Player of Year Down to the Wire

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Editor's Note: This is part of a series of articles highlighting the top stories of 2003. Check back through the end of the year to see the rest of the list.
 
2003 Stories of the YearFor four years, the PGA Tour season had lasted but eight months ' at least the exciting part. Enthusiasm seemed to lose major momentum after the PGA Championship.
 
And Tiger Woods was to blame.
 
He won so much, and dominated so clearly, that there was little drama to unfold following the seasons final major.
 
He was the Grinch who stole interest.
 
But this year was different. Because this year, there was plenty to talk about over the final few months. And it wasnt just Tiger talk.
 
It was Vijay talk, and Davis talk, and Furyk talk, and Weir talk.
 
It was talk as to who would be named the 2003 PGA Tour Player of the Year.
 
For four years the winner had been a forgone conclusion, determined long before the Tour Championship officially capped the season.
 
Woods easily captured the Jack Nicklaus Award from 1999-2002. And he would make it five in a row in 2003 ' but not without a fight this time.
 
Tigers year was one of pain and pleasure, of jubilation and frustration.
 
He started the year sidelined while recovering from knee surgery, and then won three of first four starts upon his return.
 
Typical Tiger, everyone thought. He contradicts human comprehension.
 
Then he started to contradict himself ' or at least the Tiger we had become accustomed to over the last four years.
 
He won five times overall this year on the PGA Tour, but, for the first time since 1998 ' the last year he didnt win P.O.Y. honors ' no majors. He earned more than $6.5 million for the third time in his career, but, for the first time since 1998 ' the last year he didnt win P.O.Y. honors ' he didnt take home the money title.
 
And, for the first times since 1998 ' yes, the last time he didnt win P.O.Y. honors ' Tiger Woods wasnt invincible.
 
But still, he had accomplished a heckuva lot, including his fifth straight Vardon Trophy for lowest adjusted scoring average, which meant someone had to accomplish a heckuva lot more in order to pry Woods death grip from the hardware.
 
For years, critics have been looking for a singular individual to rival the No. 1 player in the world and take him head on, only to discover that one man alone is not strong enough to topple Tiger, and that it will take a handful at equal strength.
 
Thats what you got in 2003.
 
When all was said and done, there were four others who challenged Woods for PGA Tour Player of the Year.
 
There was Vijay Singh: The money champion; a four-time winner.
 
There was Davis Love III: The Players champion; a four-time winner.
 
There was Mike Weir: The Masters champion; a three-time winner.
 
There was Jim Furyk: The U.S. Open champion; a two-time winner.
 
Weir and Furyk didnt have the overall campaign of Woods, but they had the majors that Tiger lacked.
 
Love didnt have a major, but he had a single victory ' at the Players Championship ' that outweighed any of Tigers head-to-head.
 
Singh was the man who ended Tigers four-year reign atop the money list. And while Woods posted three of his five victories before April, the 40-year-old Fijian was a man of all seasons, winning in the winter, spring, summer and fall.
 
When Shaun Micheel shockingly won the PGA Championship ' and ensured a Woods shutout in the majors ' the P.O.Y. race was wide open heading down the stretch.
 
Singh won the John Deere Classic for his third victory of the season to inch closer to front-runner Woods. But Tiger pulled further ahead with a victory in the World Golf Championships-American Express Championship.
 
One more win by Woods would mark the finish line. But it was Singh who got that extra victory at the Funai Classic at Walt Disney World Resort.
 
In the process, Singh leapfrogged Woods on the money list, and all but clinched his first money title with a runner-up finish the following week at the Chrysler Championship.
 
Woods opted not to play the Chrysler, which was just 90 miles from his Orlando home.
 
The most important thing to me is being ready for the Tour Championship. Thats a big event and I want to be physically and mentally ready, Woods said at the Disney.
 
If he (Singh) has it (the money title) wrapped up by then, so be it. I think anyone would rather have Player of the Year than the money title.
 
For the record, Woods played in only 18 PGA Tour events this year ' nine fewer than Singh. That put Tigers yearly winning percentage at .277 and Singhs at .148.
 
The Tour Championship could have been the deciding tournament. Had Woods, Singh, Weir or Love won, the Player of the Year title would most likely have been theirs. Furyk, the longest long-shot, may have needed more.
 
But none of the five did, leaving the voters ' their peers ' with a difficult decision to make.
 
Number of wins, said Woods, when asked to state his case. Not only the quality of tournaments that I won, but the percentage of tournaments that I played in, and my winning percentage, as well as my stroke average.
 
Hopefully, I can get voted for Player of the Year. But if I don't, in my mind I've done what I wanted to do, Singh said.
 
Added Weir: I think I have as much right to it as anybody. Thats the way I see it. But it doesnt mean that 160-some guys will see it that way.
 
And they didnt.
 
Woods, who won the points-based PGA of America Player of the Year award for a fifth consecutive year, was named the PGA Tours recipient one month after the official season concluded at the Tour Championship.
 
Theres a tremendous amount of satisfaction because it just shows that guys on the tour respect that I was consistent, that Ive won numerous tournaments, Woods said. I think thats what the award reflects.
 
Though the results were not revealed, it was believed to be the closest vote since Mark OMeara edged David Duval in 1998 ' the last time Woods didnt win P.O.Y. honors.
 
It can certainly be argued that this was Tigers second worst season as a professional.
 
He failed to win a major, failed to win the money title, and failed to dominate his peers the way in which he had each of the last four years.
 
Meanwhile, four others had the best seasons of their careers.
 
And yet it was still Woods who was deemed to have had the most successful campaign of them all in 2003.
 
Related Links:
  • No. 1: Sorenstam's Season Transcends Wins
  • No. 2: Tiger Goes Majorless in 2003
  • No. 3: What a Year for Watson
  • No. 4: Player of Year Down to the Wire
  • No. 5: Elders Knock Kids Off Tour Perch