A down year for Tiger leads to parity in golf
In the years when he wasn’t winning a major or three, Woods compensated by winning at least five times on the PGA Tour against some of the strongest fields on some of the toughest courses. He won 31 times and six majors in the previous five years.
The only time during that stretch that Woods did not win PGA Tour player of the year was in 2008, when he made it through only half the year until his knee gave out. Padraig Harrington captured the last two majors to win the award, although Woods still earned some consideration. He won four times in six starts, including a U.S. Open.
The FedEx Cup playoffs get under way this week at The Barclays, and Woods is at No. 112 in the standings, sandwiched between Bob Estes and Cameron Beckman.
Dominance has given way to parity.
Five players have multiple victories this year – Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Justin Rose and Hunter Mahan – yet none of them has more than two wins, and none of them won a major.
Why has no one filled the void?
“That’s how good Tiger Wood is – that’s what I make of it,” Adam Scott said Tuesday.
Els has been leading the FedEx Cup standings since winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March. He begins the playoffs with only a 149-point lead over Stricker. A year ago, Woods had a 1,276-point lead over Stricker going into The Barclays.
“This is just an observation,” Zach Johnson said Tuesday. “But I watched Greensboro for about six holes on Sunday and they showed the standings. I knew Ernie had been on top forever, but he still is. The other years it seemed like it was so volatile that even I was at No. 1 for like a week. Now it’s all bunched up.”
Golf is bunched up at the moment, at least on the PGA Tour.
“No one has separated themselves,” Mahan said. “Tiger hasn’t won five times. You’ve got a bunch of guys who have won twice.”
In its first three years, the FedEx Cup has provided four great tournaments after the majors were over, and the list of winners backs that up – three wins for Woods; two apiece for Mickelson, Stricker, Vijay Singh and Camilo Villegas; and Heath Slocum as the outsider, but only after beating Woods, Stricker, Harrington and Els on the last hole. Even so, it had little bearing on anything except a bank account.
This year – thanks to Woods – it’s a little different.
The four playoff events over the next five weeks most likely will decide who was the best player on the PGA Tour this year. Not only is there no clear-cut favorite for player of the year, it’s hard to determine the front-runner.
“Ernie?” pondered Mahan, but only after taking several seconds of thought. “He’s leading the points race, right? And he won twice. And he was right up there in two majors.”
Actually, only one major.
Els had a share of the lead Sunday in the U.S. Open until he started dropping shots along the Pacific cliffs and never got them back. He wound up third, then missed the cut in the British Open and fizzled at the PGA Championship.
Winning the FedEx Cup might be all it takes for Els to be voted player of the year. Then again, it’s mathematically possible for him to do that without winning another tournament. Can a guy get voted best player with only two wins and no majors?
“If Phil wins, it’s got to be over,” Mahan said, continuing to work this out while speaking to no one in particular.
The defining shot of this goofy season was the 6-iron Mickelson hit through the pines on the 13th at Augusta National when he won the Masters. He is the only major champion in the FedEx Cup because the other three – Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and Martin Kaymer – were not PGA Tour members.
For the eighth time over the last three months, Mickelson will have yet another chance to replace Woods atop the world ranking. It should have happened by now, as poorly as Woods has performed. Trouble is, Mickelson hasn’t been much better. Lefty has not finished in the top 10 in the four tournaments he has played since the U.S. Open.
Mahan won in Phoenix, got engaged to a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, then won his first World Golf Championship title at Firestone. He would get consideration with a victory or two in the next month, plus the $10 million prize for the FedEx Cup.
The same holds true for Stricker, Furyk and Rose. Someone needs to separate themselves from the pack.
“I guess there’s a lot of people in the mix,” Dustin Johnson said. “But whoever has a good playoffs will probably be the top candidate.”
That might include Johnson, himself. Two playoff wins, a FedEx Cup, a victory earlier this year at Pebble Beach, sympathy for the bunker ruling at Whistling Straits. Why not?
“If I could win a couple of playoff events and the FedEx Cup, I’d be happy,” Scott said. “Even if you didn’t vote for me.”
Given the way this season has gone, the four playoff events could go to players who had not won anything all year.
Even someone like Woods.
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