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The five moments that shaped golf in 2021

Profile Picture: Josh Powell

December 14th, 2021

It’s been another thrilling year on the PGA Tour, with crowds back on the course, some huge moments in majors, and a thrilling Ryder Cup.

Here are the five moments that shaped golf in 2021.

Age is just a number for Phil the Thrill

The PGA Tour is full of incredible talents under the age of 30, but Phil the Thrill proved that there’s life in the old dog, as he became the oldest player to win a major championship.

At the age of 50 years, 11 months, and seven days, Mickelson won the 2021 PGA Championship by two strokes, and golf witnessed a walk up the 18th that will never be forgotten.

It was a fantastic tournament for Mickelson, who actually opened it with four bogeys in his first six holes. He quickly bounced back, though, and shared the lead after 36 holes, becoming the sixth player to hold a lead in a major championship in four different decades.

Lefty had a one-shot lead over Brooks Koepka as they teed off on Sunday, and held off both Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen to win by two shots.

That was Mickelson’s sixth win in a major and 45th win on the PGA Tour. The thousands of people who walked with Phil up the fairway on the 18th at Kiawah Island will live long in the memory.

Matsuyama makes history

Hideki Matsuyama made history in April at Augusta, as he became the first Japanese man to win one of the four majors and the sight of him getting presented the green jacket will hopefully inspire a new generation of golfers from Asia.

Matsuyama was three shots off Justin Rose’s lead after 36 holes and had only made one shot up when play was halted on Saturday for inclement weather. An hour-and-a-half later, he returned to the course to play the last eight holes and fired in an eagle and three birdies. It was the only bogey-free round of the week and gave Matsuyama the overnight lead into the final round.

The Japanese star shot a one-over-par 73 in the final round to hold off a fast-finishing Will Zalatoris, and his caddie Shota Hayafuji’s respectful bow to Augusta after putting the flag back on 18 will be used on TV montages time and again at this very special golf course.

Young guns fire to Ryder Cup records

Team USA fielded its youngest ever team in Ryder Cup history at Whistling Straits in September, but that simply didn’t matter, as Steve Stricker’s squad demolished the Europeans 19-9. This was the largest margin of victory in a Ryder Cup in more than 50 years and Europe’s heaviest ever defeat.

Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia got the tournament off to the perfect start for Team Europe by winning their four ball, but things quickly turned sour for Padraig Harrington’s men, who were 6-2 down at the end of day one. That lead extended to six at the end of day two (11-5) to give Team USA the biggest day-two lead since 1975.

It was an absolute demolition on Sunday, as the Americans won three of the first four singles matches to decide the contest. Rory McIlroy broke down in tears for Team Europe, Dustin Johnson dominated by going 5-0, and Brooks and Bryson shared an incredibly awkward hug during American celebrations.

From zero to hero for Rahm

Rahm was putting on a record-breaking display at the Memorial Tournament at the start of June. He had a six-shot lead after 54 holes and was on 18-under-par when TV cameras captured the moment live as PGA Tour officials approached him on the 18th green and told the Spaniard he would have to withdraw due to a positive Covid-19 result.

It was a gut-wrenching moment for Rahm, who had to sit and watch Patrick Cantlay go on to win on Sunday with a score of 13 under par (five shots away from what Rahm had been on 18 holes earlier).

That would have had a huge impact on Rahm, but he bounced back and returned at Torrey Pines two weeks later to win his first major, courtesy of the U.S. Open. Rahm was three shots off the lead at the start of the final round and was still a shot off Oosthuizen as he teed off on the 17th.

But back-to-back birdies, including clutch putts from 25 feet and 18 feet, secured Rahm his first major and a check for $2.25 million. He became the first U.S. Open champion from Spain and put to bed the painful memories of the withdrawal earlier in the month.

It was also a win on Father’s Day — less than eight weeks after the birth of his baby boy, which is another boost for the Diaper Dimension!

The wait is over for Finau

A streak of 142 tournaments and more than five years since Tony Finau last won on Tour, the wait came to an end in the Northern Trust. One of golf’s nicest guys, Finau had finished in the top three 11 times in that stretch and was being touted as a "nearly man."

He did everything right but win, but that monkey was finally lifted off his back in August.

It wasn’t easy, of course. Why would it be? Rahm was in control before the last four holes, in which he carded bogey-par-par-bogey to finish third. Cameron Smith was Finau’s biggest challenger, with two late birdies to close with a 67, and the Aussie had a 25-foot putt on the 18th to win.

Instead, we went to a rain-delayed Monday playoff, and Finau-backers yet again looked to the heavens. Fortunately, Smith’s drive was wild and pretty much ended up in the Hudson River, handing a straightforward victory to Tony.

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