The Player of the Year race is as close as ever


NORTON, Mass. – Reactionary types by nature, PGA Tour players seem particularly adverse to the hypothetical.

Such was the scene on a cool, drizzly Thursday at TPC Boston as some in this week’s field at the Deutsche Bank Championship were confronted with the wildly impractical, albeit relevant, “who would get your vote for PGA Tour Player of the Year right now?”

“Uh . . . that’s a tough one,” Brandt Snedeker allowed after a few moments mulling the options.

“It’s a hard one because they both have had phenomenal years . . . it’s a tough one,” Charles Howell III followed moments later.

And so it went, the ultimate game of kick the can with most players polled firmly planted on the fence awaiting the outcome of the next three playoff stops.

It is a measure of how convoluted the current race is that Howell, like many of the frat brothers, not only unsure who he may vote for but not even convinced who is currently in the race.

In Howell’s case, he was referring to Tiger Woods, a five-time winner in 2013, and Adam Scott, who claimed his first major at the Masters in April and his second title of 2013 last week at The Barclays.

Lost in that assessment is Phil Mickelson’s season, a career victory at the Open Championship preceded by his win at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February, not to mention his Scottish Open triumph which is a European Tour stop but considered by most a quality win by any measure. It’s also worth noting, that Lefty has never won the Player of the Year Award.

The answers to the hypothetical are as varied as the swings on TPC Boston’s practice tee, with some players weighting major victories above all else.

“Right now, it would be Phil, Adam, then Tiger,” said Bob Estes, in a classic win, place, show assessment. “I’m pretty sure Tiger would take Phil or Adam’s year as well. It’s so hard to vote against a major and another big win.'

Most, however, would rather take a sit-and-watch approach. With three playoff events remaining and the FedEx Cup hanging in the balance any of the three contenders – to say nothing of U.S. Open champion Justin Rose or PGA champion Jason Dufner – could make the voting a formality with a hot few weeks.

“Think you’d have to do a three-way Player of the Year right now,” Snedeker said. “It’s as close as I’ve ever seen it. Whoever has a better run at the end of the year will win it.”

How to weight major victories against standard Tour wins seems to be the primary talking point when rating seasons between 2013’s top 3 and, at least to some extent, the unrealistic expectations placed on Woods every time he tees it up.

“What you are doing is comparing Tiger’s history and what he’s done this year against winning a major and another tournament,” Hunter Mahan said. “With Tiger, we put him on such a pedestal, for what a player of the year does is different for Tiger than for everyone else. We expect more out of him than just winning five times. For someone else to win five times is unheard of.”

Historically the Jack Nicklaus Award has been swung by major championship performance. In 1996, Tom Lehman won the Open Championship and Tour Championship and clipped Mickelson, a four-time winner that season, for Player of the Year.

Conversely, in 2011 Luke Donald hoisted the Nicklaus Award following a two-win season although his best finish in a major that season was a tie for fourth at the Masters.

Still, Grand Slam performance seems to be the tipping point for many when it comes to Player of the Year voting.

“Obviously majors count more. If it wasn’t it would be Tiger hands down,” said Snedeker, who won last year’s FedEx Cup but lost in the Player of the Year voting to Rory McIlroy.

For Scott, who also posted top-10 finishes at the Open Championship (T-3) and PGA (T-5), the math of scale is clearly in play over the next month. Asked, hypothetically, if another playoff victory would pull him clear of Woods in the wildly unscientific voting he could only smile.

“Yeah, I think it does, absolutely, it absolutely does,” he laughed. “I don't know. All I can do is try to go win more. Maybe two wins might do it, I'm not sure. I don't know what the other players are thinking.”

If Thursday’s polling is any indication, players are not thinking about it much at the moment, not with three marquee events and $10 million up for grabs over the next month. But time is running short for all the contenders.

Because of the condensed schedule this season, Player of the Year ballots are scheduled to be sent out after the Tour Championship which ends Sept. 22 and players will vote electronically with the results released before the start of the 2013-14 season at the Open the first week of October. By that time perhaps a singular performance will make all of the conjecture meaningless.

Or maybe, as Snedeker suggested, the Tour considers a co-Player of the Year option.