Yearender Golf: Celtic Tiger and emerging China shine in 2012

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The coronation of McIlroy as the game's leading player was confirmed in sensational fashion. (Reuters) The coronation of McIlroy as the game's leading player was confirmed in sensational fashion. (Reuters)
SummaryThe coronation of McIlroy as the game's leading player was confirmed in sensational fashion.

Rory McIlroy's dominance on both sides of the Atlantic and the clearest hint yet at the exciting potential in China were the biggest storylines 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 United States and he strengthened his position as world number one 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 impact from his part of the world well beyond that time frame.

Guan ensured he would become the youngest player ever 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 several 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.

THRUST INTO LIMELIGHT

The belly putter was also thrust into the limelight when Webb Simpson, at the U.S. Open, and Els, at Royal Lytham, joined 2011 PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley as the only players to triumph in the majors using a

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