There were two significant births in golf this year'Sam Alexis Woods and The FedExCup. Guess which one Tiger didnt kiss? Was the Cup fully embraced? No. Was it reasonably successful? Yes.
Tiger not closing on Sunday at both the Masters and U.S. Open was slightly surprising, but the courses were so difficult that not even Tiger could be considered a lock.
The humble kid from Iowa beat the specimen from another galaxy, cried and then kissed his baby when it was all over. The Masters delivered another nice story after a week where the mood was dour because of the brutal test. Most fans think excitement when they think of the Masters, not excruciating pain.
That brings us to the U.S. Open at Oakmont, which if you recall was deemed by Phil Mickelson to be hazardous to your health. By the way, Im in the camp thats fine with calling Angel Cabreras nearly 350-yard, fairway splitting missile on the 72nd-hole the shot of the year. His 69 on that golf course was equal to 61 on plenty of other TOUR layouts. And Sunday made for an amusing contrast. Tiger, holing a ton of grinding par putts but not nearly enough birdie tries, set hearts racing with the tight red shirt. He looked like Hercules. Cabrera, nervously smoking Marlboros, looked like a hulking casino bouncer. The beauty of golf is that Jackie Gleason can hold his own on the same ballroom floor as Fred Astaire.
Sergios Sunday in Scotland was the biggest disappointment of the year but I think hell be better for it. We like our athletes gracious in defeat; someday soon, Sergio will be a charming winner, and well be writing him love letters.
Among my images of the year was amateur Drew Weaver, from Virginia Tech, during a practice round in a downpour at Carnoustie with his father on his bag. His dad looked to the sky, smiled and said that considering where his son had been and what hed been through, this is liquid sunshine!
Hard to believe Sergio hasnt won in several years. Hard to believe hes not in the top-5 in the world with his ability. What do Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker have that Sergio doesnt, yet? Touch and mental toughness.
No one can accuse the sport of being out of touch with real world issues. Ill long remember the conference on global warming that broke out at Southern Hills in August.
Remember when people suggested that Southern Hills wasnt well-suited to Tigers game with its par 70 and various doglegs? For the second straight year he proved to be the shrewdest golf course manager; last summer, he was rather tidy with the no-driver approach at Royal Liverpool. Tigers the best tactician in sports, and certainly more likeable than Bill Belichick. He plots a strategy and executes it with brutal efficiency.
He might grade it lower, but Phil Mickelson deserves a B+ in 2007. Granted, he didnt win a major. And at this stage when youve already secured your spot in the Hall of Fame, its more about your ultimate place in the pantheon of legends ' top 30 all-time or with three more majors maybe top 10 all-time? Still, he shook off the Winged Foot hangover at Pebble. He then re-charged a potential rivalry with Tiger by winning THE PLAYERS, borrowing a page from the Vince McMahon pro rasslin handbook. He forged an alliance with his arch rivals manager, in this case Butch Harmon. Later in the year, Phil put the Boston Crab on Tiger at the Deutsche Bank. Yes, the middle stretch with the injured wrist was disappointing and the incendiary comments lobbed at the USGA and Tim Finchem smacked of vindictiveness, but Phil was a presence in 07 and he posted some impressive gains.
More disturbing than losing her game is the fact that in 2007 Michelle lost public goodwill. The only way to gain it back is to win, but that doesnt seem likely any time soon. Its one thing to slump at 32 when youve won a few times. Its another to slump at 18 in a sport where greatness at 14 doesnt guarantee greatness at 24.
This was a good year for characters in golf---Boo; Rory; Willie Mack; and Woody, a Tabasco guy in a ketchup world!
Theres not a lot to love these days about the idea of a 16-year-old turning professional. But Tadd Fujikawas so likeable and has been fighting the long odds since his near fatal birth that its hard to root against him. And his Friday eagle at the Sony was among the years most joyous single moments.
Laura Diaz told me that Lorena Ochoas a better person than a golfer, and thats saying something because Ochoas really special on course.
As for Annika, this was a year to heal her body and tend to her relationship with Mike McGee. If Juli Inkster can revive her career into her late 30s and early 40s, it would be foolish to suggest that Annika cant do the same. Still, Annika going winless in 2007 is as shocking as the Dolphins beating the Patriots.
Suzann Pettersen plays an exciting brand of golf. She hits it hard and plays with passion. Told several years ago she might never play again because of a back injury, she now plays every round like its the last round of her life.
Ochoa may be the best player in womens golf, but Natalie Gulbis, wall-to-wall on this network, is the most visible.
You could make the case that six different countries could honor six different golfers as their athlete of the year: KJ Choi of South Korea, Padraig Harrington of Ireland, Angel Cabrera of Argentina, Tiger Woods of the United States, Suzann Pettersen of Norway and Lorena Ochoa of Mexico. And that speaks well of our sport.
Others who stood out in 2007: the U.S. Walker Cup team, the U.S. Solheim Cup team, Scott Verplank at the Byron Nelson, Andres Romero at Carnoustie, Cristie Kerr at the U.S. Womens Open, Morgan Pressel at the Kraft Nabisco, Hunter Mahan and Jay Williamson at Hartford, and Mike Weir at the Presidents Cup.
Finally, many thanks to the players we cover. Theyre judged harshly every day that they go to work'by the number on the scorecard. In a most unforgiving profession, the vast majority deal with the press and the fans in a courteous and friendly manner. They bring credit and dignity to a beautiful sport. Golf remains largely scandal free, primarily because its filled with good and decent people. And thanks to you for your support and passion. This game has a strange and wonderful hold on so many of us. May you continue to be healthy enough to enjoy it in 2008 and best wishes in the coming holiday season.