THE FLOPS

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

The North­ern Ir­ish­man ended 2012 at the top of the rank­ings af­ter a sec­ond ma­jor win, at the US PGA Cham­pi­onship, and he was the lead­ing money-earner on both sides of the At­lantic. But the 24-year-old slumped this year be­cause of new equip­ment, of­f­course dis­trac­tions, in­clud­ing his re­la­tion­ship with Caro­line Woz­ni­acki, and a first lengthy dip in form since turn­ing pro­fes­sional. McIl­roy, now No 6, fi­nally tasted vic­tory af­ter edg­ing Adam Scott at the Aus­tralian Open this month. Sebastian Vet­tel clinched a fourth suc­ces­sive world ti­tle by win­ning the last nine races of the year. For most fans, how­ever, the sea­son was a turn-off af­ter the Euro­pean sum­mer break be­cause Vet­tel was sig­nif­i­cantly faster than his ri­vals on tires that were per­fect for his Red Bull. Races in the sec­ond half of the sea­son fol­lowed an all-too-fa­mil­iar pat­tern of Vet­tel qual­i­fy­ing on the front row, es­tab­lish­ing an early lead, pulling well clear and man­ag­ing his tires and pit stops to the fin­ish. Back­ing up a sea­son that pro­duced Bri­tain’s first Tour de France vic­tory and an Olympic gold medal was never go­ing to be an easy task and Wig­gins seemed to buckle un­der the weight of ex­pec­ta­tion in 2013. Dumped as Team Sky leader for the Tour de France, Wig­gins tar­geted the Giro d’Italia. But crashes and a chest in­fec­tion forced an early re­tire­ment and a knee in­jury ruled out a de­fense of his Tour ti­tle. He won the Tour of Bri­tain in Septem­ber but his sea­son ended when he aban­doned the world cham­pi­onship road race af­ter just one lap. Be­ing an all-time great makes life hard for any­one who com­petes af­ter pass­ing their peak. While Fed­erer is con­sid­ered a vet­eran at 32, he will be dis­ap­pointed by a poor cam­paign this year af­ter end­ing 2012 as Wim­ble­don cham­pion and ranked No 2 in the world. The Swiss won just one ti­tle, failed to reach a Grand Slam fi­nal for the first time since 2002, saw his ma­jors’ quar­ter­fi­nals streak halted at 36 by Sergiy Stakhovsky at Wim­ble­don and ended the year ranked sixth. The big-spend­ing 2012 Pre­mier League cham­pion put up a poor de­fense of its ti­tle. It fin­ished 11 points be­hind city ri­val United af­ter its away form de­serted it in the sec­ond half of the sea­son. An early Cham­pi­ons League exit and FA Cup fi­nal loss to rel­e­gated Wi­gan Ath­letic trig­gered the de­par­ture of man­ager Roberto Mancini but re­place­ment Manuel Pel­le­grini’s side is also strug­gling to win away from the Eti­had Sta­dium this sea­son. Mour­inho’s me­te­oric rise through the man­age­rial ranks hit the buf­fers when the self-pro­claimed ‘Spe­cial One’ en­dured what he called the “worst sea­son of my ca­reer” at Real Madrid. The Por­tuguese suf­fered a break­down in re­la­tions with key play­ers in the Madrid dress­ing room and failed to de­liver the 10th Euro­pean ti­tle the club hi­er­ar­chy de­manded. Af­ter Barcelona re­claimed the league ti­tle from Madrid and city ri­val Atletico beat Real to win the Span­ish Cup in the Bern­abeu, Mour­inho left the club by “mu­tual agree­ment” and headed back to Lon­don to man­age Chelsea. Pitts­burgh dom­i­nated the East­ern Con­fer­ence in a lock­out-short­ened reg­u­lar sea­son, win­ning 36 of 48 games with a power-packed lineup that in­cluded All-Stars Sid­ney Crosby, Ev­geni Malkin, Kris Letang and stand­out goalie Marc-An­dre Fleury. A trip to the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nals ap­peared a for­mal­ity head­ing into the post-sea­son but a dream show­down against the Chicago Black­hawks was de­nied them when they were swept in four games by the fourth-seeded Bos­ton Bru­ins in the East­ern Con­fer­ence Fi­nals. Howard was a lead­ing light for the Or­lando Magic for eight sea­sons and when he joined the Los An­ge­les Lak­ers, many were pre­dict­ing great things. Nick­named ‘Su­per­man’, Howard failed to gel with his team­mates, es­pe­cially Kobe Bryant, and strug­gled for form and fit­ness all sea­son as the Lak­ers limped into the play­offs be­fore be­ing swept by the San An­to­nio Spurs. Howard fin­ished the sea­son with his low­est scor­ing av­er­age since his sec­ond year in the NBA. Af­ter just one cam­paign with the Lak­ers, Howard opted to join the Houston Rock­ets. The 33-year-old slug­ger from the Do­mini­can Repub­lic was lured away from the St. Louis Car­di­nals in 2011 by a $254 mil­lion 10-year con­tract of­fer from the LA An­gels, who were hop­ing his power would help blast them to a World Se­ries. Af­ter steady im­prove­ment in 2012, he hob­bled through to Au­gust this year be­fore end­ing his sea­son due to a foot in­jury af­ter bat­ting just .258 with a pal­try 17 home runs and 64 RBI. Pu­jols had never hit less than 32 homers be­fore join­ing the An­gels. Many felt Lewis Hamil­ton had made a mis­take when he walked away from McLaren at the end of 2012 to join Mercedes af­ter McLaren had won five races. But Hamil­ton’s de­ci­sion proved in­spired as his for­mer team strug­gled to make in­roads af­ter a slow start to the sea­son, amass­ing just 122 points to slip to fifth in the con­struc­tors’ standings. Jen­son But­ton’s fourth place in the fi­nal Grand Prix was the team’s best re­sult and Hamil­ton’s re­place­ment, Ser­gio Perez, is to be re­placed by Kevin Mag­nussen in 2014.

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