Europe’s Miracle at Medinah, the rise and rise of McIlroy: 2012 has been a vintage year

Sam Torrance
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THIS year was a vintage one but two stories stand out above all others: European golf’s finest hour at the Ryder Cup, and Rory McIlroy’s irrepressible ascent to the pinnacle of the game.

The Ryder Cup contained a countless number of spine-tingling highlights as Jose Maria Olazabal’s Europe surged back on the final day to keep the trophy out of the clutches of the American team.

Ian Poulter finishing with five successive birdies on Saturday to reduce the US lead to 10-6 going into the final day, when it could easily have been 11-5 or even 12-4, was a magnificent effort.

Then there was Luke Donald’s superb tee shot to within about two feet of the 17th, outdoing a great effort by Tiger Woods, as he and Sergio Garcia earned a crucial win over Woods and Steve Stricker.

Who can forget McIlroy arriving at Medinah only eight minutes before tee-off against Keegan Bradley, but winning anyway, or Paul Lawrie’s deserved defeat of Brandt Snedeker?

Poulter, who was outstanding, also came back from two down to beat Webb Simpson on that glorious final day, although the most iconic moments probably belong to Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer.

Rose dealt America a huge blow when his monster putt at 17 levelled with Phil Mickelson, who he went on to beat, and then was dignity personified in a subdued celebration, out of respect for his opponent.

Finally, a breathless singles day came down to Kaymer, and the German held firm under immense pressure to hole the triumphant putt and complete a comeback few had thought possible just hours earlier.

Winning was massive for Europe – if you want evidence look no further than the results of Olazabal’s players in the tournaments since then.

Garcia’s win at the Johor Open in Malaysia on Sunday made him the seventh player from the European team to win a title in the 11 weeks since the Ryder Cup at the end of September. Quite remarkable.

One of those men was McIlroy, whose achievements this year include winning his second Major, at the US PGA Championship, the European and US money list double and cementing world No1 status.

There’s no question it was the Northern Irishman’s year by some distance, and, at 22, he’s still getting better every year. Who knows what he can achieve but he’ll be at the top of the pile for a while.

Other highlights of the year included Ernie Els winning the Open, 10 years after his last Major and when not many fancied him to add another, and Bubba Watson’s marvellous hook shot from the pine straw to win the Masters play-off against Louis Oosthuizen.
The resurgence of Tiger Woods also stood out, and I’ll be interested to see how he gets on in 2013. I expect to see the Ryder Cup effect continue to boost European hopes, and fancy Poulter and Rose to go close at the Majors.

Sam Torrance OBE is a multiple Ryder Cup-winning golfer and media commentator. Follow him on Twitter @torrancesam