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Vignettes From a Long Year on Tour

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Tiger Woods' mother spotted a reporter at the season-opening Mercedes Championships and asked how her son would fare in 2002. The prediction was for another strong year, maybe six victories, but no majors.
 
He was wrong. Woods had two majors among his six worldwide victories.
 
A week later, David Toms' group was backed up on the 18th hole at the Sony Open when he motioned to the baby-faced rookie on the tee.
 
``See this kid? Watch him this year. He's going to be good.''
 
He was right. That kid was Jonathan Byrd, who beat Toms by one stroke nine months later at the Buick Challenge.
 
Predictions can be a risky business.
 
Woods continues to dominate golf, but the game still has its share of surprises.
 
A three-page letter from Hootie Johnson generated more stories about Augusta National than Woods winning his third green jacket. The only victory party David Duval attended was at the Ryder Cup ' and he was on the losing team.
 
As 2002 ends, here is a look back at some of the moments beyond birdies and bogeys, winners and losers, green jackets and claret jugs:
 
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During one of the commercial breaks at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, a video showed highlights of the year in golf ' Sergio Garcia's winning putt at Kapalua, Rich Beem twirling the flagstick on the 18th green after winning the PGA Championship.
 
Suddenly, the audience was buzzing.
 
On the big screen was Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson slipping the green jacket on Woods after he won the Masters.
 
While online surveys indicate a majority of golf fans support Augusta National in the debate over its all-male membership, there is little question the issue has changed the way people see Johnson.
 
'''
 
Even though the ``Battle at Bighorn'' was a team exhibition, it was clear Woods wanted to avenge his loss to Garcia in the match play competition two years ago. Woods came out firing with three straight birdies in desert heat that soared into the 100s.
 
It was so hot that Melissa Stark of ABC Sports had one person hold an umbrella to shield her from the sun, another person to daub the perspiration from her forehead.
 
Walking to the fourth tee, a reporter said to Woods, ``I bet you wish you were me.''
 
``Why's that?'' Woods said, sweat already soaking his shirt.
 
``Because I can walk off the course after nine holes,'' the reporter replied.
 
``What do you think I'm trying to do?'' he said.
 
'''
 
The NFL season was two months old, and Phil Mickelson had his game face on.
 
The Baltimore Ravens were favored over the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Lefty figured it was a lock. The Steelers won two out of three last year, including a 27-10 rout in the playoffs. Plus, middle linebacker Ray Lewis was still injured.
 
``The Ravens aren't half the team they were last year, and they're 2 1/2 -point favorites. Are you kidding?'' Mickelson said.
 
Hmmm. It's a safe bet his money was on Pittsburgh.
 
``No, you don't understand,'' Mickelson said with a sneaky grin. ``I'm trying to help you.''
 
Pittsburgh led 28-3 at halftime and cruised to a 31-18 victory.
 
'''
 
Duval is among several players who don't sign golf balls, but it was hard to turn down the man and his son at relaxing Callaway Gardens ' especially after the man said he went to Georgia Tech, Duval's alma mater.
 
Duval relented and asked for the ball.
 
It was a Titleist. Duval has bitter feelings toward Titleist, having gone to mediation to settle lawsuits and countersuits over him leaving Titleist for Nike.
 
He paused, then started to give it back.
 
Instead, Duval used his black marker to scratch out the logo, signed his name and tossed the ball back to the man, laughing as he resumed hitting balls.
 
'''
 
Not many players grind on their games during the silly season, but that doesn't stop Vijay Singh. After the second round of the Target World Challenge, he brought a metal contraption out to the putting green.
 
It looked like a raccoon trap, the chute just wide enough for the blade of his putter. He stroked one putt after another through the gate, then stopped when he saw a visitor.
 
``Look at this,'' Singh said. ``You're looking at the No. 1-ranked putter on the PGA Tour next year. Come see me at this tournament next year, OK?''
 
He kept putting into the twilight.
 
'''
 
The year was particularly taxing on the PGA Tour, which tried to cut costs and plug sponsorship holes in a weak economy. Both missions were accomplished by December.
 
Commissioner Tim Finchem called his staff together and told them to start making their holiday plans. For the first time, the PGA Tour closed its offices the week of Christmas.
 
``It was an incredible morale boost,'' one employee said.
 
And a fitting end to the year.