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2001 PGA Tour Retrospective Part 2

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In Part 1 of this year-end review, we pointed out that Tiger really did nothing to dispel the notion that he may be, now or in the future, the greatest player to ever live. That said, 2001 was also significant because other guys finally said, 'Hey wait a minute, Tiger's good, sure, but he's not THE ONLY PLAYER TO EVER LIVE!'

David Duval thankfully left the best-to-never-win-a-major troupe, a not-so-merry band of brothers now led by Phil Mickelson. Duval figures in his mind that, conservatively, he's let at least two Green Jackets slip right through his hands. He's frequently listed as a contender at any venue that favors a power player, which he most definitely is.
 
That's why his British Open win at Lytham was so impressive. Lytham was not a haven for the homerun hitter, but rather a devlish mousetrap which put a premium on discipline, accuracy and the ability to avoid the unforced error. In other words, the kind of steadfast approach which wins majors, an approach Phil Mickelson has yet to completely grasp.
 
Mickelson's propensity to miss short putts of consequence severely hurt his chances at Augusta, the U.S. Open and to a lesser degree, the PGA Championship. The PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club appeared to offer the best chance at a breakthrough. But when David Toms produced a spectacular ace on Saturday and then enough smarts to go clinical rather than emotional on his 18th-hole decision to lay up, well, you sort of sensed a minor onset of Normanitis for Phil Mickelon. Someone always seems to be there to spoil the party.
 
And yet, you must acknowledge not only Mickelson's rare talent, but more so, his consistent presence in the heat of damn near every great drama 2001 brought us in golf. His driver off the deck at Pebble ended up on an Alaskan cruise ship, setting off another round of criticism of Mickelson's decision-making. Why, many wondered, would one of the supposed best short-game practitioners not like his own chances of making birdie from short range at the famous par-5 18th? A driver off the deck with the ocean left?
 
Soon after Pebble, Mickelson's playoff with Frank Lickliter down the coast in San Diego became a comedy of errors. Lefty won with, of all things, a double bogey.
 
Later, he was front and center at Bay Hill, Augusta, Colonial, New Orleans, Southern Hills, Hartford and, of course, the PGA Championship. Mickelson faltered at Colonial and New Orleans, but credit, too, goes to Sergio, who crafted a brilliant 63 in Fort Worth, and David Toms, who gave a jacked-up home crowd on the bayou a rollicking round of 64. At the PGA Championship, Mickelson shot four consecutive 66s and simply got beat. No shame in that, certainly. With 10 top-three finishes, Mickelson legitimately contends on a level matched for consistency really only by Woods.
 
He is, in a way, a bit like the St. Louis Rams of the NFL in that there just aren't many teams nearly as explosive as the Rams, who lose only when they turn the ball over and beat themselves. If Mickelson can limit HIS turnovers, his skill level is such that he could go on a tremendous run.
 
Meanwhile, David Toms didn't warrant comparison with the likes of Mickelson at the start of 2001. He does now, at least when you're picking favorites for majors. To the golf public at large, Toms was the breakthrough star of the year. But to his peers, he's no surprise. The book on Toms is simple: very solid. And very solid wins you your share of tournaments.
 
Toms has few weaknesses. He carries himself with an impressive blend of quiet confidence, class and diginity. Could Toms end up with a career record better than, say, more ballyhooed stars such as Davis Love, Fred Couples or Tom Lehman? I think it's conceivable. But one great season does not make it so. As is the case with Mickelson, it'll be interesting to follow Toms in the critical several years ahead (critical in terms of how they'll ultimately be judged as golfers).
 
One fact remains irrefutable. David Toms in 2001 responded magnificently on two different Sundays--in New Orleans before a wild, gumbo-flavored, home-brewed gallery that raised the noise to NFL levels; and in Atlanta, where he made a perfectly sound decision to set up a cunning, game-winning par at the 72nd hole. Toms, we learned this year, is no Sunday wallflower.
 
Sergio's worth deeper examination, too, now that he silenced some critics with wins on two superb shotmakers' courses - Colonial and Westchester. Remember, he's just 21. And he's extraordinarily polished. To be sure, there are still doubters. He should consider cutting down on the number of pre-shot pumps that made watching him at the U.S. Open so terribly difficult.
 
And while I'm not expert enough in the mechanics to pass final judgment, there are still some who question whether or not his buggy-whip swing will hold up over the long haul, as well as under the extreme pressure of a major. I tend to believe at this point that victories at 21 at Colonial and Westchester are plenty of proof that we're looking at a player who should evolve into a several-time major champion.
 
The year 2001 will also be remembered for what 17-year-old Ty Tryon accomplished. In December, after he'd earned his PGA Tour card, Tryon innocuously revealed to me his projected early schedule for 2002, checking off venues like Doral and Honda and Bay Hill. On he went, and moments later I laughed to myself, thinking, this is a HIGH SCHOOL JUNIOR, for crying out loud, talking about Doral and BAY HILL! One pro quipped to me that when he was 17 all he thought about was whose parents were out of town and when was the party going to begin!
 
The Tryon case is intriguing because he's perhaps the first of a new generation of highly trained, better-built golfers who spend more time in the body shop fine-tuning than they do on the open roads of junior and amateur golf tournaments learning by trial and error. Tryon had his moments, but he did not put together an overwhelming, Tiger-like amateur golf resume. He basically skipped several levels of tournament golf on his way to the PGA Tour. And frankly, it was a bit unnerving to watch a guy so young and with very little track record almost effortlessly go 10-under alongside the likes of Tom Lehman at Honda, and then later shoot a 65 to co-lead on Day 1 at The B.C. Open.
 
Then again, Tryon's long had a personal trainer and has worked with mental coaches for years. He's sculpted his textbook swing under the tutelage of the master maker of better young golfers, David Leadbetter. So it's hard to imagine there won't be more to follow and that hopeful fathers aren't lined up outside Leadbetter's sparkling new academy near Orlando.
 
The following you'd have to figure are also looking back on 2001 favorably: Chris DiMarco, Scott Hoch, Scott Verplank, Paul Azinger, Jose Coceres, Shigeki Maruyama, Brad Faxon, Retief Goosen, John Cook, Charles Howell and Bob Estes. No doubt there were others who achieved personal goals, whether it was top 30 or top 125. The following, though in overall terms highly successful, might be looking back at 2001 less than favorably: Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Carlos Franco, to name a few.
 
Davis Love going sub-30 on Pebble's front side, Robert Allenby's metal-wood dart to win the Riviera playoff and Robert Damron's OT thriller at the Byron will also be remembered when one looks back at the season past (Tiger's exploits were detailed in Part 1 of this season's review).
 
Finally, I'm glad we have the last two weeks of the year off. The PGA Tour trail is a long one, though each new year the road ahead begins with as much promise as ever. I don't doubt that as a fan you'll be out there following the triumphs and travails of those who travel that winding path to glory.
 
Have a peaceful holiday season and a happy, healthy New Year.

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