Bearing witness to an amazing year

In 2012, our writers took in some of the best golf around the globe firsthand. So what stood out in their minds from the majors and golf's other top events?

They delve into the best that golf had to offer during the past 12 months in a special edition of Four-Ball.

1. What was the most impressive shot of the 2012 season?

Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf analyst: By far, the greatest shot hit in 2012 was Bubba Watson's mind-bending second shot from the trees on the 10th hole at Augusta. Does anyone even talk about the double-eagle that happened earlier that day? You know why? Because the guy that hit that shot doesn't have a green jacket. Bubba does.

Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Without a doubt, Bubba Watson's second shot in a playoff at the Masters will go down as one of the most memorable shots in major championship history. Few players in the world have the imagination and guts to execute that 155-yard L-wrench-shaped hook with a gap wedge off pine needles that stopped 10 feet from the hole.

Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Bubba Watson's wedge shot from the trees during the Masters playoff. With no view of the green, Watson somehow hooked the shot from the pine straw and onto the green to set up his playoff victory over Louis Oosthuizen. It was not only the shot of the year but one of the best of all time.

Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: Bubba Watson's shot in the Masters playoff will likely get most of the votes, but in an effort to break up the Bubba love, I'm going with a swing from a different playoff. Remember Rickie Fowler's second shot to No. 18 at the Wells Fargo Championship in May? Fowler had been hearing whispers wondering if he'd ever get that breakthrough first victory, and he did so in the clutch with the likes of Rory McIlroy breathing down his neck. That's one of the swings I'll remember most from 2012.

2. Who was the biggest surprise major winner this year?

Michael Collins: Ernie Els at the Open Championship. Anyone who saw that win coming is a cheat and a liar. Yeah, I said it. Some people will say, "But he had finished ninth at the U.S. Open." By hitting 34 percent of the fairways and only 53 percent of the greens, we all know that's smoke and mirrors. He also was employing two caddies, which was not working at all. So for him to win the Open was clearly out of the blue.

Farrell Evans: Webb Simpson. Even his caddie, Paul Tesori, didn't think he could win at the start of the week at the Olympic Club. After Simpson's breakout year in 2011, in which he had 12 top-10s, including two wins, he was poised to have a great year but struggled in the first quarter of the season. At both the Masters and Bay Hill, he shot 78s in the final round. Coming into the U.S. Open, he had missed two consecutive cuts.

Bob Harig: Ernie Els. He had not won in two years. He was battling the putting demons. He hadn't even qualified for the Masters. Such were his frustrations. But Els had a remarkable ball-striking week at Royal Lytham, made a clutch putt on the final hole and prevailed when Adam Scott melted down.

Kevin Maguire: Rory McIlroy. (Just kidding.) I'm going with Watson. I'll admit, I didn't think the lefty had what it took to keep it together during the mental grind of a major. Needless to say, that green-jacket victory tour put me in my place.

3. What one thing you saw with your own eyes will you most remember about the 2012 golf season?

Michael Collins: I'll remember the look in Spencer Levin's eyes after the final round of the Waste Management Open for a long time. I can't describe the sadness, disappointment and emptiness in his eyes. He just couldn't bring himself to go into the media room for the post-round interview. He hugged me and cried, and we shared a few words, which made me choke up. Then he went to the bathroom, got composed and did the losing news conference. Gut-wrenching loss for him, yet I was so proud of how he handled himself. When you see sorrow like that in another man's face, it stays with you.

Farrell Evans: As I walked around Medinah on the first day of the Ryder Cup in late September, I felt like I was at the Chicago World Fair or some big patriotic celebration for the Allied nations after World War II. You could feel the electricity in the air. And you knew golf was in a good place.

Bob Harig: The European celebration on the 18th green at Medinah. You almost could not believe your eyes as Martin Kaymer -- whom some thought shouldn't have been on the team -- completed the remarkable European comeback by holing a 5-foot par putt against Steve Stricker to clinch the Ryder Cup for Europe. Back in the fairway stood Tiger Woods, helpless to do anything as he led his now-meaningless match against Francesco Molinari.

Kevin Maguire: The mass of people at the Ryder Cup -- on the practice days. In a "why haven't they done this every time" moment at Medinah, the Ryder Cup had a celebrity pro-am-type event before the matches kicked off. Local Chicago celebrities such as Scottie Pippen and Richard Dent joined entertainers such as Bill Murray and Justin Timberlake in groups that also included former Ryder Cup captains. Here's to hoping it becomes a staple of the biennial matches.

4. Which was the most memorable regular PGA Tour event of the season?

Michael Collins: Has to be the Honda Classic. First event of the East Coast swing, Tiger shoots 62 on Sunday, but Rory McIlroy holds him off to not only win but also take over as world No. 1. Even though he lost No. 1 later that month, it was the golf we had all been hoping for between Tiger and Rory, and it's what we are all holding our collective breath for in 2013. Tiger at his best and Rory at his best. Let's see who "the man" really is!

Farrell Evans: Seeing Tommy Gainey win the McGladrey Classic in October with a final-round 60 was a special treat. Gainey is one of the best guys to root for on the PGA Tour because he never takes for granted a day he gets to play golf for a living. Over the first five months of the season, I would wince every time I saw his name. He either withdrew or missed the cut in 10 of his first 16 events before earning a year-saving third-place finish at the Colonial. I savored my time watching that pristine 60 on the Seaside Course at the McGladrey.

Bob Harig: The Memorial. Tiger Woods trailed heading into the final round and was still a couple of strokes behind on the back nine. Then his approach to the par-3 16th -- an 8-iron from 200 yards -- sailed over the green. Woods appeared finished, but he holed the flop shot for birdie and added another at the 18th hole in front of tournament host Jack Nicklaus to clinch the win, his second of the year. Fittingly, it tied the Golden Bear for No. 73 and second on the all-time PGA Tour victory list.

Kevin Maguire: The Honda Classic. With Tiger Woods still winless since his self-imposed off-the-course woes, he carded a final-round 62 to make a late charge up the leaderboard. Alas, that W wasn't meant to be, as Rory McIlroy claimed the win to become No. 1 in the world for the first time in his career.