Changing of the Guard on PGA Tour

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PGA Tour (75x100)The hardest working man in golf became the No. 1 player in the world in 2004, as Vijay Singh dominated the sport with one of the best seasons since his predecessor held all four majors at the same time.
 
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Tiger Woods was the player of the year in 2003, and looking back at it now, maybe he earned his fifth straight Byron Nelson award with a little help from that thing called reputation. Vijay Singh won the money title, but Woods led the way in wins with five. Singh won four times in 2003, in 27 events. Woods meanwhile earned five titles in only 18 tournaments. It was close, but 2004 was no contest.
 
Singh was the runner-up at the first event of the year, the Mercedes Championships, and picked up win No. 1 a month later at Pebble Beach. From Pebble to Houston, the site of Singh's next win, Woods had already broken into the winners circle at the Match Play, and Phil Mickelson, maybe foreshadowing the Red Sox World Series victory, won his first major at the Masters.
 
Singh followed a top-10 finish at Augusta with a back-to-back wins in Houston and New Orleans. His next victory came in August at the Buick Open, one week before the PGA Championship.
 
On Sunday at Whistling Straits, Singh left the door wide open for a Justin Leonard or a Chris DiMarco to step in and take Singh's last shot at glory in 2004. Singh was already having a tremendous year, but a major would have put it over the top - even without a birdie in the final round.
 
Singh held on that Sunday and picked up his first birdie of the day on the first playoff hole. He parred the next two holes of the extra session to take home his second Wannamaker Trophy, knocking off Leonard and DiMarco in the process.
 
At that point the race was almost over. Mickelson's Masters victory was fading from our collective minds and Woods' once endless reign atop the world rankings was on its last legs.
 
Singh became the top player in the world with a win at the Deutsche Bank Championship. He followed with a victory in Canada and made it three in a row with a win at the 84 Lumber Classic. He tied for second his next time out at Disney and won the following week at the Chrysler Championship.
 
He fell short of 10 wins, but nine is pretty darn good. Woods stood no chance, neither did Mickelson or Retief Goosen. Singh is the player of the year, with as many wins as Tiger had in 2000, and almost $11 million in earnings.
 
You can only think Singh is working hard on an encore.
 
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Todd Hamilton made the most of his first full opportunity on the PGA Tour with a pair of victories including the British Open Championship in 2004, earning him the title of Rookie of the Year.
 
Hamilton played several years in Japan and was one of that tour's top players. He survived Q-School to earn a spot on the PGA Tour this season and earned his first career victory at The Honda Classic,
 
There were plenty of favorites heading into Troon. There was Goosen, fresh off his second U.S. Open title at Shinnecock, and fellow South African Ernie Els, who won the Open at Muirfield a few years ago. But what about Ben Curtis?
 
Curtis was not going to repeat as Open champion this year, but he wasn't supposed to win at Royal St. George's in the first place. With the chance that the British Open outcome would be far less than predictable for the second year running, who was going to be this year's Curtis?
 
Hamilton was as unlikely a winner as anyone, or was he? Curtis was making his 16th start ever at last year's championship while Hamilton has been teeing it up for quite some time now. Hamilton had also won already on the PGA Tour, but he was not supposed to win at Troon, especially in a playoff over Els.
 
Hamilton played what he called 'ugly golf' at the Open. Playing for par most of the time with irons off the tee, Hamilton birdied the holes he was supposed to birdie and did the unthinkable by holding off Els in a playoff.
 
Any other year, a Nationwide Tour grad would have been the rookie of the year, and Zach Johnson was certainly deserving of the honor in 2003. A major victory pretty much sealed the deal for Hamilton, however.
 
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR
John Daly worked very hard a couple of years ago to get himself back into the top-50 in the world for a spot at the Masters, then his game slipped again and he was fighting an uphill battle once more.
 
Daly had a tough year in 2003 with several missed cuts and a few WD's. He came out firing in 2004, however, and made his mark at Torrey Pines. Daly managed a spot in a three-way playoff despite a 75 in the final round at the Buick Invitational.
 
He was solid in the extra session against Chris Riley and Luke Donald, producing a tremendous bunker shot that rolled within a few feet of the hole, setting up his first victory on the PGA Tour since the British Open in 1995.
 
Daly added a few more top-10s, including a runner-up finish behind Singh at the Buick Open. He finished 21st on the money list and made his way back to the Tour Championship for the first time since 1991.
 

TOURNAMENT OF THE YEAR
Phil Mickelson was playing with an incredible amount of confidence in 2004, and when the problems his family went through the year before were revealed, Mickelson's struggles in 2003 were brought into a different light. He was a new man in 2004 in more ways than one, and he is the protagonist of the tournament of the year.
 
This year's Masters was going to be about the golf. No protests. Just golf. This was great because it didn't take away from any of the buzz building around Mickelson during the first months of the new season.
 
Mickelson won his first start of the year in a playoff at the Bob Hope Classic. He finished third at Pebble Beach and had top-five finishes in his next two events. Heading into Augusta, Mickelson was the pick.
 
Mickelson was five shots behind Justin Rose after round one, but it was a day where several big names shot themselves in the foot and Lefty's 72 wasn't looking that bad.
 
Defending champion Mike Weir missed the cut after an opening-round 79, but Mickelson survived to play the weekend after getting it to three-under par on Friday. Mickelson posted his second straight round of 69 on Saturday and was tied atop the leaderboard with Chris DiMarco.
 
Fans of the game were treated to a phenomenal final round at the 68th Masters. There was plenty of stuff going on before Mickelson's duel with Ernie Els materialized on the back nine.
 
At the par-four 11th, K.J. Choi, who was playing alongside Els, had some 220 yards left to the green. With a back pin placement, Choi hit a laser of a five-iron that rolled across the green into the hole for an eagle.
 
Lightning struck twice on the par-three 16th at Augusta, first with an ace from Padraig Harrington followed by a hole in one from Kirk Triplett, maybe 10 minutes after Harrington's. Triplett fell to the ground on the tee with arms wide open and would have been happy ending his Masters right there.
 
Everybody was pulling for Mickelson, but Els was setting up the be the spoiler. Els had an eagle at the par-five 13th and a birdie at the 15th to pull ahead at eight-under, but Mickelson matched him with a barrage of birdies on the back nine culminated by a 20-footer at the 16th that forged a tie.
 
After Els finished in the clubhouse at minus-eight, the stage was set for Mickelson simply to not screw it up. DiMarco gave him the line at the closing hole, and Mickelson sank the winning putt.
 
STORY OF THE YEAR
There are actually a few.
 
1. Vijay overtakes Tiger
 
A couple of years ago, Tiger Woods' reign atop the world rankings seemed like it would carry on for quite some time, certainly well beyond the 2004 season. Woods was the No. 1 for a total of 334 weeks, but his drought in the majors was no match for Singh's stellar season.
 
Singh won nine times in 2004, including a major, and it was more than enough to assume the top spot in the rankings. Woods on the other hand fell to No. 3 at one point, being surpassed by Ernie Els.
 
2. Mickelson wins first major
 
Phil Mickelson was the best player never to win a major. Whether you count the U.S. Opens he played as an amateur or not, Mickelson was 0 for life in majors heading into this year's Masters. Since the win Mickelson contended at the U.S. Open and the British. Major win No. 2 is on the way.
 
3. Debacle at Oakland Hills
 
What a pairing. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. That didn't work. What about David Toms and Jim Furyk? No. Davis Love III and Chad Campbell? Not even close.
 
The United States got a half point from Chris Riley and Stewart Cink as the Europeans took a 3 1/2 - 1/2 lead after Friday morning's four-balls at the Ryder Cup.
 
Captain Hal Sutton struck gold with Chris DiMarco and Jay Haas in the afternoon foursomes, and that was about it for the U.S. The Europeans rolled in the three remaining matches, expanding their lead to five points.
 
Sutton tried to fire up his team and said it wasn't over till it's over. He was right. Even though the U.S. were down by a lot, they could make it up on Saturday.
 
Uh, no.
 
The Americans took 2 1/2 points Saturday morning, but they could have gotten more. DiMarco and Haas halved their match with Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, and Sutton decided to send the American duo out again in the afternoon.
 
They were slaughtered, losing 5 & 4 to Westwood and Darren Clarke. The Europeans won two of the other three matches Saturday afternoon.
 
Game seven of the ALCS reminded me of the final day of the Ryder Cup. Even though the Yankees were still tied with the Red Sox at three games apiece, it was over for the team from the Bronx. The Red Sox enjoyed game seven with a convincing win. The Europeans didn't even have to break a sweat on Sunday, just finish 18 holes and pop the champagne.
 
THUMBS UP
Charlie Sifford became the first African-American inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame this November.
 
Sifford became the first African-American to play on the PGA Tour full time, playing an instrumental part in breaking down racial barriers on the tour. He won twice and was inducted to the Hall through the Lifetime Achievement category.
 
THUMBS DOWN
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem's letter to Ernie Els, demanding the South African star to play more tournaments in the United States.
 
While Finchem didn't see a problem with his argument, Els was justifiably upset. The Big Easy is the only true international star in the golf world. Els' season typically starts with a couple of events in Australia and Asia after making an appearance in Hawaii. He stops by South Africa on the way to Europe and then he's back across the pond getting ready for the Masters.
 
Els wants to play in the United States and because he has a PGA Tour card, Finchem wanted Els to request permission to play Els overseas. While Els has does have a PGA Tour card, he also has a European Tour card and he will always be welcomed on the Sunshine Tour.
 
The PGA Tour is where the money is, and Els has done more than enough to deserve a spot. Just let him carry on his usual schedule.
 
GREAT YEARS
Retief Goosen won his second U.S. Open title, Stewart Cink and Stephen Ames had the best seasons of their careers, Sergio Garcia's swing change worked and Adam Scott has arrived.
 
BAD YEARS
Ben Curtis. Curtis winning the British Open last year might go down as one of the biggest flukes in history.
 
Gene Sauers. The 2002 Comeback Player of the Year finished 170th on the money list.
 
Craig Perks. Perks took home $1,080,000 with his win at The Players Championship a couple of years ago. His money total for 2004: $423,748.
 
Related Links:
  • The Year in Review