Par-i-ty [par-i-tee] n. 1. Equality, as in amount, status, or character.
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – The NFL went with a salary cap. Major League Baseball opted for luxury taxes. All the PGA Tour needed to usher in a new era of parity was one wildly unforeseeable, and infinitely complicated, year.
If the news that Jim Furyk had been named the circuit’s Player of the Year on Saturday isn’t enough to prove that competitive equality at least made a cameo in 2010, Matt Kuchar’s Tour-leading haul of $4.9 million seals it. That’s the lowest winning total for the cash crown since David Duval collected $2.5 million . . . in 1998.
As for Furyk, the Jack Nicklaus Trophy will make a fine bookend with his FedEx Cup, but his three-victory, Tour-leading total is the lowest victory tally in a decade.
For the past decade Furyk’s season would be good, not great, at least not by comparison. “It gets you on the ballot but it wouldn't get you the vote,” he admitted earlier this week.
The statistics, if not the scoreboard, confirm what the golf world has been wrestling with for months – the gulf between the Tour’s haves and have-nots has not been this narrow in some time.
Thirty-nine different players won in 2010, compared with just 31 last year, and the average Tour earnings ($1.027 million) was the third highest it’s been in a decade. It is, in essence, trickledown economics in action.
“The most telling stat is the cut score,” Stewart Cink said. “Look at the distance between the leaders and the cut. It used to be if the leader wasn’t double digits under par the cut came at over par but that’s not the case anymore. The gap (between No. 1 and 125) has definitely narrowed.”
The Tour expedited this year’s Player of the Year vote, either a nod to the obvious choice or maybe they just wanted to close the polls before Woods went on his season-ending tear at the Chevron World Challenge.
Either way, the reality that the Player of the Year was likely a lopsided affair for a non-major, non-money list winner wasn’t lost on Woods following Saturday’s announcement.
“When was the last time a player didn’t win a major got Player of the Year?” he asked. The answer? “Me?” asked Woods, who took last year’s trophy without a Grand Slam keepsake, but he did card six victories and $10.5 million in winnings.
The world No. 2’s point, however, is not lost in the minutia. Without question Woods’ wayward year is, of course, the primary reason 2010 enjoyed such competitive parity. For the first time since turning pro he failed to win a Tour event and 2010 marks just the fourth time since 1997 Woods didn’t claim the Jack Nicklaus Trophy and the fifth time he didn’t win the money title.
Whether parity is good for golf is not so clear. TV ratings and fan interest waned in the wake of Woods’ struggles this season, yet in every other sport parity is longed for, even legislated to varying degrees. Thirty million college football fans can’t be wrong, can they?
“When I first came on Tour I can still remember Greg Norman was the dominant player in the late '80s, and then there was a slow down, and I remember reading about how the PGA Tour was boring because there was no dominant player,” Furyk said. “And then along came Tiger Woods, and he dominated the world of golf for ten years. And then I remember the PGA Tour is boring because one guy kicks everyone else's rear end. It's kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don't.”
If the Tour had taken on a Mike Tyson forgone conclusion feel in recent years, 2010 was more of a revolving door of dominance. Ernie Els ruled the Florida Swing with two victories, Mickelson won the Masters but was otherwise a non-story, Furyk emerged in the late spring with his second triumph at the Heritage and Kuchar was the best of the fall.
Given the circumstances a supremacy by committee approach wasn’t entirely detrimental given that Woods spent much of the season on an emotional, if not literal, hiatus.
In baseball parlance, it was the year of the wild card with contenders large and small taking turns at the top spot.
“A couple people already mentioned the NFL. The season is fun,” Furyk said. “There are some teams you could pick for the AFC or the NFC that could win it, but it could be four or five teams on either side very easily, and I think that's fun to watch.”
Furyk, as affable and well-spoken as they come on Tour, was asked if Woods’ “off” year somehow tarnished or lessened any of his accomplishments?
“Is it going to be like the Roger Maris asterisk?” Furyk laughed. “My peers voted on it . . . everyone else had the same opportunity to win as the guy that gets voted. I don't see it. I wouldn't feel badly or there wouldn't be an asterisk in my mind.”
No, there’s no asterisk required. But unless things return to the post-Nov. 27 status quo the Tour may want to consider name tags at award ceremonies.