For its first five years, the FedEx Cup seemed like an over-hyped, under-appreciated second tier holiday, like having a formal ball to celebrate Arbor Day. Even with Tiger Woods busting the piñata in two of the first three FedEx fiestas, it was hard to shake the plain truth that the PGA Tour needed to clear the decks in the Fall as the nation turned its attention to football.
But it was different this year. The 2012 Fed Ex Cup series had the feel of a four-week long cross-country road race, kind of a golf version of those cross-continent rally races. The best players in the world played the best golf of the season for a full month, producing a playoff series that was worthy of the king’s ransom that Fed Ex Cup winner Brandt Snedeker secured with his three shot win in the Tour Championship. Snedeker used a trusty driver, a hot putter and a bit of magic around the greens to take the Tour Championship at 10-under 270, a sparkling score on a East Lake Golf Club layout that was as tough a test for the field as the more glamorous Augusta track to the north.
Yes, the FedEx Cup in 2012 was a Festivus for the best of us. Here’s a few of the gifts we got.
The Blonde Bombshell – For Snedeker, it was a son of the South securing the biggest victory of his career in his native region. Prior to this victory, the 31-year old Snedeker as primarily known for having the best head of hair on Tour (including the wives), and for a four-jack from 12 feet that kept him out of the Tour Championship in 2009. But in 2012, Snedeker rode his upbeat tempo and one of the Tour’s best putting stroke to a $11.4 million dollar payday, besting the world’s top two players in the process. For the 2007 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, East Lake had the distinctive feel of a coming out party.
The Undisputed Heavyweight Champ – Rory McIlroy came into the FedEx Cup series as the prohibitive favorite to win Player of the Year honors. He left them as the unanimous choice. Equal parts precocious and prodigious, McIlroy won two events with scores in the 20-under range on courses that make most players consider putting a couple of extra balls in their bag before teeing off. With his booming drives, laser-guided irons and a knack for dropping all the putts he should make and many that he shouldn’t, McIlroy proved that when he is on there is currently no one, no one, in the world that that can stay with him. And does it all with a Gaelic twinkle in his eye that charms everyone around him. As George Kennedy said about Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke”, “My boy, he smiles an angel, but he bites like a gator!”
Butch and Sundance – No matter how angry you have been at Tiger Woods, you had to feel good watching the interaction between him and McIlroy over the course of the last two months — it had to make you feel good for the guy. Woods has always ben more Hogan than Trevino on the course, and the events of the last three years on and off the course had given him the Tour’s most persistent case bitter-beer face. Enter the smiling Irishman; suddenly Tiger had a peer, someone who could play at the same level, someone who could appreciate the intense pressure that comes with majestic gifts and even loftier expectations. They strolled down the fairways like a couple of gods playing their usual $2 Nassau at Mt. Olympus Municipal. They appreciate each others’ game and each others’ lives in a way that other golfers simply cannot. Hopefully the taste of their friendrivalshipery that they gave us this Fall will be a full feast come springtime in Augusta.
Of course there was more to love. There were the great venues, the stellar performances by the best of the Old (Mickelson, Singh, Furyk) and the best of the New (McIlroy, Watson, Dustin Johnson). We got a look at most of the participants in the upcoming Ryder Cup in Medinah, the intensity of which will make the FedEx Cup look like a mini-season of the Big Break.
But the best gift of all is this; the anticipation we all feel for the 2013 season. These guys were good. Really good.