Sorenstam Leads a Year of Surprises
After all, the attention at the start of the season was on a woman who unwittingly sparked a fierce debate over gender blending.
And sure enough, that's what made headlines.
Only it wasn't Martha Burk at the Masters.
It was Annika Sorenstam at the Colonial, as the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour.
'You cannot have any conversation about 2003 without starting off with the contributions and accomplishments and awareness that have been generated as a result of Annika Sorenstam,' LPGA Tour commissioner Ty Votaw said.
Jay Haas summed it up more succinctly.
'You'll remember that forever,' he said.
It might not have been the most spectacular season in golf, but it certainly was one of the most peculiar.
-- For the first time in 34 years, the majors were swept by guys who had never won a Grand Slam event. Curtis never even played in a major until winning the British Open.
-- Woods broke one of the oldest records on the PGA Tour by making the cut in his 114th consecutive tournament, even though it came at an event that had no cut.
-- A lefty won a major for the first time since 1963.
-- Players in their 40s won more often than players in their 20s.
Still, the biggest story was a player who missed the cut.
'It was a Cinderella story,' Sorenstam said.
No one had a more memorable season than the steely Swede. She won two majors to complete the LPGA career Grand Slam, and capped her year by getting inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
But it was one swing under stifling pressure (her opening tee shot), one ordinary score (71) in an extraordinary round at the Colonial, and two days on the PGA Tour that captivated everyone's imagination.
'I've climbed as high as I can, and it was worth every step,' Sorenstam said after respectable rounds of 71-74.
When the year began in Hawaii, there was an uneasiness on the PGA Tour about the battle between Burk and Augusta National over the all-male membership at the home of the Masters.
Despite pressure on corporate members, TV sponsors and top players, club chairman Hootie Johnson held his ground that Augusta National would invite a female member on its own timetable. And Burk's rally turned into a circus, with more media than protesters.
Mike Weir became the first Canadian man to win a major and the first lefty in 40 years (just not the one everyone expected).
Vijay Singh was mum on the Augusta controversy, but had plenty to say about Sorenstam.
'I hope she misses the cut,' he told The Associated Press just before the Colonial. 'Why? She doesn't belong out here.'
That brought only more attention to Sorenstam, and made her performance even more remarkable.
In one of the most anticipated shots in golf, with more than 10,000 fans straining for a view, Sorenstam pulled back her 4-wood and belted it down the middle.
She made birdie her fourth hole, but she couldn't make enough to stick around for the weekend.
'She played amazing,' Jesper Parnevik said. 'I guess we have the Shark, the Tiger, and now we have the Superwoman.'
Singh withdrew from the Colonial -- and the media. Through it all, the 40-year-old Fijian had his best season ever with four victories and $7.5 million to end Woods' four-year reign atop the money list.
It still wasn't enough to earn him PGA Tour player of the year.
That went to Woods for the fifth straight time, even though he failed to win the money title or a major for the first year since 1998.
Woods missed the first five weeks of the season recovering from knee surgery. He won two of his first three tournaments, including the Match Play Championship, to become the first player to capture all four World Golf Championships.
The real Grand Slam belonged to Weir, Jim Furyk, Curtis and Shaun Micheel.
Weir won the first Masters playoff in 13 years, and his two other victories made him the highest-ranked southpaw in golf.
Furyk has a peculiar swing, but there was nothing strange about his performance in the U.S. Open. Accuracy was his hallmark at Olympia Fields, where he won by three shots.
Curtis was No. 396 in the world ranking and a 500-1 longshot at Royal St. George's in England, the ultimate no-name on a leaderboard chock full of stars.
The 26-year-old rookie closed with a 69 to win the British Open over Singh, Woods, Thomas Bjorn, Davis Love III, Sergio Garcia and Kenny Perry.
Equally surprising was Micheel, who had not won in 163 previous tournaments. No one will forget the shot that clinched the PGA Championship at Oak Hill -- a 7-iron that stopped 2 inches from the cup on the final hole.
There were a few surprises on the LPGA, none bigger than Lunke.
One of the shortest hitters on the longest course in U.S. Women's Open history, Lunke won in an 18-hole playoff. She had never finished better than 15th on the LPGA Tour.
Michelle Wie was among a record 14 teenagers who qualified for the Women's Open and by year's end was making herself at home on just about every tour.
The 13-year-old Hawaiian played against the men on the Canadian and Nationwide tours and in the final group at an LPGA major, and she accepted an invitation to next month's Sony Open on the PGA Tour.
In all, seven women competed against men this year.
Some of the most exciting golf came in team competitions.
Europe won the Solheim Cup in Sweden. The final score was 171/2-101/2, the largest margin ever, although the celebration was so chaotic once Europe earned the decisive points that the final four matches never finished. The Americans conceded three of them.
At the Presidents Cup, Woods and Ernie Els tried to settle a tie with some of the most pressure-packed par putts in golf. There was still no winner after three playoff holes, so captains Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player decided there should be no loser.
They called it a tie and shared the cup.
'I think some people will be upset with that decision,' Nicklaus said. 'But both Gary and I feel in our hearts ... that it was the right thing to do. And we stand by it.'
Given the bizarre season in golf, it was the perfect way to end the year.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
After Further Review: Woods wisely keeping things in perspective
Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.
On Tiger Woods' career comeback ...
Tiger Woods seems to be the only one keeping his comeback in the proper perspective. Asked after his tie for fifth at Bay Hill whether he could ever have envisioned his game being in this shape heading into Augusta, he replied: “If you would have given me this opportunity in December and January, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.” He’s healthy. He’s been in contention. He’s had two realistic chances to win. There’s no box unchecked as he heads to the Masters, and no one, especially not Woods, could have seen that coming a few months ago. – Ryan Lavner
On Tiger carrying momentum into API, Masters ...
Expect Jordan Spieth to leave Austin with the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play trophy next week.
After all, Spieth is seemingly the only top-ranked player who has yet to lift some hardware in the early part of 2018. Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas have all gotten it done, as have Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and most recently Rory McIlroy.
Throw in the sudden resurgence of Tiger Woods, and with two more weeks until the Masters there seem to be more azalea-laden storylines than ever before.
A Spieth victory in Austin would certainly add fuel to that fire, but even if he comes up short the 2015 champ will certainly be a focus of attention in a few short weeks when the golf world descends upon Magnolia Lane with no shortage of players able to point to a recent victory as proof that they’re in prime position to don a green jacket. – Will Gray
Davies not giving up on win, HOF after close call
PHOENIX – Laura Davies knows the odds are long now, but she won’t let go of that dream of making the LPGA Hall of Fame.
At 54, she was emboldened by her weekend run at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup. She tied for second, five shots behind Inbee Park.
“The more I get up there, I might have a chance of winning again,” Davies said. “I'm not saying I will ever win, but today was close. Maybe one day I can go closer.”
Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, but she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in 2001. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.
Over her career, she has won 20 LPGA titles, four of them major championships. She was the tour’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996. She probably would have locked up Hall of Fame status if she hadn’t been so loyal to the Ladies European Tour, where she won 45 titles.
Though Davies didn’t win Sunday in Phoenix, there was more than consolation in her run into contention.
“Now people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.
Davies impresses, but there's no catching Park
PHOENIX – Inbee Park won the tournament.
Laura Davies won the day.
It was a fitting script for the Bank of Hope Founders Cup on Sunday, where nostalgia stirs the desert air in such a special way.
Two of the game’s all-time best, LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park and World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies, put on a show with the tour’s three living founders applauding them in the end.
Park and Davies made an event all about honoring the tour’s past while investing in its future something to savor in the moment. Founders Marilynn Smith, Shirley Spork and Marlene Hagge Vossler cheered them both.
For Park, there was meaningful affirmation in her 18th LPGA title.
In seven months away from the LPGA, healing up a bad back, Park confessed she wondered if she should retire. This was just her second start back. She won feeling no lingering effects from her injury.
“I was trying to figure out if I was still good enough to win,” Park said of her long break back home in South Korea. “This proved to me I can win and play some pain-free golf.”
At 54, Davies kept peeling away the years Sunday, one sweet swing after another. She did so after shaking some serious nerves hitting her first tee shot.
“It’s about as nervous as I’ve ever felt,” Davies said. “I swear I nearly shanked it.”
Davies has won 45 Ladies European Tour events and 20 LPGA titles, but she was almost 17 years removed from her last LPGA title. Still, she reached back to those times when she used to rule the game and chipped in for eagle at the second hole to steady herself.
“It calmed me down, and I really enjoyed the day,” Davies said.
With birdies at the ninth and 10th holes, Davies pulled from three shots down at day’s start to within one of Park, sending a buzz through all the fans who came out to root for the popular Englishwoman.
“People were loving it,” said Tanya Paterson, Davies’ caddie. “We kept hearing, `Laura, we love you.’ It was special for Laura, showing she can still compete.”
Davies relished giving all the young players today, who never saw how dominant she once was, some flashes from her great past.
“Yesterday, after I had that 63, a lot of the younger girls came up and said, `Oh, great playing today,”’ Davies said. “It was nice, I suppose, to have that. I still am a decent player, and I actually used to be really good at it. Maybe that did give them a glimpse into what it used to be like.”
She also relished showing certain fans something.
“Now, people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.
Davies was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996, when she won two of her four major championships. She was emboldened by the way she stood up to Sunday pressure again.
In the end, though, there was no catching Park, who continues to amaze with her ability to win coming back from long breaks after injuries.
Park, 29, comes back yet again looking like the player who reigned at world No. 1 for 92 weeks, won three consecutive major championships in 2013 and won the Olympic gold medal two years ago.
“The reason that I am competing and playing is because I want to win and because I want to contend in golf tournaments,” Park said.
After Davies and Marina Alex mounted runs to move within one shot, Park pulled away, closing ferociously. She made four birdies in a row starting at the 12th and won by five shots. Her famed putting stroke heated up, reminding today’s players how nobody can demoralize a field more with a flat stick.
“I just felt like nothing has dropped on the front nine,” Park said. “I was just thinking to myself, `They have to drop at some point.’ And they just started dropping, dropping, dropping.”
Yet again, Park showed her ability to win after long breaks.
In Rio de Janeiro two years ago, Park the Olympic gold medal in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year, in just her second start upon returning.
“I'm really happy to have a win early in the season,” Park said. “That just takes so much pressure off me.”
And puts it on the rest of the tour if she takes her best form to the year’s first major at the ANA Inspiration in two weeks.
Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill
ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.
The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?
“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”
And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.
After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.
“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”