Finally A Player of the Year Race

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SANDWICH, England (AP) -- Tiger Woods returned to the top of the PGA Tour money list for the first time since April with his tie for fourth in the British Open. He has the lowest scoring average on tour by a mile, and more victories than anyone.
 
What he doesn't have is a lock on player of the year.
 
For the first time in four years, golf heads into the stretch run with the Jack Nicklaus Award -- best on tour as voted by the players -- up for grabs.
 
Woods has everything in his corner except a major, and the PGA Championship next month at Oak Hill is his last chance to win a Grand Slam event for the fifth straight year.
 
If he doesn't, it will be interesting to see how the players vote.
 
Greg Norman in 1995 is the last guy to be voted PGA Tour player of the year without having won a major that season.
 
David Duval won the most tournaments (four), the money title and had the lowest scoring average in 1998, but players gave the award that year to Mark O'Meara, whose only two victories were the Masters and British Open.
 
If Mike Weir (Masters), Jim Furyk (U.S. Open) or Ben Curtis (British Open) win at Oak Hill, that would make them the leading candidate. If Woods wins, he likely will be the favorite because of his four other PGA Tour victories and otherwise dominance.
 
And if it's someone else, the race could go down to the wire.
 
HAPPY RETURNS
 
Curtis Strange returned to England for the first time since the Ryder Cup, working the British Open as a television analyst for ABC Sports.
 
Strange, captain of the U.S. team that was beaten by Europe, drove his cart along the back nine Saturday at Royal St. George's and was stopped for autographs and radio interviews at every turn.
 
'A few of them called me captain,' Strange said. 'I think they know me now. They're very nice people. They're the same today as they were back then.'
 
SKINS INVITATION
 
While Annika Sorenstam decides whether to accept an invitation to play in the Skins Game, the rest of the four-man field is starting to take shape.
 
Mark O'Meara gets one spot as the defending champion. The invitations don't go out until next month at the earliest, but organizers plan to offer the other two spots to Fred Couples and Davis Love III.
 
Sorenstam, who became the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour, has said she will not play in another tour event.
 
However, Sorenstam said two weeks ago she is considering a special event like the Skins Game, the original silly-season tournament. Her appearance would boost ticket sales and TV ratings with Tiger Woods taking this year off.
 
The only hang-up for Love is that the Skins Game is held over Thanksgiving weekend. He will be in South Africa the previous week for the Presidents Cup.
 
RIGHT CLUBS, WRONG PLACE
 
Bob Estes made his first bogey at the British Open before he even set foot on Royal St. George's.
 
He has been using cavity-back clubs with U-shape grooves. That's perfect for getting the ball in the air with a lot of spin -- and just what he didn't need for a windy course.
 
'I should have been smart enough to know to bring my blades over here,' Estes said after closing with a 69 to finish at 9-over 293. 'I was in trouble from the start.'
 
AMATEUR HOUR
 
Gary Wolstenholme, best known for beating Tiger Woods in the 1995 Walker Cup, has won amateur championships in seven countries and is a lock to make his fifth straight Walker Cup team for Britain and Ireland.
 
But playing in the British Open for only the second time makes him wonder how life would have been different if he turned pro.
 
'When I saw Ernie Els going out of the course in his brand new Mercedes, I thought I'd love to be able to afford that car,' the 42-year-old Englishman said. 'I have a Saab.'
 
Wolstenholme works as a marketing manager at a golf club, and said he might consider turning pro when he is eligible for the senior tour.
 
Now, his biggest goal is to set the record for most points in a Walker Cup. He is three points behind Sir Michael Bonnallack. Britain & Ireland defend the cup Sept. 6-7 at Ganton Golf Club in England.
 
Wolstenholme doesn't reflect on his victory over Woods, saying only that 'it was on television, and that was good for me.'
 
In fact, he says he hasn't even seen Woods since that match.
 
'I would love to have a drink with him and see what his life is like,' Wolstenholme said. 'But I doubt if that will ever happen.'
 
In case Wolstenholme has been out of the loop, Woods is doing just fine as a pro.
 
UNDER REVIEW
 
The Royal & Ancient plans to review its procedures to avoid another freak incident in which Mark Roe and Jesper Parnevik were disqualified from the British Open for failing to swap scorecards.
 
Roe had a 67 and was at 1-over 214. He would have been two shots off the lead and paired with Tiger Woods in the final round. Instead, he put Parnevik's score of 81 on his card, while Parnevik put Roe's score on his card.
 
'We'd be crazy not to review our procedures thoroughly because incidents of this kind are very undesirable,' Royal & Ancient secretary Peter Dawson said Monday, wrapping up a weird week at Royal St. George's.
 
'The rules of golf, however, are unlikely to be adjusted because of this incident,' he said. 'People are responsible for their own score, and if you try to write a rule about that, then you cannot actually write one which says it just applies to people who are on television.'
 
DIVOTS
 
In Kenny Perry's first 240 starts on the PGA Tour, he won $2,771,771. In his last five starts, he has won $2,926,750. ... Of the five players who finished in the top 10 at the Masters and U.S. Open, only two made the cut in the British Open. Ernie Els tied for 18th, while Mike Weir tied for 28th. ... The Royal Bank of Scotland is a longtime sponsor of the British Open. Perhaps it was more than just coincidence that Luke Donald, who recently signed an endorsement deal with RBS, wound up in the same group with Tiger Woods the first two days at Royal St. George's.
 
STAT OF THE WEEK
 
For the first time since 1999, Tiger Woods has played each of the first three majors over par. He won the PGA that year at 11-under 277.
 
FINAL WORD
 
'I didn't know if he was an American or not.' -- Fred Couples, on Ben Curtis winning the British Open.
 

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