No 7 Rise and Fall of the Big Five

By Mercer BaggsDecember 20, 2005, 5:00 pm
2005 Stories of the Year - #7Editor's note: is counting down the top 10 stories from the 2005 golf season. This is Story No. 7.
As each year comes to a close, we tend to forget the things that took place in the beginning of the season. We place those into the back of our minds, well behind the things that happened a month ago, a week ago and yesterday.
But think back to January and February and March really up until July. There was one story, one manufactured and mass circulated story on the PGA Tour that trumped all others: the Big 5.
Retief Goosen and Tiger Woods
Retief Goosen and Tiger Woods were two of golf's Big 5 in 2005.
You guys made that up, Retief Goosen said to the media earlier this year.
And he was absolutely correct.
This was a complete media concoction. Players arent nearly as concerned with rivalries as are media and fans. They just want to win; we want that extra excitement.
And to be truthful, the hysteria was all Tigers fault. He took away much of that extra excitement by being so dominant over the years. There was no Big 5; there was simply One.
But then Tiger decided to rework his swing. And Phil Mickelson won a major. And Vijay Singh won just about everything he entered. And Ernie Els dominated overseas.
All of a sudden, there seemed to be parity at the top in mens golf.
Entering the 2005 season, Singh was the No. 1 player in the world, not Woods. And Mickelson was the reigning Masters champion, not Woods. And Els was the chic pick to win multiple major titles on the year, not Woods.
This was the Big 4. But we were forgetting someone.
Goosen is often overlooked and often left out of the discussion of great modern day champions. He sits off to the side of consciousness, either stewing inside or not giving a damn (hes a tough man to read).
So out of respect to the man who often gets little, the Big 4 became the Big 5
It all seemed a bit too contrived at first. What were the odds in this day of depth that four or five men would dominate a tour consisting of the best players in the world?
Turned out they were pretty good ' at least early on in the 2005 season.
Singh won the second event of the year, the Sony Open. Woods won the third event, the Buick Invitational. Phil won Nos. 5 and 6, the FBR Open and the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
By the time the tour hit Florida, eight tournaments had been contested in which at least one of the Big 5 had competed. And one of the Big 5 had won four of those events.
Thats when it really got interesting.
At the Ford Championship, the first event on the Florida Swing, Woods and Mickelson went head-to-head in a final-round duel that ultimately proved to be the most exciting 18 holes of the season.
Both men made only one bogey that day. Woods, who started the final round two back of Mickelson, shot 6-under 66. Mickelson had a 69. Tiger won at the buzzer, when Mickelson narrowly missed holing a chip shot at the last.
Leaving Doral and heading to Augusta, the buzz over the Big 5 was pinning the needle. It only helped matters that Els won multiple events overseas during this time and Mickelson captured his third title of the season the week before the Masters.
The Masters, however, would prove to be the beginning of the end for the Big 5.
Woods, of course, won his fourth green jacket that week ' and his first major championship in nearly three years. With it, he regained control of the top spot on the world ranking.
Tiger Woods
Woods separated himself from the pack with his British Open victory.
Singh won two weeks later, defending his title in Houston, and then two weeks thereafter in Charlotte to keep alive the theme of top-ranked domination.
But Singhs Wachovia triumph proved to be the last victory by any of the Big 5 members until the British Open. And when Tiger throttled the field at St. Andrews, there was little doubt that Woods had once again separated himself from everyone else.
Woods was the key cog to this Big 5 machine. When he broke away, the machine fell apart.
In sport as in every part of society, we love to build things up and then tear them down. We like to pull for the underdogs until they win ' and keep winning. We like to make people into celebrities and then pull out the pedestal on which we placed them.
In this case, the notion of a Big 5 was created. And for a while it thrived. But instead of getting tired of it and tearing it down, Tiger went ahead and did that for us.
Woods was able to slide out of this pack rather easily. In addition to his own fine play, his exit was greased by the fact that the rest of the members werent performing up to standards.
Singh was unable to duplicate his remarkable finish of 2004, winning only once in the final six months of the year.
Mickelson cooled down considerably after his torrid start. He collected just one more title ' albeit a big one ' once the major season started.
Goosens air of unflappability took a severe hit as he blew a three-stroke lead through 54 holes of the U.S. Open, shooting 11-over 81 on Sunday. He also blew chances to win the British Open, PGA Championship and Tour Championship. In each of those three events, he was three back entering the final round and all three times shot over par.
And then there was Els, who injured his knee after the British, forcing him to skip the PGA Championship and the Presidents Cup. Els was unable to win on the PGA Tour for the first time since 2001. He also failed to record a top-10 finish in a major for the first time since 1999.
On the other hand, Woods managed to win the World Golf Championships-NEC Invitational and the WGC-American Express Championship, as well as the Dunlop Phoenix Open in Japan.
He finished the year with six PGA Tour wins, including two majors. He won player of the year honors, the money title, and had the lowest stroke average on tour. He finished in the top 5 in 13 of his 20 official starts.
It would seem that the Big 5 is dead and buried with a tombstone that reads: Born January 1, 2005 ' Died July 17, 2005.
But maybe, just maybe, a hand will emerge from the grave. After all, Tiger did miss the two cuts this year. And Vijay did dust him head-to-head at the Buick Open. And Phil did win the PGA Championship. And Ernie did return from a four-month layoff to win in just his second start. And Retief did win in the U.S. and in Europe, as well as just last week in South Africa -- over Els.
Stay tuned. This story may again be written in 2006 ' with a different theme.
Related Links:
  • The Year in Review
  • Bios: Tiger | Vijay | Ernie | Phil | Retief
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    Getty Images

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    Getty Images

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