Top Sports Stories of 2011

Irish lad Rory McIlroy bounced back from an epic collapse to conquer this year’s U.S. Open.
  • Irish lad Rory McIlroy bounced back from an epic collapse to conquer this year’s U.S. Open.

Depends where you live. If you live in Huntsville, Texas, the big story of 2011 is Sam Houston State University winning a championship at the College Finals Rodeo for the first time in 43 years. The rodeo was held in Casper, Wyoming, last June. The Bearkats’ men’s team finished first, women’s team second.

Over in Hanceville, Alabama, joy is found on the campus of Wallace State Community College. The Lady Lions secured their sixth state basketball title. Dynasty.

And in Dickinson, North Dakota, the Dickinson High School Midgets girls’ gymnastics sensation, Acacia Fossum, a seventh grader, won three individuals titles, including the all-around championship at a state meet. Her coach told the Jamestown Sun, “She only fell off beam once all season.”

As to the adult, money-grubbing version, the Box nominates...

1. St. Louis winning the World Series. Facing Texas, behind 3 games to 2 going into Game 6, St. Louis was trailing 7 to 5 in the bottom of the 9th. There are 2 outs, Cardinals third baseman David Freese is at bat and has 2 strikes against him. He’s 1 strike away from losing the Series. Freese hits a triple to tie the game. Texas scores 2 runs in top of the 10th. Now St. Louis is at bat. Lance Berkman, with 2 outs, 2 men on base, and 2 strikes against him, hits a single to tie the game once more. St. Louis wins with a walk-off home run in the 11th inning. Game 7 was an afterthought, St. Louis had to win.

2. Dallas winning the NBA Finals. Entirely satisfactory in every way. Miami shined as an arrogant, talent-bloated team. You can’t beat LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh for arrogance. Not only was it a pleasure watching the big trees fall, but the Big Three stayed in character throughout. In fact, the Box must commend LeBron for playing his part to the end, saying, at a post Finals interview, “All the people that were rooting me on to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life they had before.”

Miami lost the deciding game on their home court after leading the series 2-0. Dallas took the series in 6 games. LeBron played his typical Big Game game, folding in the 4th quarter.

3. Rory McIlroy. He’s 22, a Northern Ireland lad, pleasant demeanor, easy-going style. Turned pro in 2007, collected his first win on the European Tour two years later and first win on PGA tour in 2010. He’s earned $8 million-plus from golf, and $10 million from sponsors before he teed off at the 2011 Masters. Not bad for three European Tour wins and one PGA Tour victory.

But, basically, he just got here, and then — boom — he’s playing in the 2011 Masters. McIlroy shot 67 on the first round at Augusta and became the youngest player to lead after one round. Shot 69 the next day and led the field by 2 strokes. On the third day, he shot 70 and led the field by 4 strokes. On the final round — let’s stop here for a moment. Imagine the pressure, every personhood in Golf World is watching you, a 21-year-old kid with one lousy PGA Tour win. All the ghosts from past Masters — Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods — are looking over your shoulder. Money, hundreds of millions, maybe a billion, waits for you in the clubhouse. McIlroy shoots one over par for the first nine holes of the final round. Not great, but good enough to retain the lead.

On the 10th hole he hooked a drive off the fairway. Then chipped the ball across the fairway, then hooked the ball into trees, then hit a tree, then got onto the green, and then two-putted. Finished the hole with triple bogey. He bogeyed the 11th, double bogeyed the 12th, shot 80 for the round, finished tied for 15th place.

An epic collapse, a historic collapse in front of a worldwide audience. In front of Mom, Dad, and every friend he ever had.

You don’t come back from that kind of humiliation in a month. A lot of people never come back. Think Mike Tyson after Buster Douglas knocked him out or Greg Norman after his collapse at the 1996 Masters.

No, you don’t come back from a gut shot in one month. Took McIlroy two months. Two months later he won the 2011 U.S. Open. Actually, he conquered it. Finished 16-under par, an Open record, 8 shots ahead of his nearest competitor, which is 4 shots better than Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods ever managed.

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