LOS ANGELES — Rory McIlroy’s dominance on both sides of the Atlantic and the clearest hint yet of the exciting potential in China were the biggest story lines in what may prove to be a truly transformational golfing year in 2012.
The coronation of McIlroy as the game’s leading player was confirmed in sensational fashion when the exciting Northern Irishman cruised to his second Major title by a record eight shots in the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island in August. Dubbed "Boy Wonder" in his homeland for the past decade, McIlroy fully justified his other nickname of "the Celtic Tiger" as he ended the year being showered with virtually every accolade available to him.
He followed in the footsteps of Luke Donald when he became the second player to win the money-list titles in both Europe and the US and he strengthened his position as world No1 with an extraordinary run of form.
Long regarded as heir-apparent to Tiger Woods as the game’s greatest player, McIlroy has smoothly taken over that role while Woods, despite triumphing three times on the 2012 PGA Tour in a welcome return to winning ways, has had to take a back seat.
The 23-year-old McIlroy is almost certain to be a dominant figure in golf for at least another decade, but 14-year-old Chinese Guan Tianlang gave a strong indication of the likely effect from his part of the world well beyond that time frame.
Guan ensured he would become the youngest player yet to compete at the Masters by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship last month, tantalising proof of the vast golfing potential in the Chinese market.
The world’s most populous nation had celebrated another coup just five months earlier when Shanshan Feng, 22, clinched the LPGA Championship by two shots in Rochester, New York, to become the first person from mainland China to win a women’s Major.
Remarkably, Feng was born just five years after the first golf course was opened in China.
There were other highlights during 2012 with Bubba Watson producing arguably the shot of the year to win the Masters in a two-way playoff and Ernie Els ending a decade-long drought in the Majors to claim his second British Open.
The belly putter was also thrust into the limelight when Webb Simpson, at the US Open, and Els, at Royal Lytham, joined 2011 PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley as the only players to triumph in the Majors using a long putter.
However, McIlroy’s stellar play around the world gave golf fans their most stirring memories this year. He recorded four wins on the US circuit, among 10 top-10s in just 16 starts before ending the season being named the PGA of America Player of the Year, the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year and winner of the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average.
He clinched the Arnold Palmer Award as the PGA Tour’s leading money winner and was delighted to follow that up with the European Tour Order of Merit with two events remaining.