As is the annual tradition of Golf World, our staff took stock of the 2016 golf season by counting down the top newsmakers. Our list includes an eclectic mix of high-profile tour pros, wily veterans, young up-and-comers who already have grabbed the spotlight, touchstone moments of joy and sorrow, and more. And so we begin out countdown with ...

18. Barry Gibbons

The tally as of Dec. 18 is as follows: 843 rounds played, 6,155 miles walked, 12,285,000 steps taken. And counting. With more than a week remaining in 2016, there’s more than enough time for Barry Gibbons to accomplish his goal of playing 850 18-hole rounds within 365 days. For some perspective, that’s the equivalent of playing more than 40 times a year for 20 years. Or more than 20 times a year for 40 years. As my colleague Alex Myers wrote after teeing it up with Gibbons in September, the man will have played a lifetime of golf in one year. “People are either envious,” said Gibbons, a 57-year-old retired IBM employee from Ridgefield, Conn., “or they think I’m nuts.” Put us down for both. Yet as we get exhausted just typing about Gibbons’ exploits, he gets only more energized. “A good friend of ours died at age 57 last year, before he had a chance to retire and enjoy life,” says Barry’s wife, Joy. “That was a perspective builder.” On Sept. 18, Barry played with his father at Meadow Hills G.C. in Aurora, Colo. It was Round No. 612, which broke the previous Guinness World Record for rounds played while walking in a year, held by Richard Lewis of Dallas. Since then, Gibbons has played a commemorative round with Lewis, made his first hole-in-one of the year, and, on the day of Arnold Palmer’s funeral, paid tribute by playing 87 holes, one for each year of The King’s life (plus three more to finish off the day’s fifth round). Somehow injury didn’t sidelined Gibbons, although he did have a scare in October when a jar of jalapenos fell from his refrigerator and the shattered glass sliced open his foot. Joy, who has supported Barry’s quest by chronicling his exploits on the website BreakTheGolfRecord.com, wanted him to go to the emergency room. Barry instead taped himself up and was playing a few hours later. Only when asked what’s next does Gibbons sound like a man ready for a break. “I’m not doing this again,” he says. “When this year is over, I’m going to sit in a beach chair for a month.” —Ryan Herrington

17. #SB2K16

Courtesy of Rickie Fowler

Hashtags are still a foreign language for many golf fans, but even the most uninitiated have probably heard this one by now: #sb2k16. For a few sun-splashed days in April, twentysomethings Jordan Spieth, Smylie Kaufman, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler left behind the buttoned-up world of the PGA Tour for a shirtless, shoeless, careless trip to Baker’s Bay in the Bahamas … and everyone was invited. The Bro Four shared their spring-break sojourn like most self-respecting millennials do, in pseudo real time via Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram, providing an unvarnished travelogue that quickly became a voyeuristic social-media spectacle. Images of the guys (drinks often in hand) fooling around on the golf course, jumping into water off a second-story balcony, cruising on a high-speed fishing boat and dancing on the roof of a golf cart became intoxicating (pun intended) not because it happened, but because they let us see it happen. It was the opposite of a well-choreographed photo op, and yet it provided even better PR for all involved. Particularly for Spieth and Kaufman, who were coming off uniquely disappointing finishes at the Masters just days earlier. Rather than hide in an undisclosed destination to sulk, they leaned on their buds to cheer them up. Ultimately, the vicarious thrill of watching these boys being boys resonated with even the most unlikely followers. Rory McIlroy and Jason Day raised their hands to get on the invite list for the 2017 trip, but so did Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. There’s no official word on when and where #sb2k17 will take place, yet it might be the most anticipated golf event (non major) of the new year. —Ryan Herrington

16. Nike Out Of Club Business

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When Nike entered the golf-ball business in 2000 and the club side a year later, the company sent shivers through competing brands. Here was an 800-pound gorilla with arguably the most famous athlete in the world in Tiger Woods on staff. Further, Woods dismantled the majors in 2000, winning the last three using a Nike Tour Accuracy golf ball. Yet this past August, Nike announced enough was enough and that it was stepping away from clubs and balls to focus on footwear and apparel. The decisions shocked some, but rumors had been swirling for several years that Nike might opt out of the golf-equipment biz. For all of its star power—in addition to Woods, the company has Rory McIlroy, Michelle Wie (shown) and a host of other name players among its staff “athletes”—Nike had trouble adapting to the golf marketplace, failing to either produce products that resonated with consumers or, when they did, to capitalize. The company never quite figured out its target audience or what it should be. As a result, it struggled in the quest to become an “authentic” golf brand. Nike was known for nontraditional equipment designs over the years, including the cavity-back Slingshot irons, its square Sumo drivers that reached the USGA’s limit for moment of inertia, and Mojo golf balls that were marketed in a psychedelic box. But its market share in woods and irons were routinely one-tenth those of leaders Callaway and TaylorMade. One PGA Tour pro surveyed might have been speaking only anecdotally when asked about the company’s decision, but he spoke volumes when he said, “I really love their equipment, but I’ll tell you this: In all the pro-ams I’ve played, I’ve never once seen one of my partners using a Nike club.” Nike’s tour staff quickly became free agents who could audition clubs and balls from every other equipment company. By year’s end, most had done so, including McIlroy and Woods, each using TaylorMade woods and Scotty Cameron by Titleist putters in recent events. It was a graphic epitaph for Nike in golf, the 800-pound gorilla no more. —E. Michael Johnson

15. Tiger Woods

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Davis Love III was cleaning up around his home in Sea Island, Ga., after Hurricane Matthew when Tiger Woods buzzed his mobile phone. “He asked me, ‘Do you know what happened 20 years ago today?’ I was stumped,” Love said of the Oct. 6 conversation. “Turns out, it was the day he beat me in Vegas for his first PGA Tour win. He remembered the day. Then he said, ‘Can you believe it’s been 20 years? Where did that time go?’ Obviously he’s a different Tiger Woods now.” Yes, well, new Coke was smoother, too, but folks preferred the classic version. How much vintage Woods—prodigiously talented, endlessly driven, steely-cold under pressure—remains is the overriding question heading into 2017 now that the 14-time major champion has returned to the competitive realm after three back procedures forced a 15-month hiatus. Prospects of a meaningful comeback seemed bleak most of the year, particularly after Woods withdrew from the Safeway Open in October only three days after committing at the last minute, admitting in a statement that his game was “vulnerable.” But his performance in this month’s Hero World Challenge, the unofficial 18-man, no-cut event he hosts in the Bahamas—and his first start since the Wyndham Championship in August 2015—offered some encouragement. A tournament-best 24 birdies conjured memories of Woods in his prime, but six double bogeys, the most he has ever had over 72 holes, didn’t. The slipshod scoring on his way to finishing 15th was troublingly familiar, though for now chalk it up to rust. But Woods did clear two important hurdles in his return: His creaky back held up, and he seemed relaxed and eager to play. “It felt good to be back out here playing again. I missed it,” said Woods, who will be 41 when he next competes. That will likely be an official event early next year, when the enormity of the challenge to return to greatness for the player ranked 650th in the world will truly hit home. Everyone, starting with peers who have heartened Woods with encouragement, will be watching closely. He might indeed be a different Tiger Woods, but time hasn’t diminished his appeal or the expectations upon him. —Dave Shedloski

The Evolution of Tiger Woods

14. Bernhard Langer

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A key selling point of golf is that it’s a game you can play for the rest of your life, though it was generally understood that you won’t play it well for the duration. Until Bernhard Langer came along, anyway. OK, so we’ll see a drop-off eventually, but at age 59, he has given absolutely no evidence that is imminent. Langer had yet another season that vies for recognition as his best in a nine-year senior career. In 21 PGA Tour Champions starts, the worst he finished was a T-13. He was in the top 10 in 18 of those tournaments, winning four, including two senior majors, the Regions Tradition and the Constellation Senior Players Championship. Statistically, and for the third straight year in each of these categories, he ranked first in earnings, scoring average, greens in regulation and birdie average. Moreover, he shot a final-round six-under 64 in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship to win the season-long Charles Schwab Cup and its $1 million bonus for the third straight year and the fourth time in his career. “Proving age is but a number,” tweeted Gary Player in tribute to the way Langer has represented the ageless octogenarian’s credo. Then there was this: A two-time Masters champion, Langer was tied for third, only two strokes behind leader Jordan Spieth, in the final round at Augusta in April, before fading to a tie for 24th. “I’m incredibly pleased with the year I had,” Langer said after his season-ending round to sweep the Schwab trophies. “I’ve never had a year when I didn’t finish outside the top 13. I’ve been known to be consistent, but not this consistent. It’s gratifying obviously to shoot six under when you have to. It gives me hope that maybe there’s a few more years left. It gives hope to all the guys in their 50s and maybe their 60s.” He now has 29 senior victories, tying Lee Trevino for second behind Hale Irwin’s 45, a record out of reach. Presumably. “I still think I can improve my golf game,” Langer said. “I’m convinced of that.” —John Strege

13. Jason Day

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Jason Day didn’t follow up his first major title with a second one in 2016, but he did do the next-closest thing: beat the best field in golf to win his first Players Championship. Day opened with a course-record-tying 63 at TPC Sawgrass, set the 36-hole tournament scoring mark at 15 under par and led wire to wire on his way to coasting to a four-shot victory. Although the win in May was his final one of the year, it was his third in the span of six starts. The others came at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the WGC-Dell Match Play, where he went 3-0 in round-robin play before beating Brandt Snedeker, Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy and, finally, Louis Oosthuizen to win the title. And despite not winning any majors, Day wasn’t too shabby in golf’s four biggest events. He finished with the lowest cumulative score of those who made the cut in all four. With a total of nine under par he was a dozen strokes better than his closest competitor, Jordan Spieth, thanks to a T-10 at the Masters, T-8 in the U.S. Open at Oakmont, T-22 during the Open Championship at Royal Troon and a runner-up to Jimmy Walker at Baltusrol in the PGA Championship. A sore back forced Day to withdraw from the season-ending Tour Championship, and he hasn’t competed since, providing more cause for concern over the 29-year-old’s ability to stay healthy. But Day will still end the year No. 1 in the world and will again be one of the favorites at golf’s major championships in 2017. —Brian Wacker

12. Donald Trump

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Golf seems to have become a staple, often controversially so, for the principal occupant of the White House. The last president who did not play golf was Jimmy Carter, and he left office when persimmon and balata still reigned. The next president, however, is the first to make news for owning a portfolio of courses in addition to being an avid player, and on the first point there already has been no shortage of opinion, much of it negative. On the positive side, President-elect Donald Trump’s golf properties include Trump Turnberry, its Ailsa course a historic site that Trump immediately renovated, and did so to rave reviews. Geoff Shackelford, writing for GolfDigest.com, called it “a marvel in every way.” The highly regarded British magazine, Golf Monthly, ranked the Ailsa course No. 1 in its latest biennial feature, “Top 100 Courses UK and Ireland,” ahead of Muirfield, Royal County Down and the Old Course at St. Andrews. On the home front, however, news wasn’t so positive. The PGA Tour elected to move the World Golf Championships event from Trump National Doral to Mexico City, saying the chief reason being difficulty in finding a sponsor to keep the event at Doral. Trump took umbrage and called the decision “a sad day for Miami, the United States and the game of golf … the PGA Tour has put profit ahead of thousands of American jobs. … This decision only further embodies the very reason I am running for President of the United States.” Later in the summer, there were calls for the USGA to move the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open from Trump National Bedminster in New Jersey for what Martha Burk and Democratic senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Edward Markey of Massachusetts called Trump’s “pattern of degrading and dehumanizing women.” But the calls have cooled since Trump won the White House. (Trump National Washington D.C. will also host the 2017 Senior PGA Championship.) Whether golf will benefit or suffer from a Trump presidency probably depends on the administration’s eventual level of success and popularity. Of interest will be whether the president-elect continues to see golf as an “aspirational” game, a view not shared by golf’s global leadership and which would seem to conspire against the game’s grassroots growth. —John Strege

11. Rory McIlroy

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For the second straight season, a measly pair of top-10s was the best Rory McIlroy could muster from the four major championships. That mediocre result alone kept 2016 from going down as a stellar year in the career of the man many believe to be the most naturally gifted golfer on the planet. Indeed, for long stretches, McIlroy struggled. The putting was erratic at best. Distance control inside 120 yards (the “scoring zone”) was equally unreliable. And his sumptuous driving—the part of the game that contributes most to McIlroy’s separation from the rest—was too often more awry than accurate. Inevitably though, moments of genius were also part of the mix. The gloriously daring fairway-wood shots McIlroy struck to the distant 16th and 18th greens at the K Club en route to an emotional maiden win at the Irish Open in May were beyond the ken of almost any other player. The closing eagle that clinched the ultimate victory was immediately preceded by an obvious struggle to hold back tears, evidence of just how much pressure the tournament host had been feeling. Then there was the Tour Championship and, by extension, the FedEx Cup. Three shots back with three holes to play in the final round at East Lake, McIlroy, winner at TPC Boston three weeks earlier, holed a wedge from 137 yards for an unlikely eagle and hoisted himself into a playoff he would take four holes to win. When the 15-foot putt for victory disappeared, the relief was again profound. “Just to see that ball drop, and everything that’s come together for me this year—to pull it off was really special,” said the now 27-year-old four-time major champion. So, after a relatively uneven year, the impression remains that the potent combination of firepower and finesse that is the Belfast Boy at his best is still too much for even his strongest competition, assuming he performs at or close to the peerless top of his game. McIlroy’s challenge is getting to that level, or at least close to it, more often. Or at least at the Masters, which he needs to complete the career Grand Slam. —John Huggan

10. Andrew (Beef) Johnston

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The nickname. The beard. The back story. The smile. The ability to not take himself too seriously. None of these alone explain how Andrew (Beef) Johnston went from obscure English pro to international golf celebrity in 2016. Rather, their confluence—along with some for-real golf skill—resulted in the sport discovering its latest lovable lug. Just two years earlier, Johnston was scraping by on the Challenge Tour, hoping for a high finish to be able to afford Christmas gifts for his family. Eventually, he earned a European Tour card, and in April, the 27-year-old claimed his first title, at the Spanish Open at Valderrama. “I can’t wait to get back to North Mid [North Middlesex Golf Club], get hammered and see my mom and brother and spend time with them and just celebrate,” Johnston said, offering a window into his life. But it took a run up the leader board during the Open Championship for fans to truly embrace him. Playing in the penultimate twosome on Sunday at Royal Troon, Beef finished with a top-10 and ate up the applause, which followed him to the United States where he played the PGA Championship and qualified for the Web.com Tour Final Series. In turn, he performed well enough to earn a PGA Tour card for 2017 and maintain his seemingly permanent grin. The numbers on the scorecard show Johnston can play, but there is more to his amazing Everyman connection to the crowds. “I guess I’m just really down to earth,” he says when asked about his appeal. “At the end of the day, I’m just a normal guy who happens to play golf. I’m no different to anyone else.” And yet that’s not entirely true. People envy Johnston’s gift for being so authentically and unguardedly himself, and for just being happy. His Beefy-ness is best symbolized by his shaggy facial hair, which is why his fans shuddered when Johnston lamented, in an interview with Golf Digest, the day when he’ll heed his girlfriend’s wishes and get it trimmed. Don’t do it, man! For now, the beard plays, and so does Johnston. —Ryan Herrington

9. Arnold Palmer

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Arnold Palmer died on Sept. 25 in a Pittsburgh hospital at 87 while awaiting surgery on his heart, the organ most responsible for his immense stature in sports and the world at large. So many things made Palmer endearing: the way he played golf with abandon; the charisma and sex appeal that helped popularize the game while driving his unparalleled success as a corporate pitchman; his humility, which never waned despite his fame and wealth. But it was his heart that made him special—it was big enough to share with everyone he encountered. At a moving memorial service at St. Vincent College, two miles from the home where Palmer grew up in Latrobe, Pa., PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem took the podium and offered a profound reason for The King’s popularity. “He had that other thing,” Finchem said. “The incredible ability to make you feel good—not just about him—but about yourself.” It was a gift as rare as his golf. With a muscular, thrashing swing, Palmer, the son of a greenkeeper at Latrobe C.C., won 92 tournaments worldwide, including 62 on the PGA Tour and seven majors. Notably, his 29 official victories from 1960-’63 is the most in a four-year stretch in the post-war era. He helped grow the game by playing all over the world and was at the forefront of the modern PGA Tour’s creation. Off the course he was a businessman, aviator and philanthropist. “His life was so full. You can honestly say he left nothing on the table,” said fellow Wake Forest golfer Curtis Strange. Palmer was such a transcendent figure that periodicals like The Economist published his obituary, noting that his career “marked the first transformation of golfing prowess into a business empire.” He befriended presidents, heads of state and celebrities, and he inspired so many that his legion of fans became known as Arnie’s Army. He won the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contributions to society. His lasting legacy will be in golf, the fullest expression of his personality. But he’ll be most missed for his heart. —Dave Shedloski

8. 58s! (And Other Low Scores)

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Jim Furyk was grinding on the range, trying to work out some kinks on a balmy late Saturday afternoon in early August following a disappointing two-over 72 in the third round of the Travelers Championship. The 46-year-old, who had played 11 of the previous 14 weeks, was frustrated that his swing had gotten long and loose, so he took some video with his phone and texted it to his coach/father Mike, something he had never done before. A day later, Furyk made history, becoming the first player to record a 58 in a PGA Tour event. He hit all 18 greens in regulation and had a putt for birdie on every hole except one—the par-4 third, where he holed out for eagle from 135 yards. Furyk finished the day with 11 birdies and an eagle and also became the first player to record two rounds on tour in the 50s after a 59 three years ago at Conway Farms in the second round of the BMW Championship. Neither time he won. He also wasn’t the only player to go low in 2016. (He wasn’t even the only one to shoot 58 if you count Stephan Jaeger, who did it in the first round of the Web.com Tour’s Ellie Mae Classic in July.) Thanks to increasingly pristine greens, advances in equipment technology and a deepening talent pool, seven players on the PGA Tour, including Furyk, shot scores of 61 or better in the 2015-’16 season, with another four doing so in the first seven events of 2016-’17 this fall. Four of those 11 rounds took place at TPC Summerlin, proving that going really low is as much about the venue as anything else. But as Furyk proved, hard work, the trusted eye of a lifelong coach and a little luck, can also go a long way. —Brian Wacker

7. The LPGA's Young Guns

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Suddenly, women’s golf has become like swimming and gymnastics, sports in which world-class athletes emerge at an early age. Of the 18 different LPGA winners in 2016, Brittany Lang was the oldest, and when she took the U.S. Women’s Open at 30 she became the oldest winner of that championship since then-35-year-old Annika Sorenstam in 2006. Sixteen of the 33 LPGA events this year were won by players 21 and younger: Hyo Joo Kim, Lexi Thompson, Lydia Ko (4), Minjee Lee (2), Rolex Player of the Year Ariya Jutanugarn (5), Brooke Henderson (2) and Charley Hull. And 25 of the 33 events were taken by players 25 and younger. The trend is also expanding globally. There were nine multiple winners in 2016 (Jutanugarn, Ko, Ha Na Jang, Lee, Henderson, Haru Nomura, Sei Young Kim, Shanshan Feng and Carlota Ciganda) from eight countries: Thailand, New Zealand, South Korea (2), Canada, Australia, Japan, China and Spain. The question is this: Will players emerging younger mean they’ll leave younger? Ko, 19 and the current World No. 1, has said she might call it quits at 30. The golf gods seem to give most great players a window of six to nine years to win major championships. Karrie Webb, who will be 42 when next season starts, won her seven majors from 1999 through 2006. Sorenstam, who didn’t win her first pro tournament until she was 24 and retired at 38, won her 10 majors from 1995 through 2006, but captured eight of them in six years, 2001-’06. Juli Inkster, 56 and still competing, won her seven majors over an astonishing 19 years (1984 through 2002), taking time between the first three and final four to have two daughters. Beth Daniel has the LPGA record as oldest winner at 46. If the window of greatness shifts to a younger age, will any of today’s winning wunderkinds still even be playing into their 30s? Let’s hope so. And for that matter, that the window of greatness expands. —Ron Sirak

6. Sunday At The Masters

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In retrospect, Jordan Spieth’s collapse in the final round of the 80th Masters was only slightly more improbable than the manner in which he had done a Houdini to grab a five-stroke lead with nine holes to play. Attempting to become the fourth man to win back-to-back green jackets—and the first in the modern era to win the same major wire to wire in consecutive years—Spieth certainly suggested he was in control given his margin heading to the back nine at Augusta National. But close observers—and Spieth—knew his tee-to-green game was betraying some instability. Still, it was a profound shock when a nagging swing flaw that produced pushed iron shots finally caught up to him at the most inopportune time, at the par-3 12th hole. After bogeys at the 10th and 11th, Spieth splashed first his tee shot and then his pitch from the drop zone into Rae’s Creek on the way to a quadruple-bogey 7. England’s Danny Willett seized the opening, capturing his first major title with a bogey-free 67 finish for a five-under-par 283 total, three better than Spieth (shown with caddie Michael Greller) and Lee Westwood and the highest winning score since Zach Johnson’s 289 in 2007. “Big picture, this one will hurt. It will take a while,” Spieth admitted. And yet he won his second PGA Tour event of the year in his third start after the Masters, at Colonial. Later he added a second Australian Open. On the flip side, Spieth wasn’t a factor in the three remaining majors, and he slipped from No. 1 to No. 4 in the World Ranking at year’s end. “Three wins and a team Ryder Cup win. It’s hard to ask for much more than that,” the Texan reasoned, though determined to do better in 2017. Willett, meanwhile, never found the form that served him at Augusta. He failed to win again in 2016 and struggled at times with his game. But the Masters made his year. It also, perhaps unfairly but undeniably, defined Spieth’s. —Dave Shedloski

5. USGA Rules Controversies

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The USGA’s finest hour decidedly did not occur in either of the final rounds of its two most important championships of 2016. During the U.S. Open at Oakmont, Dustin Johnson was close to the lead on the fifth green when he saw his ball move while about to address a three-foot par putt. He notified an official, who ruled that based on Johnson’s account he had not caused the ball to move. But after another USGA official reviewed close-up video of the movement, two other officials visited Johnson, now the leader, on the 12th tee and informed him he might indeed have caused the movement by grounding his putter close to his ball during a practice stroke. Yet rather than issue a one-stroke penalty, they decided to adjudicate the situation after the round. This left Johnson, and his pursuers, unsure where they stood on the leader board. In the end, DJ saved a bad situation from being much worse by continuing to play well, birdieing the 72nd hole for what he thought was a four-stroke win, but which after the penalty was indeed applied dropped to three. Criticism of how the USGA handled the situation rained down, from the rule itself (which the USGA augmented at the end of the year by permitting a Local Rule that allows for the accidental movement of a ball on the green by a player without penalty if the ball is replaced), to the overrule of a walking official, to the delay in assessing the penalty. Amazingly, two weeks later, in the final stages of the U.S. Women’s Open at CordeValle, rules officials were again unduly late at a crucial moment. After a television replay determined that Anna Norqvist had brushed some particles of sand with her backswing in a fairway bunker on the second hole of a three-hole aggregate playoff, there was no choice but to issue a two-stroke penalty. However, Nordqvist, thinking she was still tied but in reality trailing by two strokes, was not informed she had been penalized until after hitting her third shot on the par-5 next hole, a wedge over water she played conservatively. Because Lang learned of Norqvist’s penalty before her own similar third shot, she was able to play extra conservatively, and won by three. Hopefully in a rough year for the USGA, lessons were learned. —Jaime Diaz

RELATED: What Really Happened At Oakmont

4. Henrik Stenson

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Henrik Stenson always maintained his biggest ambition was just to finish his career as a major champion. And yes, though becoming the first Swedish man to win one of golf’s four most important titles would also be great, it would merely represent a nice bonus to that primary goal. This year, of course, Stenson achieved both. And more. Not only did the 40-year-old Gothenburg native claim the Open Championship at Royal Troon, his epic Sunday encounter with Phil Mickelson was rightly hailed as perhaps the most sustained display of high-quality golf ever seen in the sport’s oldest event. Stenson’s 10-birdie 63—while pushed in a final group pairing by Mickelson’s 65—placed him with Johnny Miller at Oakmont in 1973 as the only players to win a major championship by shooting 63 in the final round. “It has been nice to get so much praise from my peers and everyone in the game,” says the champion golfer of the year. “For our golfers in Sweden, this has been fantastic.” Lifting the claret jug alone would surely have been enough to make Stenson’s year. But after an ultimately unavailing challenge for the PGA Championship at Baltusrol, the four-time Ryder Cup player took the silver medal at the Olympics in Rio, where only an inspired Justin Rose was good enough to beat him. Later still, Stenson—ranked No. 4 in the world—was first to break the tape in the Race to Dubai, thus becoming, for the second time, Europe’s top player. Direct comparisons between competitors from different eras are problematic, but sometimes the parallels are striking enough to tempt prediction. If Stenson really is the next Nick Price—a perennially great ball-striker who in the early 1990s suddenly captured an Open Championship and two PGAs—the strapping Swede renowned for the sound of his iron shots will win more majors soon. —John Huggan

3. Golf Returns To The Olympics

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While aggressively pursued by golf governing bodies on the premise that it will grow the game globally, the idea of golf in the Olympics long drew ambivalence from the public and players. Didn’t the fact that the sport hadn’t been at a Summer Games since 1904 speak for itself? So when the run-up to the Olympics in Rio was plagued by the Zika virus, security concerns, Brazil’s wrecked economy and political strife, it wasn’t surprising that several top players—including Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson—already feeling that a scheduled squeezed to accommodate Rio might leave them over-golfed, opted out. After such a marquee-powered exodus, it looked like golf wanted to make the IOC’s decision next year on whether to extend the sport beyond the 2020 Games in Tokyo very easy. But then the competition in Rio began, and the reversal of fortune was stunning. The Olympic Course, designed by Gil Hanse, was a triumph evocative of Australian sand-belt classics. The players, some of them stoked by participating in the Opening Ceremonies and staying with countrymen in the Olympic Village, were buoyant. And the competition was electric. In the men’s event, Justin Rose held off Henrik Stenson in a final-round showdown, with Matt Kuchar grabbing the bronze. That was followed by the women, in which Inbee Park, still playing around a thumb injury that had made 2016 a bad year, was inspired in winning by five over Lydia Ko and six over Shanshan Feng. Rose and Park were emotional while receiving their gold medals, the truest validation of their worth. Happiest of all were the heads of golf’s organizations, notably the PGA Tour’s Ty Votaw, who was golf’s point man for the Games. “This all turned out better than could have been expected,” he said. Added Gary Player, the South African team leader and the greatest global golfer in history: “I thought the IOC would see that our players didn’t want to play and end golf. Now I’m very optimistic. The event this week justified our place in the Olympic Games. They have to include us.” Somehow, golf found a pot of gold on its road to Rio. —Jaime Diaz

2. U.S. Ryder Cup Victory

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In the wake of an embarrassing blowout loss two years ago at Gleneagles, Scotland, the U.S. Ryder Cup contingent created a task force with the purpose of reversing the trend of Europe winning the biennial matches eight times out of 10. “We talked about all the things we wanted to do for long-term success,” said assistant captain Jim Furyk. “This was never about winning this particular year.” Maybe not, but instant validation was achieved, nevertheless. Riding the fiery intensity of Patrick Reed and playing in honor of Arnold Palmer, who died the Sunday before the matches, America stormed to a resounding 17-11 victory over Europe at Hazeltine National in Chaska, Minn. The victory also was vindication for captain Davis Love III and team leader Phil Mickelson. Love was captain when Europe overcame a four-point deficit in 2012 in the singles matches at Medinah. And it was Mickelson’s outspoken criticism of Tom Watson at Gleneagles that initiated the task force. All 12 U.S. players won at least one match at Hazeltine, serendipity given that the last American team to do that was the 1975 squad under Palmer. Reed (shown) was the on-site spiritual leader, winning a team-high 3½ points and taking out Europe’s best player, Rory McIlroy, in a donnybrook singles match. “Anytime I can wear the red, white and blue, play for our country, and it happens to be match play, it kind of all just fits together,” said the 26-year-old Texan. Granted, the U.S. team caught Europe in a year of personnel transition. The Europeans fielded six rookies, and three of them—Masters winner Danny Willett, Andy Sullivan and Matthew Fitzpatrick—joined veteran Lee Westwood in going pointless. The competition was closer than the final score, but the Americans played with a resolve they had been lacking. “It was gratifying to see us play to our potential,” said Mickelson, who responded to the pressure of having to justify the task force by going 2-1-1. “We put ourselves in position to succeed.” —Dave Shedloski

1. Dustin Johnson

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Dustin Johnson is on the brink of greatness. He’s 32, with 12 PGA Tour victories. Since his rookie season in 2008, he has won at least one tournament in each of his nine seasons. Since 1950, only three other players have done that: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. In 2016, after years of star-crossed close calls, Johnson won his first major championship, the U.S. Open at Oakmont, with a historic exhibition of power driving and grace under pressure. He was voted PGA Tour Player of the Year by his peers (revealing with typical nonchalance that he didn’t vote), won the tour’s Arnold Palmer Award for leading the money list and the Byron Nelson Award for lowest adjusted scoring. Oh, and he earned our No. 1 Newsmaker of 2016. Suffice it to say, it was DJ’s year. In a bit of self-analysis more detailed than he normally indulges in, Johnson said, “I would say this year I would give myself about a 7½ on a scale of 1 to 10. And then compared to other years, we’re probably like, I don’t know, a 5.” It was a revealing evaluation, hinting at previous underachievement, leaving a surprising amount of room for improvement. There is no brag in Johnson, mostly by nature but also because he is an object of envy among his peers. At 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, with long limbs muscled in the right places, gifted with flexibility and coordination, Johnson has a controlled power game that can make golf look very easy. This year, after deciding to switch from a draw to a fade off the tee, he hit more fairways and minimized his misses while still finishing second in driving distance with an average of 313.6 yards. “It can feel unfair,” says Geoff Ogilvy. —Jaime Diaz


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