So much for the surfeit of first time winners we had last year on Tour when 18 players broke through. This year only Ben Crane, at the BellSouth Classic has won for the first time.
I, for one, am just fine with this. We are not even into April yet and we have a rousing four way race for Player of the Year. There is, as they say, a lot of golf left. And if I had to vote today, I would choose Mike Weir, the left handed Canadian who beat Len Mattiace in a playoff for the Masters.
Majors are always the tiebreaker when the voting for Player of the Year commences. Remember 1998? David Duval finished first on the money list and won four times. Mark O'Meara, by comparison, won just twice and finished seventh on the money list. But his victories came at Augusta and Royal Birkdale. He won two majors. His peers voted him PGA Tour Player of the year because of that. It was a no brainer.
But what I like about this year is the case you can make for all four of this year's multiple winners (not just Weir).
Yes, Ernie Els finished double-bogey, bogey, bogey Sunday at Hilton Head to give away a golf tournament that would have been his with three closing pars. But let's not forget Els ran the table in Hawaii the first two weeks of the season including a 31 under par 72 hole total at the Mercedes Championships that included, amazingly, two double bogeys. Moreover, Els also has won twice already this year on the European Tour and has a huge leads in the Order of Merit Standings.
For his part, Woods came back from knee surgery and won his first tournament out of the box the Buick Invitational. Two weeks later he won an endurance contest at soggy La Costa in the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship. A month after that he spread eagled the field at Bay Hill.
Love actually could have maybe should have four wins by now. His triumphs came at Pebble Beach, Ponte Vedra Beach and Harbour Town. The Honda Classic, as well, would have been his but for a dodgy final round that allowed good friend Justin Leonard to sneak past him.
Leonard, actually, is one fifth of the answer to a pretty good trivia question: Name the five players, other than Weir, Woods, Love and Els, to cash the big check on Sunday this year. The answer: Vijay Singh (Phoenix), Frank Lickliter (Tucson), Scott Hoch (Doral) and Ben Crane (BellSouth).
At this rate, the field for next year's Mercedes Championship will have less than 20 players. While I wish nothing bad on that tournament, and as a matter a fact, a field that small could make for a very elite, boutique tournament. I'm kind of liking the shootout that's going on between Els, Woods, Weir and Love III.
My prediction for the Player of the Year at the end of the season? The easy answer is Woods. But he will have to win one of the three remaining majors to muscle into the lead. The dark horse is Love III, fitter than ever now at 39. Weir would be the most fun and, arguably, the best for golf. Els might be the most popular. Down the road, I think he is the player most capable of providing a challenge to Woods year in and year out.