2017 Yearender: The Sports Desk's picks - 18 of our favourite moments

Minnows who defy the odds

They were given only a 30-40 per cent chance of winning the Schools National B Division water polo final by their own coach, but Outram Secondary's boys defied expectations to stun Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) back in March.

It was only the second time Outram - or any school for that matter - had successfully interrupted the ACSian family juggernaut's long dominance to lift the title (the first was in 2013).

The minnows' victory - against opponents who boasted far greater depth in terms of talent and resources - is both inspiring and instructive, a testament to what strategic planning and a never-say-die attitude can do.

Lee Yulin

Tiger on the prowl again

It was 12.05pm on Nov 30 at the Albany resort in the Bahamas.

All eyes were on the 423-yard, par-four first tee as Tiger Woods prepared to take his first competitive drive since February in the first round of the Hero World Challenge.

With a mighty swing of the driver, Woods' tee shot travelled 324 yards after getting a kind bounce to settle on the fairway, a solid 30 yards further than playing partner and fellow American Justin Thomas.

The former world No. 1, who turns 42 today, would go on to card rounds of 69-68-75-68 to finish joint-ninth in the 18-player elite field in his long-awaited comeback from back surgery.

Golf has sorely missed the 14-time Major champion and his performance in the Bahamas suggests that we will see more of his trademark fist pumps in 2018.

Welcome back, Tiger.

Lim Han Ming

Battling heroines

Japanese seventh seed Nozomi Okuhara saluting the crowd after winning her titanic battle against fourth seed P.V. Sindhu of India 21-19, 20-22, 22-20 at the BWF Badminton World Championships in Glasgow in August. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

It was everything sport should be. Testing, terrific. Long, lung-busting. Technical, tactical. Sweating, staring. Silent, serious. No sulking, only 70-shot rallies. Then maybe a 56-shot one. The 1.55m Japanese lunging backwards. The 1.79m Indian lunging low. For 110 minutes and 124 points. Quite simply the best stringed contest all year came at the women's final of the badminton World Championships in August. P.V. Sindhu fought, Nozomi Okuhara won, people cheered. So did girls everywhere. They'd found the rugged heroines that they need.

Rohit Brijnath

Shot of inspiration

Nothing moved me more this year than seeing a young woman cry on an August morning in Malaysia.

National shooter Jasmine Ser had, on her final shot, lost the 10m air rifle SEA Games title to team-mate Martina Veloso.

The next day, Ser claimed an unlikely gold in the 50m rifle three positions final after a remarkable comeback and immediately broke down.

Sport is often cruel and occasionally redemptive. Watching Ser sob uncontrollably was a reminder how invested athletes are in pursuing their passion. They care, sometimes obsessively, but in doing so also inspire us to seek our best selves.

Jonathan Wong

Tennis wonderland

Roger Federer prepares to serve at 3-1 in the tie-breaker. A one-two punch follows. We've seen that a thousand times but, at this Laver Cup, it's Rafael Nadal who finishes the point off at the net. For the first time in the match, I felt certain Team Europe would win, and they did - 6-4, 1-6, 10-5.

Thirty-five Grand Slam titles between them never guaranteed victory over Team World's Jack Sock and Sam Querrey, such is sport.

The greater beauty was seeing two of the best players in tennis history on the same side of the net.

It was like Lionel Messi and Pele in a dream team, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus teaming up in foursomes, or Michael Jordan and Stephen Curry sharing a backcourt. Except this was no longer fantasy.

Lin Xinyi

He beats them and joins them

Football can thrill you with a glorious goal, a shock result or a big-money transfer.

On March 8, Barcelona and Neymar delivered all of that. Never had a team recovered from a 0-4 deficit in the first leg of a Champions League knockout game, but this is what the Spanish giants did as they thumped Paris Saint-Germain 6-1 with Neymar scoring two, including a spectacular free kick, and creating the stoppage-time winner.

Five months later, the impact of that game was still being felt as the Brazilian was signed by PSG for €222 million (S$354. 6 million).

Wang Meng Meng

Lims' fairy-tale run hits mark

Evergreen Paul Lim had an amazing year - teaming up with Harith Lim to shock Scotland at the World Cup and then surprising former world champion Mark Webster at the World Championship. PHOTO: DARTSLIVE

Let's not argue about whether darts is a sport. (It is).

Back in June at the World Cup of Darts in Frankfurt, it did not matter. Paul Lim, 63, and Harith Lim, 47, had just stunned top seeds Scotland, who had world No. 2 Gary Anderson and No. 3 Peter Wright, 5-2 in the opening round.

The older Lim would go on to impress at the World Championship last week, where he beat 2008 world champion Mark Webster in the first round and narrowly missed a perfect nine-darter - 27 years since he became the first to do so at a world championship - in his second-round defeat by two-time world champ Anderson.

They may not have won any trophies and this was no Olympics, but the way the Lims galvanised the country, especially the online community, via a rather obscure sport, was memorably remarkable.

David Lee

Asean's fastest man in water

The 20-year-old Singaporean Teong Tzen Wei after winning the 50m free on his SEA Games debut in Kuala Lumpur in August. PHOTO: ST FILE

He trained just once last year because of his national service commitments, and returned to regular training at the start of this year with the blessing of his unit.

With just eight months of intensive training, swimmer Teong Tzen Wei won the 50m freestyle, where the slightest mistake could mean finishing last, at the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.

What made it even more amazing was that the 20-year-old became South-east Asia's fastest man in the pool on his Games debut.

He has now set his sights on Olympic champion Joseph Schooling's national record of 22.47 seconds in this event, as well as a medal at the Asian Games in Indonesia next August.

Lim Say Heng

Belt up, what a ride to the top

Singapore pro boxer Muhamad Ridhwan celebrating after winning the Universal Boxing Organisation world super-featherweight title at Resorts World Sentosa on May 27. PHOTO: ST FILE

Four years ago, I watched amateur boxer Muhamad Ridhwan slug it out in a dimly lit, dusty arena in Myanmar that resembled the one in cult 80s movie Bloodsport.

Seven months ago, I watched the 30-year-old become Singapore's first professional boxing world champion, surrounded by glitz and bright lights in the biggest ballroom at Resorts World Sentosa.

It has been a roller-coaster journey for Ridhwan in the last few years. So it was heartening to see him bask in the adulation of his fellow Singaporeans with the Universal Boxing Organisation world super-featherweight title around his waist that night in May.

Sazali Abdul Aziz

Civility amid the mayhem

It was petty, ugly even, going against everything that sport should be about. But there was a ray of hope in those disgraceful scenes at last month's brawl between local amateur football sides Yishun Sentek Mariners and Safsa.

Among all the punches thrown at the Jalan Besar Stadium, even those flying kicks aimed at opposing players, there was a warm handshake - and it sparkled.

Yishun's Zulkiffli Hassim took time to clasp hands with Safsa coach Kevin Wee, even as he dove into one melee after another, moving to break up the brawl.

Here's the kicker: Zulkiffli is a player known for his infamous short fuse, with a history of disciplinary issues that saw his S-League career cut short after he was expelled from Balestier Khalsa.

Lessons clearly can be learnt, and change effected. It was a small gesture but, in a dark, joyless year for Singapore football, Zulkiffli let a little light in.

Shamir Osman

Clay king rules on hard court

Rafael Nadal's La Decima was special. Winning a 10th Roland Garros crown was expected and of no surprise to many. It was the stuff of dreams for fans of the Spaniard.

For this fan, however, the backhand volley winner that sealed Nadal's US Open victory was special.

Never mind that the 31-year-old was the top seed and his opponent in the final was No. 28 seed Kevin Anderson.

The US Open was Nadal's 16th Grand Slam title, his fourth hard-court major crown and his first hard-court title since January 2014.

Nadal's best surface may be the red dirt - 53 of his 75 career singles titles were won on clay - but he has shown repeatedly he can find ways to win anywhere.

And there was nothing quite like that victory in New York for me.

Nicole Chia

30,000 & still going strong

Dirk Nowitzki hitting a trademark fadeaway jumper in March for his 30,000th National Basketball Association point is hard to beat.

The Dallas Mavericks veteran's shot was no different from the thousands he has been making for the 20 years I have followed him, which was precisely the point.

I am old enough now that watching elite sport has become a constant reminder of how I am no longer growing up, but older.

The childhood sporting hero is perhaps the truest form of athlete worship. He or she comes at a time when it is possible for the 14-year-old to look at the athlete and say, "I want to be like that". This becomes less and less possible the older you and the athlete get.

The 2.13m Nowitzki is 39, not an age people often look forward to reaching for any reason. But maybe it would not be so bad if I could have an immortal jump shot like his, if I could "be like that".

Lester Wong

Restoring the Goodison soul

Another year, another year of little cheer. This is the quintessential Everton experience.

How about the 4-0 thrashing in January of soon-to-be-invincible Manchester City? No, a single match does not make a season.

Or the return of Wayne Rooney the prodigal son? No, a player does not make a team.

It's always the team above all. So the best moment had to be when we got a lifeline - by getting rid of the inept Ronald Koeman.

He may be serious about his job. But his heart was not that into Everton. By all accounts, he was aloof, detached, indifferent and passion-less. And that alone, not to mention his lacking in managerial skills and his short-termism in the transfer market, disqualifies him from managing the people's club.

We got our heart back and results too. Pity about the football.

Lee Wai-khim

Teenage Chinese-slayer

On Easter weekend, Japanese teen starlet Miu Hirano shocked the Wuxi home crowd, not once, not twice but thrice - beating China's top three paddlers in a row to be only the third non-Chinese to win the Asian Championships women's singles title.

She stunned current world No. 2 Chen Meng 3-0 in the final, after thumping current world No. 1 and the title-holder Zhu Yuling 3-0 in the semi-finals.

Her toughest task was actually to set the ball rolling - the day before on her 17th birthday, Hirano had come from two games down to take out Olympic and world champion Ding Ning 3-2 in the quarter-finals.

Steven Pak

Iceman warms a fan's heart

When he saw his idol Kimi Raikkonen crash out of the Spanish Grand Prix, young Thomas Danel's heart also went crashing.

What the six-year-old Ferrari fan from France did not know was that the scene of him crying his eyes out was seen by all on television broadcast. And Thomas' day went from terrible to incredible as Raikkonen approached his young mega fan at the end of the day and gave him an autographed cap.

It is these little heartwarming moments in sport that really matter amid the fierce and sometimes ugly rivalries on the track, on the field, or on any other battleground.

It reminds us that, despite all the money and fame, there are still athletes who never forget the people who have been rooting for them since the beginning.

Andy Ng

True heart of a football genius

As Brazil's footballers trudged off the Wembley pitch before their friendly game with England last month, a playground trick was caught by the camera and captured the soul of a talent like Neymar.

The 25-year-old had broken down in tears days earlier amid speculation of his unrest at new club Paris Saint-Germain, but was all smiles and jumping around in delight after performing a nutmeg on Selecao team-mate Gabriel Jesus after training had ended. It was payback in a game of one-upmanship. Jesus had done the same to Neymar in a previous training session.

In an era obsessed with inflated salaries and trophies, for that brief moment Neymar was not the world's most expensive footballer but resembled a kid from Sao Paulo, ball at his feet and impish cheek in his heart. It was the beautiful game at its purest.

Lok Jian Wen

GSP returns to the Octagon

Georges St-Pierre returning to the Octagon at UFC 217 last month, after a four-year absence from the Ultimate Fighting Championship, was a surreal moment for most mixed martial arts fans as the Canadian had walked away seemingly for good, citing "mental fatigue".

But seeing him perform like he had never been away, by choking out Michael Bisping to lift the middleweight belt was one for the ages.

The 36-year-old defied the odds of age and ring rust in a brutal sport that there can be no hiding from and lays bare one's deficiencies.

In what has been a lacklustre year for the UFC with their biggest star Conor McGregor lured away to the squared circle, Jon Jones dealing with another failed drug test and criticism over poor cards, having a fan favourite come back in the manner St-Pierre did was a display of a master of his craft.

Samuel Ng

Tasty twists at the Ashes

Day 5, second Ashes Test. Not so much because Australia won or that they took a 2-0 lead in the oldest cricket contest in history. But because Test cricket, the staid old five-day, all-white game which spawned ODIs and - more recently - the Twenty20 cash cow, proved that every session in the 10 days of the first two five-day games could provide more twists than a pretzel.

Fortunes in the long-form game turn sharply on two key skills - bowling to dismiss a side rather than merely containing their batsmen; and patiently building a long innings rather than smashing the ball around the park.

The first Test match between England and Australia was played in 1877, so it's fitting that the oldest rivals in international cricket should remind us of this.

David McMahon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2017, with the headline 'Minnows who defy the odds'. Print Edition | Subscribe