Four Major Stories in 2002

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PGA Tour (75x100)A years conclusion is the beginning of reflection. Each golfing season offers amazements to ponder, controversies to debate, and renewals, revelations and retirements to assess.
 
The PGA Tour delighted in the parity of a record 18 first-time winners, and distressed in a swamp of sponsorship woes.
 
Tiger Woods again led the tour in everything from wins to cash to Swedish girlfriends.
 
Arnold Palmer took his final bow at Augusta National, while Sam Snead took one last shot.
 
There were finishes to remember ' Steve Lowery at the International, and finishes to forget ' all not named Tiger at the Masters.
 
There was the technical ' club regulations, and the exceptional ' Jeff Julian competing with ALS.
 
Gene Sauers, Dan Forsman and Bob Burns won. David Toms, David Duval and Davis Love III did not.
 
The Phil Mickelson Story continued, with the latest chapter reading much the same as the first 10.
 
There were several headlines of note this year, but four in particular that were bold in type and lasting in longevity.
 
These were the PGA Tours four major stories in 2002:
 

Tigers Grand Slam Run
 
After the first day of the 2002 British Open the world's No. 1 ranked player was three shots off the lead. After Day 2 the deficit was trimmed to two.
 
It seemed inevitable. By Sunday evening in East Lothian, Scotland, Woods would have the third leg of the Grand Slam.
 
Augusta, check. Bethpage, check. Muirfield, next.
 
No man had been able to stop Woods from becoming the first player in 30 years to win the first two majors of the season. He squared off against five of the top-seven ranked players in the world Sunday at the Masters and defeated them all ' simply by shooting 1-under 71. He then captured his second U.S. Open crown, finishing as the only man under par at an overly vociferous venue.
 
However, it wasnt a man, but a figurative entity that emphatically ended Tigers Grand Slam run.
 
Mother Nature showed her hand Saturday off the Firth of Forth, and smacked around the worlds greatest player. Amid a darting and driving rain, wind gusts measured over 30 mph, temperatures dropped into the 40s, and Woods couldnt break 80.
 
Tiger, who won six times around the world in 2002, shot a career-worst 81 in the third round and eventually finished tied for 28th.
 
The dream had died, or at least was deferred to another year.
 

Ernie and the Beemer
 
When Tigers major monopoly ended at Muirfield, anothers career was resurrected.
 
It had been over five years since Ernie Els had won a major championship. He had won a bevy of tournaments around the world during that span, but there was that one glaring omission ' what defines a Hall of Fame player like Els.
 
The two-time U.S. Open champion started the second round of the British Open in a five-way tie for the lead. And while Woods crashed, and others burned, Els fought mightily to a 1-over 72.
 
That magnificent round ' under traumatic conditions ' put Els in perfect position to drench his major drought. Leading by two as the final round began, he extended the margin to three on the back nine.
 
Seemingly in control, Els suddenly found himself trailing after bogeying the 14th and double bogeying the 16th. He recovered, however, with a birdie on 17 and a par on 18 to force a playoff with Steve Elkington, Thomas Levet and Stuart Appleby.
 
What could have been his worst defeat proved to be his greatest triumph as Els won the five-hole playoff with a quintet of pars, culminated with a championship bunker shot at the last.
 
The 32-year-old earned the trophy he coveted most.
 
The seasons final major was once again the most compelling and cinematic.
 
When Rich Beem bogeyed two of his final five holes in the third round of the PGA Championship, he appeared to earn the 'Hey, Nice Try, Heres a Pat on the Back' award.
 
He now trailed Justin Leonard by three shots. A former car stereo salesman versus a past major winner. It was no contest.
 
Leonard shot 77. Beem became the improbable champion.
 
Having shelved the pressure throughout the first three days, he shouldered the load Sunday.
 
The 32-year-old, in just his fourth-ever major championship start, held off a furious rally by Woods, who birdied his final four holes.
 
Beem eagled the par-5 11th, lacing a 3-wood from 271 yards to within 10 feet of the hole to take command of the tournament. He then made a 35-foot birdie on the dangerous par-4 16th, two-putted the 17th for par, and made a harmless bogey at the last.
 
A star was born.
 

Hootie vs. Martha
 
Unfortunately, Annika Sorenstam wasnt the most talked about female in the world of golf as 2002 came to a close. That distinction ' dubious it may be ' belonged to National Council of Womens Organizations chairperson Martha Burk.
 
The Augusta National controversy began with a private letter from Burk to club chairman Hootie Johnson.
 
The 71-year-old Johnson fired back with a letter of his own ' publicly ' and the battle was on.
 
Burk wanted a woman member at the all-male club, which annually hosts the Masters Tournament. Johnson said he would not be bullied into admitting a female into its 300-male membership, and added there would be no such addition by next years event.
 
Sponsors were dropped, boycotts were threatened, defections were made, and players were questioned ' all ad nauseam. Everyone had an opinion ' even Rev. Jesse Jackson ' though not all wanted to express it.
 
Like a Ken Burns documentary, the debate wont end soon enough, and is sure to be a major story leading to the first major of next season.
 

Ryder Cup
 
The scenario was the same, and so was the end result. The Americans, champions on paper, were crumbled and tossed into golfs wastebasket by a more inspired than inferior European team in the 34th Ryder Cup.
 
In 1985, Sam Torrance made the Cup-clinching putt to give Europe its first victory in the biennial event in 28 years. This time he led the way as captain at The Belfry.
 
A year after being postponed due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the matches proved as stirring and competitive as ever.
 
With the two sides tied after two days, Torrance let his thoroughbreds out of the gates early in the Sunday singles. With a boisterous backing from a partisan, yet respectful crowd, the big boys did their parts, as did the unheralded duo of Phillip Price and Paul McGinley.
 
The Europeans won 7 of the 12 available singles points to win the event, 15 - 12.
 
Inasmuch as Torrance was regaled for his Sunday strategy, U.S. captain Curtis Strange was scrutinized for his. Strange allowed Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, the top-two ranked players in the world, to bring up the rear. Mickelson lost his match to Price, while Woods half against Jesper Parnevik proved inconsequential.
 
The Europeans have won and held onto the Cup six of the last nine competitions.