As 2011 has ended and the 2012 season is upon us, we’re (still) taking an obligatory look at the winners and losers of 2011. First, we reviewed the best shots. Then, we cringed through the greatest meltdowns. We also checked out some players who were considered overachievers. Now — with most of the credit going to Intern Shoshana — let’s take a gander at those who had the most disappointing seasons. Before you dig in, consider some of the guys that distinguished themselves in 2011.
5. Jeff Overton — Jeff became the first player to automatically qualify for the 2010 U.S. Ryder Cup team without a win. But coming off a stellar summer and a good rookie performance at the RC, logic would suggest his first trip to the winner’s circle was merely a matter of time. Instead, he went backwards in 2011, failing to even contend most of the year (best finish was a T3 at the ATT national). He capped off a forgettable year with an arrest in Bloomington, home to the University of Indiana, where Jeff played his college golf and still resides.
4. Phil Mickelson — It’s strange to categorize a year that included a win and seven top tens as a disappointment, but naturally, Phil pulled it off. Since Tiger’s fall from grace, some expected Phil would be the one to step up in his absence (note: we are aware of his issues, but unlike an injury, arthritis is not something that is going away). Instead, this year Phil only contended once after March at the Open Championship, where he had a chance to take home the Claret Jug going into the back nine before missing several short putts. Which was the story of Phil’s season — and led to a short-lived switch to the belly putter for the FedExCup playoffs. He returned to his conventional putter and some form at the Presidents Cup. By the end of 2011 Phil had fallen from 4th to 14th in the Official World Golf Rankings.
3. Graeme McDowell — Coming off a breakthrough season in 2010 (which grabbed him overachiever honors), G-Mac, arguably the world player of the year and 2010 Ryder Cup hero, fell into a slump in 2011, shooting too many rounds near 80 instead of 70. He didn’t find his way back in the winner’s circle, which, in the process, caused him to take a tumble in the world rankings. It can be difficult to adjust to the expectations that come with winning your first major — you have to learn to adjust to the spotlight and more media requests, etc. Let’s hope G-Mac has a productive off-season and finds his groove back in 2012.
2. Ernie Els – After a couple of down years, the sweet-swinging South African bounced back in 2010 to record two wins on the PGA Tour, along with a year-end victory at the South African Open. 2011, though, was nothing but a disappointment, with the Big Easy posting only one top-ten all year (no joke, Tiger Woods had more). While Els appeared to have rediscovered his putting stroke in his 2010 resurgence, it once again deserted him in 2011, forcing him to suck up his pride and switch to the belly putter– which he once spoke out strongly against.
“While Els still has his reservations, he’s come a long way from his ardent opposition to belly putters in past years. In fact, he launched a crusade to make them illegal after they swept the Tour when Vijay Singh switched to a belly and jumped from 100th in putting average to the top ten. “They should definitely be banned,” said Els in 2004. “I believe nerves and the skill of putting are part of the game.”
1. Jim Furyk – Furyk, the 2010 FedExCup champion and PGA Tour Player of the Year, failed to record a top-five finish in a regular Tour event all year. Much of the blame could be laid on a woeful putting stroke, which prompted to midyear switch to the belly putter. Furyk, though, started to play better near the end of 2011 and made it to the BMW Championship before falling short of enough FEC points to advance to the Tour Championship. He also showed signs of life during the playoffs at the Presidents Cup, posting a perfect 5-0 record. Plus, Furyk, unlike some of his contemporaries, has his Masters invite secured (thanks, Chevron!).
*Tiger Woods – By any measure, 2011 was considered a down season for Tiger. While the results of 2010 seemed encouraging, he started 2011 slowly, with poor finishes at Torrey Pines, Dubai and the WGC Match Play. He started to play better in March and put on a charge at the Masters before an injury sidelined him until Firestone. He finished the summer with his worst performance ever in a major at the PGA Championship, failed to advance to the FedExCup playoffs and needed a captain’s pick from Fred Couples to make the Presidents Cup, where he started slow and ended with an encouraging showing in the singles matches. Hopefully, this time, his late season form carries over into the New Year.
*Rickie Fowler — Coming off his clutch performance at the Ryder Cup and snagging (controversial) Rookie of the Year honors in 2010, many golf observers were expecting Rickie to take the next step in 2011 (and win on the PGA Tour). He contended a few times, but came up short on Sundays. He picked up his first professional win in the fall in South Korea, but much of the time, his game seemed to falter when it mattered most. The talent is obviously there and no doubt those W’s will start rolling in sooner rather than later. Will 2012 be Rickie’s breakthrough year? You know Davis Love III would be happy to see it happen. (So would we.)
*Dustin Johnson — Like 2010, Dustin won a playoff event and was in contention on the back nine of a major (the Open Championship). He finished the year as the second-highest-ranked American, but given his talent and near misses in 2010, we expected more. The breakthrough American in his mid-20s was Webb Simpson and the one to win a major was Keegan Bradley. While Dustin put together a solid year, it is one that will be remembered more for another season of missed opportunities and breakups.
So, who did you think underachieved in 2011? Whose crappy disappointing year did we overlook?