Looking back at ’13, picking my best shots

It’s my last column of 2013, so as I look back at everything that happened in golf this year, I think of Adam Scott winning “The Masters,” becoming the first Australian to do so – have I mentioned he was the first player I saw when I arrived at Augusta National – Rory McIlroy’s struggles on and off the golf course; Henrik Stenson’s return to form that has made him, arguably, the best player in the world right now; and the absurdity of Vijay Singh suing the PGA Tour because he broke the rules.

While I’m in a reminiscing mood, here are my thoughts on the 2013 Shots of the Year.

• Angel Cabrera’s approach on the 18th hole at Augusta during the final round of the Masters: This shot might be overlooked since Scott ended up defeating Cabrera in the playoff, but the fact that the big Argentinean stepped up and rifled his approach to within a few feet of the hole after Scott had drained a long putt just moments before, should be remembered.

The man from Cordoba seems to only show up in big events, having the United States Open and Masters being his only PGA Tour wins to date. After a dismal 2012, Cabrera showed up at Augusta again in April and played some inspiring golf; it looked like Scott would take it in regulation after the exciting cross-green putt went in, but El Pato, as he’s affectionately known, pulled his club from the bag and in his usual quick manner, took a rip and knew he’d hit a cracker.

Despite the eventual loss, the shot is one of my favorites of 2013.

•Another shot that might be overlooked a little is Zack Johnson’s hole-out at Tiger Woods’ event at Sherwood Country Club in November. Four shots down to Woods with eight holes to play, Johnson started to make a few birdies and he stepped to the 18th hole tied with Woods.

It was Woods who blinked first, hooking his tee-shot into a difficult position on the side of a hill. Johnson, meanwhile, hit a great tee-shot down the middle. After Woods’ approach found the greenside bunker, it was Johnson’s tournament to win. He then proceeded to half-shank his approach into the water, giving Woods life.

After a drop, Johnson then hit his wedge shot onto the green, just past the flag, and spun it back into the hole for an improbable par. When Woods got up and down for par, the two played off and Johnson walked away with the win when Woods again missed his approach in the same greenside bunker and failed to get it up and down for par.

• When the U.S. Open made its return to Merion outside Philadelphia in June, all anyone could talk about in the lead-up to the championship was the fact that the course was considered short by today’s standards and the general consensus was that the players would shoot record low scores.

As it turned out, everyone was wrong. Apart from the deluge of rain that turned the grounds into a mud-pit, the golf course held up fantastically well with no one finishing under par and Justin Rose taking home the title with his +1, 281 total.

As the final round got underway, it was Phil Mickelson who held the lead and was looking to avenge the five runner-up finishes at that event. Despite a miraculous eagle from the fairway on the 10th, Mickelson would struggle down the stretch and come up short again, giving him six runner-up finishes.

As Rose stepped to the 18th tee, however, he only held a one shot lead and had to negotiate the very difficult and demanding par-4.  After his tee-shot found the fairway, Rose stood just a few steps from the Ben Hogan plaque, which commemorated Hogan’s famous 1-iron approach shot in the 1950 U.S. Open.

Rose then hit one of the best long-irons of his career, as his 4-iron landed in the middle of the green and trickled to the back fringe, where he was able to get down in two and claim his first major title.

• My shot of the year goes to the guy who stood next to Rose at that awards ceremony in second place, Mickelson. It was the major that everyone said Mickelson would never win, the Open Championship.

After the disappointment of Merion, Mickelson showed up to Muirfield with a lot of confidence after his win the week prior at the Scottish Open. The final round had another perennial bridesmaid in majors, Lee Westwood, looking like he might finally take away a championship that he dearly wanted.

Inconsistent ballstriking left Westwood struggling for much of the day, while Mickelson was slowly gaining ground. After a bogey on the 10th, he made birdies on the 13th and 14th holes, then made a miraculous up-and-down for par on the par-3 16th.

The 17th hole would see Mickelson rise to the occasion and hit what I consider the shot of the year. Playing without a driver in the bag, his 3-wood from the tee left him over 300 yards from the flag, with a breeze against him.  ‘

Pulling the same 3-wood from the bag again, he hit a strong hook that headed toward the green; when it landed, it kicked forward off a downslope and found the putting surface, where he was able to make a comfortable two-putt birdie so he could walk up the 18th hole with a lead that gave him the chance to enjoy the walk and realize he had won the Open Championship. He didn’t need to make birdie on the 18th, but he did anyhow, capping a memorable week that saw him get the third leg of the career grand slam.

Now if he can just do something amazing like that next year at Pinehurst, he’ll capture that elusive U.S. Open.