Normally lists are done in tens. The 10 best golfers of all time. The 10 best shots of the year. But in golf, 10 isn't the number we surround ourselves with. It's nine. We play 9 holes. We hope to end our round with a 9 in it (be it, 89, 79, 69, or even, gasp, 59), and so this year, we've decided to focus our end of year awards in nines. Here are the nine best birdies of 2011.
9.) Bubba Watson's birdie on the final hole at Torrey Pines - He had another lefty, Phil Mickelson, hot on his heels, and a birdie would mean Phil would have to hole out for eagle to win, so what did Bubba do? Calmly rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt on the closing par-5 to put the tournament basically out of reach for Phil. It was a big start to a great year for Bubba.
8.) David Toms' birdie on the 72nd hole at the Players to force a playoff - Sure, he didn't end up winning, but Toms made as clutch as birdie as you can in the game of golf when he knocked his second shot out of divot on the 18th at Sawgrass to 20 feet and then calmly rolled it in to force a playoff. The final hole at Sawgrass is considered one of the toughest closing holes in all of golf, and when Toms saw his ball was in a divot, most wrote him off as the winner, but he knocked it on the green, made his birdie and gave himself a shot at golf's fifth major.
7.) Webb Simpson's birdie putt to force a playoff at the Deutsche Bank - If 2011 started as the Year of Bubba, it ended as the Season for Simpson, and mostly because the kid never missed an opportunity to be clutch. The best example? When he needed a 30-foot birdie putt on the final hole of the Deutsche Bank to force a playoff with Chez Reavie, and knocked it right in the back of the jar. He went on to win his second event of the year, and nearly got himself another award for his efforts, the FedEx Cup.
6.) Luke Donald's birdie putt on the 15th on Sunday at Disney - He made six straight birdies, but it was the lengthy putt he drained on this hole that really showed he was about to close out an improbable 2011 season. The birdie on 15 helped him not only win this event, but the PGA Tour money title as well.
5.) Tiger Woods' birdie on the final hole at the Chevron - Sure, it wasn't a PGA Tour event, but if you're talking importance, this was it. Tiger closed with birdies on his final two holes, but it was the final one that really made the difference because it showed he really can close out events, even if it's against a smaller field. This putt might not just be important for 2011, but might help propel him to a big season in 2012.
4.) Suzann Pettersen's closing birdie against Michelle Wie at the Solheim Cup - The closing play by the Europeans at this year's Solheim was legendary, but the match of the day was between Pettersen and Wie, and it was Pettersen that made three straight birdies to win her match against the face of women's golf. She was as clutch as you can get in these team events, and her final birdies deserve to make this list.
3.) Steve Stricker's closing birdie at the John Deere Classic - Standing awkwardly in a bunker, having to carry an entire lake, needing to make a birdie, and then actually pulling off that golf shot only to follow it up with a lengthy putt that went dead center? Stricker's birdie was absolutely incredible to close out his 11th career win and was one of the moments of the 2011 season.
2.) Charl Schwartzel's birdie on 17 on Sunday at Augusta - When a man closes out a Masters with four straight birdies, the first time that has ever happened at the famed links of Augusta National, it is tough to pick just one, but it was the birdie on 17 that slammed the door on the competition, and came when his closest competitor, Jason Day, was making the same score on the hole.
1.) Keegan Bradley's birdie on 17 on Sunday at the PGA Championship - We had seen putts from this area nearly roll off the green, so to have Keegan give his putt a chance, and actually make it, was more than remarkable. He had basically dug himself a grave at the PGA Championship before this moment, but the birdie on his 71st hole gave him life, and put him in a position to eventually win the golf tournament.