Sorenstam Leads a Year of Surprises

By Associated PressDecember 25, 2003, 5:00 pm
In a year of surprises, from Ben Curtis and Hilary Lunke winning majors to Tiger Woods getting grand slammed, the biggest story in golf should have come as no surprise at all.

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.
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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry