By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Editor. Photos Courtesy of ESPN.com and PGATour.com
Now that 2003's major championships are fading scenes in our seasonal rearview mirror, golf fans' attention shifts towards naming the PGA Tour Player of the Year. It's a question we haven't had to ponder for nearly a half-decade, as Tiger Woods dominated professional golf for just that long (Woods won the award in 1997 and 1999-2002, with Mark O'Meara interrupting his streak in 1998), and the eventual winner was a foregone conclusion each year.
And it's not like Woods won't get his share of attention for this year's award. He's won four times in 2003, featuring his usual dominating performances along the way. It's conceivable that a victory in the season ending Tour Championship could tip even more support in his favor, though his lackluster record in this year's majors would probably preclude him from winning player of the year (or at least it should). Woods carded only one top-10 finish in those four tournaments, tying for fourth at the British Open.
|Tiger Woods helps Mike Weir with the Masters' Green Jacket. Photo Courtesy of PGATOUR.com|
Since most people look at majors as the barometer for determining which player had the single best year on Tour, that pretty much guarantees Woods won't win this year.
But does that mean there are only four players with a solid chance to win? Certainly not. 2003 has been a strange year in many ways, and one of them is the high number of multiple PGA event winners, seemingly reversing a trend from previous years, when there was a plethora of first-time Tour winners in each season.
I have my pick for this year's player of the year award, but before I offer my choice, I'll present the candidates and the arguments in favor (and against) for each one:
|Jim Furyk's been a steady performer for years, and his US Open victory proved he could win a big one. Photo Courtesy of PGATOUR.com|
Mike Weir -- The left-handed Canadian thrilled the golf world by winning the Masters in April, triumphing over Len Mattiace in a playoff and demonstrating iron nerves by holing putt after putt after putt to take home the Green Jacket. He also won earlier in the year at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and Nissan Open, and performed admirably at the season's 'other' three majors, finishing T3, T28 and T7, respectively. The knock on Weir is, though he's got those three victories to his credit, he's somewhat disappeared in the second half of the season. He hasn't had a top five finish in nearly three months, and his money total, though certainly impressive, ranks only fifth on Tour.
Jim Furyk -- Furyk's known for his unusual backswing, serving as a role model for every player choosing 'individualism' over strict adherence to Ben Hogan's swing orthodoxy. He's always on the United States' Ryder and President's Cup teams, and Fluff carries his bag. But until last June, he'd always been just a good, solid player. His victory in the US Open propelled him into the 'great player' category, and he's another guy having a career season. In addition to the US Open win, he won early last month at the Buick Open, and lost in a playoff to Scott Hoch at Doral in March. He's earned fourteen top-10 finishes in 2003 (including top five finishes at The Player's Championship and The Masters) and ranks fourth on the overall money list. Strikes against? He missed the cut at The British Open, and his 'breakthrough' season comes in a year when others' 'breakthrough' seasons may be a smidgen more meaningful. Still, an enduring candidate.
Davis Love III -- You can't say enough about Davis Love III. He's a guy you're always pulling for, and when his game's on, he's probably one of a very small group of players that would challenge Woods for the lead on Sunday. He's won four times on the PGA Tour in 2003, including smashing performances at The Player's Championship and The International, where he literally blew the competition out of the water. He's currently second on the money list to Vijay Singh, and when sizing-up a player with eighteen career PGA Tour victories, you're just dying to give him the award. But even he would agree that voting him the 2003 Player of the Year would be a mistake, simply because of his disastrous performance in a couple of this year's majors. No one is harder on Davis than himself, and he's got to be shaking his head at missing the cut at the US Open and PGA Championship. Love did recover nicely from a poor first round at The Masters, but he never really contended, after being a pre-tournament favorite this year. He also was amongst the leaders going into the final round at The British Open, and finished a respectable T4, yet that's probably not enough to get him the votes he'll need for the big prize.
|Vijay Singh may have looked annoyed at the US Open, but his 2003 overall performance has been anything but frustrating. Photo Courtesy of ESPN.com.|
Vijay Singh -- Of all the players on Tour, if you suggested ten years ago that Vijay Singh would, year after year, be one of professional golf's steadiest performers, you enjoyed considerable foresight indeed. Yet Singh is one of those players who always seems to be there, gathering a good chunk of TV time in nearly every event he plays. In 2003, he's won three times, including recently at the John Deere Classic, and he's currently first on the PGA Tour leading money list. Still an international player, Singh is also quite busy honoring commitments all over the globe. He sometimes gets a bad rap for saying things that perhaps weren't well thought-out in advance ("I hope she misses the cut"), but there's a certain value to a candid voice that articulates what a lot of people are thinking. It's a shame that such a great player should be the focus of constant negative scrutiny -- he doesn't deserve it. As far as the 2003 Player of the Year award, his three victories haven't come in the 'name' tournaments that you'd like, but he did perform well at a couple of this season's majors, and that has to be taken into account, along with the fact he's won more money than anyone else this year.
Tiger Woods -- See above.
Long shots -- You'd certainly like to consider the other two 2003 major championship winners - Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel -- though their astonishing victories remain their only first-place finishes on the season, and for that matter, their entire careers. Curtis and Micheel deserve consideration because they triumphed over the game's best players in two of the most important events of the year, and their respective victories helped invigorate a Tour that had largely become a love-fest for one player (at least from the fans' standpoint). In the end, however, any talk about an award for a season's worth of work cannot realistically include these players, no matter how impressive their individual accomplishments might be. Other potential choices -- two-time winner Ernie Els and three tournament winner Kenny Perry, though all of the players listed above would probably rank higher on the list of candidates. Strong finishes by either could easily get them on the 'front page,' however.
|Tiger's doffed his cap four times thus far in 2003, yet not in a major. Photo Courtesy of ESPN.com.|
Looking ahead, there are several events that could potentially cloud this year's player of the year picture even further. Next week brings the American Express Championship, a World Golf event where most of the game's top players will compete. There are also several regular PGA Tour stops with pretty large purses, and there's the season ending Tour Championship, which could be the deciding factor, as the Tour's top 30 money winners go head-to-head one final time.
If I were asked to name a winner at the end of September, my choice would be Mike Weir. Though his numbers aren't as impressive as some others' under nomination, his victory at The Masters probably had the most impact on the 2003 PGA Tour season. Here's looking forward to a final month of professional golf, and perhaps then we'll have a better idea of who deserves the PGA Tour's most distinguished annual award.
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