The best shots of 2010
As you read through my following list of the 18 best shots of the 2010 golf season, you'll notice a few constants.
First, by definition each must be considered an extraordinary swing of the club. Second, each occurred in an extraordinary situation.
There is no definitive formula for such a subjective assignment, but needless to say the most extraordinary shots in the most extraordinary situations are what, in my opinion, make up the "best" in any given season.
To wit: Hit a ball off pine straw, through the trees, over a creek and onto a green? That's great. Perform the feat at Augusta National en route to winning the Masters? Extraordinary. Make a hole-in-one at a collegiate event? Fantastic. On the same day as your sister in the same tournament? You got it -- extraordinary.
No golfer is ineligible for this list, from the game's elite to unknown amateurs. Only rule: No putts. With apologies to Graeme McDowell for what was essentially the Ryder Cup clincher, Louis Oosthuizen for his back-breaking eagle in the final round of the Open Championship, Martin Kaymer for his ice water-in-the-veins par effort on the final hole of regulation at the PGA Championship, and Stuart Appleby and Paul Goydos for their record-tying 59 closers, these shots of the year are all shots indeed -- and exceptional ones at that.
1. Phil Mickelson
The situation: The Masters, final round, par-5 13th hole, second shot
The shot: Asked to describe the shot after winning his third Masters title, Mickelson shrugged and said, "It was a 6-iron, 207 to the hole. I knocked it four feet." Never mind the fact that Lefty actually missed the bunny for eagle, this shot so embodied everything he stands for as a golfer -- huge risk, huge reward -- that it was even used in television commercials for the remainder of the year.
Mickelson's take: "I had a good lie in the pine needles. I was going to have to go through that gap if I laid up or went for the green. I was going to have to hit a decent shot. The gap was a little bit wider -- it wasn't huge, but it was big enough, you know, for a ball to fit through. I just felt like at that time, I needed to trust my swing and hit a shot, and it came off perfect."
2. Jonathan Byrd
The situation: Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital Open, final round, fourth playoff hole, par-3 17th hole, tee shot
The shot: With darkness closing in and Byrd still deadlocked with Martin Laird and Cameron Percy after three playoff holes, the competitors were asked if they wanted to squeeze in one more hole. Byrd deferred to the others, they said yes and the rest is history, as he posted what is believed to be the first walk-off ace in PGA Tour history to earn his fourth career victory.
Byrd's take: "For me, it was put a 6-iron kind of back in my stance and try to play more of kind of a sweeping draw into that left pin and curve it over to it. It started perfect, it turned perfect, and it was coming right down the flag. I thought I hit it too good. I thought I hit it too far, and I couldn't see anything. But to hear the reaction as it went in, I was just in shock."
3. Rocco Mediate
The situation: Frys.com Open, final round, par-4 17th hole, second shot
The shot: What's more amazing: That a 47-year-old with a notoriously creaky back could revive his career with one more victory? That he would hole out approach shots in each of the four rounds? Or that on the final one of those, from 116 yards, he actually asked his playing partner to walk ahead and mark his ball on the green? Perhaps all of the above, punctuated by Rocco's mind-boggling eagle from the fairway on the tournament's 71st hole.
Mediate's take: "I had a perfect yardage, 116. Alex [Prugh] marked his ball, because it looked like it was right in front of the hole. You never know. What if my ball hits his ball and doesn't go in or whatever? So he walked up, I waited, and it was one of the shots Mr. Trevino showed me, a little cut wedge, a flat little wedge. It worked."
4. Miguel Angel Jimenez
The situation: Open Championship, third round, par-4 17th hole, third shot
The shot: His ball apparently stymied against the famed stone wall bordering the back of the 17th green at St. Andrews, the man nicknamed Mechanic needed a quick-fix solution. And so he turned around. With his back to the green, he hit the ball off the wall, over his head and onto the green.
Jimenez's take: "I was less than six inches from the wall and I didn't really have much option other than to play the ball. There was no place to drop it. I took out my sand wedge and hoped to get a good break but I had no idea how it would turn out, as you can't practice that sort of shot! I was happy to see the ball bounce the right way over my head and onto the green. "
5. Kevin Blaser
The situation: Segregansett Country Club, recreational round, par-3 sixth hole, tee shot
The shot: On May 29, while playing alongside Paul Quigley -- brother of Dana, father of Brett -- in the Rhode Island Par-3 Championship, Blaser aced the 155-yard 10th hole, then followed it with another at the 135-yard 13th. As if that wasn't enough excitement for the weekend, the next day he hit a 178-yard 7-iron that once again found the hole for his third hole-in-one in less than 24 hours.
Blaser's take: "It's going toward the pin, and I heard a big, loud sound, like glass breaking. I peek over at [playing partner Rick Marcos], he's got a big smile and looks at me and says, 'I didn't see it come out.' We're walking up the fairway and I told Ricky he's going to get a big hug and a kiss if it went in. I got up there and it was in the hole. It dunked on the fly. So I chased him, jumped on him and gave him a kiss."
6. Noh Seung-Yul
The situation: Malaysian Open, final round, par-5 18th hole, third shot
The shot: Needing to make birdie on the final hole to secure his first career European Tour victory, the 18-year-old boldly chose to go for the green in two. And, well, he reached a green -- just not the right one. Noh's shot ended up on the edge of the practice green, but he pitched from a thin strip of grass over a pathway and a greenside bunker to a sloping green, eventually leaving just three feet, from which he holed the clinching putt to defeat countryman K.J. Choi.
Noh's take: "Coincidentally, when I was playing a practice round with K.J. earlier in the week, he asked me when my last win was. When I told him it was in 2008, he said, 'Isn't it about time you won?' For it to happen this week, I couldn't think of a better situation."
7. Jim Furyk
The situation: Tour Championship, final round, par-3 18th hole, second shot
The shot: As he said afterward, Furyk wasn't exactly sure what was on the line when he stepped to the final hole at East Lake GC -- but he had a pretty good idea. As it turned out, he needed to save par to not only win the tournament, but claim the FedEx Cup's $10 million first-place prize, as well. And he did just that, hitting a deft bunker shot in rainy conditions to near-gimme range.
Furyk's take: "A lot of our pitch shots on the back nine were almost hydroplaning. You could almost hear them spinning. And then after two or three hops, they would grab and stop dead. From my perspective, I had kind of the worm cam. I was just, 'Stop, stop, stop.' I knew [it] was spinning like crazy, but I heard everyone cheering from down there. I couldn't tell if it was five feet or two feet. It kind of appeared like it was a four-footer, like I still had some work left. I was happy to see it was pretty much dummy proof."
8. Jamie Lovemark
The situation: Mexico Open Bicentenary, final round, first playoff hole, par-5 18th hole, second shot
The shot: Granted there was some elevation at El Bosque Country Club, but Lovemark's shot was perhaps less remarkable for the end result than the club selection. From 235 yards, the 22-year-old former NCAA champion powered a 6-iron -- yes, a 6-iron! -- to three feet, setting up an eagle to beat B.J. Staten for his first career professional victory.
Lovemark's take: "It was definitely the best shot I've hit in a really long time. My caddie and I figured the ball would go 12 percent farther due to elevation and another 8 percent because of adrenaline. ... I think it was half luck, half skill."
9. Matt Kuchar
The situation: The Barclays, final round, first playoff hole, par-4 18th hole, second shot
The shot: Kuchar was enjoying one of the finest seasons of any PGA Tour member, but entering the first tournament of the FedEx Cup playoffs, he had still yet to find the winner's circle. After reaching a playoff with Martin Laird, he stood in the left rough, 192 yards from the pin. He found the front right part of the green, then watched the ball bounce and roll to the back portion, ending up a few feet away, propelling him to his first victory of the season.
Kuchar's take: "I went with a 7-iron; the lie was pretty good. I was kind of deep enough in the rough that it ended up being a pretty good lie. And the shot came out beautifully. I ran it up to that back right bank and saw the crowd just all of a sudden, the momentum build and they went just like a wave of people standing up and cheering. I knew it was getting good. That was an exciting way to kind of cap off this tournament."
10. Erica and Lindsey Bensch
The situation: KickingBird Golf Club, par-3 third hole and par-3 11th hole
The shots: When she aced the 124-yard third hole on Nov. 9, University of Central Oklahoma junior Erica Bensch held the upper hand in her sibling rivalry over freshman Lindsey. It lasted less than two hours. In the same round, Lindsey matched that feat, posting a hole-in-one of her own on the 142-yard 11th hole to complete an unlikely sister act.
Lindsey's take: "I think we had a better chance of getting struck by lightning. But I know that God has blessed us with this rare success and I feel like it's the first of many things that we are going to accomplish."
11. Jason Bohn
The situation: Zurich Classic, final round, par-5 18th hole, third shot
The shot: For a guy who once made a $1 million hole-in-one in his college days, big shots are nothing new to Bohn. With a one-stroke lead on the final hole in New Orleans, he fired a dart to within inches of the pin to secure his second career PGA Tour victory.
Bohn's take: "When I hit the shot, I was playing to hit it about 15 feet short of the hole. So for it to skip and end up right behind the hole, I mean, I don't know. You dream about stuff like that. You hope that you've got four inches to win a golf tournament versus four feet."
12. Mariah Stackhouse
The situation: AJGA Junior at Steelwood, final round, par-3 17th hole, tee shot
The shot: Entering the final round at Steelwood CC in Loxley, Ala., the highly regarded Stackhouse trailed by a half-dozen strokes. She whittled that margin to three after 16 holes, then really turned up the heat. The then-high school sophomore used a 7-iron to post her third career hole-in-one on the tournament's penultimate hole. A birdie on the ensuing hole forced a playoff, in which she prevailed for the victory.
Stackhouse's take: "Something told me [the green] was going to be fast. It hit in front and rolled right to the hole. ... I wasn't too concerned about the playoff because I had made a hole-in-one, so whatever happened was going to be OK."
13. Bobby Wyatt
The situation: Alabama Boys State Junior Championship, second round, par-5 13th hole, second shot
The shot: Not that many other golfers would know from experience, but there have got to be some seriously interesting things going through one's mind at the turn after posting a 9-under 26 on the front nine. The incoming freshman at Alabama, however, dealt with 'em like a pro, making birdies on the 10th and 11th holes. Following a par on No. 12, he found himself in a fairway bunker off the tee on 13 but hit a hybrid club over a creek to within 20 feet of the hole, from where he would two-putt for yet another birdie en route to his eye-popping round of 57.
Wyatt's take: "I was definitely aware of where I stood in my round the whole way around. I tried to act like I was even par making the turn, wanted to make some birdies, and wanted to think in increments [of holes] that I still had to play."
14. Ryo Ishikawa
The situation: The Crowns, final round, par-4 sixth hole, third shot
The shot: A magical score was still but a gleam in Ishikawa's eye at this point in the round, but observers could already tell something special was brewing. Coming up short of the par-4's green, the then-18-year-old pitched a high-arcing wedge shot that landed on the front part of the putting surface and rolled into the bottom of the cup. It was one of nine birdies he posted in the first 11 holes, part of a 12-under 58 that helped him to a come-from-behind victory on the Japan Tour.
Ishikawa's take: "I always dreamed of getting a score like this but didn't think I would do it so fast. ... I got off to a good start for the first time in four rounds, so I told myself not to give up for the title until the end. To my surprise, I found myself making this many birdies. I was in a calm mental state for all 58 strokes."
15. Ai Miyazato
The situation: Honda PTT LPGA Thailand, final round, par-5 18th hole, fourth shot
The shot: In the LPGA season opener, Miyazato began the final round a half-dozen shots behind leader Suzann Pettersen before going on a birdie binge. Her last of nine red numbers on the day was the most important. About 30 feet from the hole just off the final green, Ai-chan chipped in and eventually won by a single stroke.
Miyazato's take: "I was trying to focus on every single shot and not trying to win or get a low score. Just every single shot, try to hit the fairway, hit the green and make some putts. It was really simple, but under the pressure it was really difficult to do. I did it well."
16. Graeme McDowell
The situation: U.S. Open, final round, par-3 fifth hole, tee shot
The shot: With American players Dustin Johnson, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson all battling on the leaderboard, the Northern Irishman was still largely an underdog until this point in the proceedings. After opening with four straight pars at Pebble Beach, the man known as GMac knocked his tee shot on the 195-yarder to eight feet and poured in the birdie attempt, getting his bid for a maiden voyage to a major championship victory circle well under way.
McDowell's take: "That shot was a big turning point for me. It set up my first and only birdie of the final round. I hit a 7-iron which pitched exactly where I wanted it to and it released down to about eight feet on a very tricky par-3. That was a big swing for me and gave me the confidence to go on and get the job done that afternoon. It was the right shot at the right time. It was one of the shots I look back on as one of the key shots during the round."
17. Cristie Kerr
The situation: LPGA Championship, final round, par-4 18th hole, second shot
The shot: The truth is, it didn't matter. Kerr could have chili-dipped a half-dozen approach shots from the final fairway and still won her second major title comfortably. Instead, the shot served as a microcosm for her week, as she stiffed it to five feet and drained the ensuing birdie putt to win by 12 -- the second-largest margin of victory at a women's major -- and ascend to the No. 1 world ranking.
Kerr's take: "I didn't limit myself. I wanted to see how far I could take it. And I took it pretty far. ... I don't think I could've played better."
18. Rory McIlroy
The situation: Quail Hollow Championship, second round, par-5 seventh hole, second shot
The shot: No, that's not a typo. Even though the phenom dubbed Boy Wonder zoomed to the top of the leaderboard with scores of 66-62 on the weekend, it was this shot in Round 2 that made it all a possibility. Hitting 4-iron from 206 yards into a strong breeze to six feet netted him an eagle he needed just to make the cut. Without it, not only would he not have won, he wouldn't have even been around on the weekend.
McIlroy's take: "Yeah, most important shot of the year, to be honest. If I don't make eagle there, I'm practicing at Ponte Vedra [for the upcoming Players Championship] this weekend. So yeah, that 3 on 7 on Friday night was very, very important. ... That could have been the turning point in my season."
Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.
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