As the year ends, we’re taking a look at the winners and losers of 2010. First, we reviewed the best shots. Then, we cringed through the greatest meltdowns, a category where the options certainly weren’t lacking this year. Now, let’s check out some players that exceeded the expectations set for them at the start of the season. But before you dig in, consider some of the guys that distinguished themselves in 2010. If I missed one of your faves, email me. Or just drop it in the comments below. A special thanks to Intern Kevin for his assistance.
5. Bill Haas. As a three-time All-American at Wake Forest, he was a stud in the college ranks, winning ten tournaments and just about every award possible — the Haskins Award, the Jack Nicklaus Award, the Ben Hogan Award. He also set an NCAA record for lowest scoring average. Haas was a member of the 2003 Walker Cup team and two Palmer Cup teams. Naturally, when he turned pro in 2004, there were major expectations for him to do the amazing and win right out the gate. After four relatively disappointing seasons — not that they were atrocious, he still kept his card — he was kinda considered an underachiever because of how talented he is. Basically, he “underachieved” for four years, so when he broke out and won twice in 2010 (the Bob Hope Classic and the Viking Classic), he turned into an overachiever.
4. Brendon de Jonge. At the start of the year, de Jonge was a relative unknown — a journeyman that bounced from the Nationwide Tour and the PGA Tour throughout his career. He lost his card last season and earned it back at Q-school. Whatever he did in the off-season, it worked because a new and improved de Jonge debuted in 2010. He turned into one of the most consistent players on Tour with 7 top-tens, including three third-place finishes. And he performed well on good courses with strong fields, too, such as the Wells Fargo Championship, the Honda Classic and the Memorial. At the US Open, his name stayed on the leaderboard for the first two rounds before he slipped back to finish T33. In the second round of the PGA Championship, he carded 9 birdies to come back and make the cut after a crummy opening round. Oh, and of course, de Jonge ended the year 51st in FedEx Cup points. Woot! Now let’s see if he can follow his breakout season in 2012.
3. Louis Oosthuizen. Not much comes to mind other than that one week in Scotland when the toothy South African brought St. Andrews to its knees to capture the British Open by an overwhelming seven strokes. No big deal! When Oosty emerged as the second round leader, most announcers frantically tried to learn how to pronounce “Oosthuizen,” but I’m not sure a common ground was ever reached. Big bonus points for Louis with the media when he sent cases of champagne to the press tent. Other than dominating at a major, did he do anything else? He won a European Tour event, the Open de Andalucia in March. After St. Andrews, he was hit with the injury bug. Supposedly, he’s set to reappear on the PGA Tour in 2011.
2. Matt Kuchar. Previous to 2010, Kuchar was a pretty average player. He lost his card a few times and bounced in between the PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour for a few years in the mid-2000s. He had a seven-year gap between wins, with his first at the Honda Classic in 2002 and his second at Turning Stone in 2009. But it wasn’t until some time in 2010 that he was the guy you expected to be in contention nearly every week. Kuchar was the most consistent player on the PGA Tour in 2010, notching a tour-high 11 top-tens. Winning The Barclays validated his phenomenal season. He captured the Tour money title, the Vardon Trophy (lowest scoring average) and earned enough points to make the US Ryder Cup team. Kuchar may also be the nicest guy on Tour — or at least the one who smiles the most.
1. Graeme McDowell. This is a no-brainer. Do I really have to explain? He went from a good player who had won a handful of times on the European Tour to a world-class player. Of course, G-Mac’s dream year started when he indirectly benefited from Tiger’s troubles in 2009 and got into the Chevron as a last-minute replacement. He finished second there, which helped boost his world ranking to get into some tournaments he may not have without that start, including the US Open. G-Mac grinded it out to outlast the rest of the field, including the likes of Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.
This major win set off a whole new life for G-Mac. He definitely wasn’t done making a name for himself. Next up, he was the hero at the Ryder Cup, sinking a clutch putt in the final match to clinch the victory for Europe.
And then G-Mac pulled off an incredible come-from-behind victory to beat Tiger at the Chevron World Challenge. With Tiger in tap-in range for birdie, McDowell needed to make a 20-footer to force the playoff on the last hole in regulation. He drained it and then made another similar putt on the first playoff hole to tame Tiger. Now that’s a way to cap a beyond awesome year. Coincidentally, it came full circle for G-Mac — the ’09 Chevron helped catapult his dream season and the ’10 Chevron validated his status as a marquee player. (Even if the event is an exhibition.)
I never get sick of watching this clip.
Your turn. Drop your thoughts below!