the Ryder Cup, where he lost the final two holes to Sergio Garcia to lose his singles match, 1-down.
- Trevor Immelman, the 2008 Masters champion, made just 13 cuts in 24 starts and finished 129th on the money list. Lucky for him, he still has his tour card for another year thanks to his win at Augusta National.
- Anthony Kim battled injury throughout the year and made just two cuts in 10 starts.
- J.J. Killeen (33), Matt Bettencourt (31) and Sung Kang (30) all finished outside the top 150 on the money list despite their high number of events played.