Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have been the biggest names in professional golf in the last three decades, so perhaps it's fitting that those two gave us the biggest stories of the 2021 season. Though in Woods’ case, it certainly was unwelcomed news.
From car crashes to the global pandemic, here are the five biggest stories in golf from 2021:
Tiger Woods crash and comeback
From the minute the news hit last February that Tiger Woods had been in a major car accident, the shape of the PGA Tour changed. First the question was if Woods would even survive the crash, as little information was coming out from authorities. Then there was the idea of how badly damaged was his right leg. Could he ever walk again? Was golf even a remote possibility for the best golfer of the last 30 years and perhaps the best golfer of all time? As is typical with Woods, information remained hard to come by, but he did survive, and then video started showing up of him hitting some basic shots. Finally, we were witness to the latest in a series of comebacks for Woods when he played – with a cart and with some moments of limping and obvious discomfort – in the PNC Championship with his son Charlie. From the beginning of the year until the end, Woods, his crash and his recovery were combined into the overarching story of the year. As he turns 46 this week, what Woods and his golf game will be in 2022 will continue to be a story.
Mickelson wins PGA Championship
Golf fans always root for one single moment of greatness from players whose greatness is clearly behind them. Sometimes the fans get that throwback moment, but not at all like Mickelson’s win at the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island in May. Mickelson’s play coming into the event suggested that a permanent place on the PGA Tour Champions was more likely than a sixth major title. But one month before his 51st birthday, Mickelson captured all the magic he could to put together four great rounds of golf on a tough course. For all that Mickelson has achieved, the win by two shots over Louis Oosthuizen and Brooks Koepka may be the moment fans will remember the most.
The LPGA moves a major
Everyone knew that All Nippon Airways was looking to leave the LPGA major championship played in Rancho Mirage since 1972. But the idea that a new sponsor and new life for the tournament would include a move out of the desert after 2022 was a surprise. Now the Chevron Championship with a $5 million purse, the LPGA’s first major of the year will move dates and location to the Houston area sometime in 2023. That will leave 50 years of history and tradition in the desert, things that can’t easily be moved to another state. This might be a bigger story, but the reaction to the move seems to have been muted at best, perhaps a sign the people understood the tournament needed a radical change.
U.S. romps in the Ryder Cup
For all the rancor of the U.S. team before the Ryder Cup in Wisconsin, with the Koepka-DeChambeau feud on full boil, with other team room drama seemingly cropping up at every turn and with the European team looking as strong as ever, it seemed like captain Steve Stricker’s Americans were again in the position of being the favorites who come from ahead to lose. But the truth was this Ryder Cup was never much of a contest. A 6-2 first-day lead became an overwhelming 11-5 second-day lead, leaving the Americans practically a gimme in the Sunday singles. The U.S. squad scored eight more points in the 12 singles matches for a 19-9 victory, led by a 5-0-0 week by Dustin Johnson and 3.5 points each from Patrick Cantlay and Collin Morikawa. Now the drama returns to Europe for the 2023 Ryder Cup in Italy. How does the European team rebound from that kind of defeat, or have the Americans found the key to success after three decades of struggles?
COVID still hampering the game
Two weeks before a dramatic win at the U.S. Open, Jon Rahm had other drama at The Memorial, being pulled from the field with a six-shot lead after the third round because of a positive COVID test. The LPGA continued to be hit hard by the pandemic with many of its Asian events canceled because the virus was still hitting hard in some countries. COVID forced the PGA Tour and LPGA to start the year with no fans, and the Chevron Championship in Rancho Mirage was played for a second year with no fans because of state and county protocols and LPGA concerns. By the end of the 2021 calendar year, things seemed to have returned to normal with fans in the stands and a relatively normal schedule for both the PGA Tour and LPGA. But as the various variants continue to plague sports, with college football bowl games falling left and right and with professional sports leagues struggling to keep teams intact, you have to wonder if the virus will continue to plague professional golf in the coming months.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and COVID dominated golf stories in 2021