An Eventful Year on PGA Tour

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PGA Tour (75x100)For a year that had all the billings for increasing social arguments and never ending debates over men and women and the sport, 2003 boiled down to a relentless barrage of brilliant golf and one of the most exciting campaigns in recent memory.
 
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
 
We all knew who it was going to be, although one could easily justify giving the award to Tiger Woods or Vijay Singh. In the end Woods walked off as the player of the year for the fifth straight season, but without a major, Woods made his case by simply winning tournaments.
 
The year started out from a different vantage point for Woods: rehab. Woods underwent knee surgery at the end of the 2002 season that would seemingly keep him out of action throughout the early months of 2003. Woods made a relatively quick recovery, however, and chose Torrey Pines as the site of his first tournament of the year.
 
Woods put all questions about his health aside and cruised to a four-shot victory at the Buick Invitational. Two weeks later, Woods ousted David Toms, 2 & 1, in the 36-hole final of the WGC-Match Play Championship to complete a career sweep of the World Golf Championships events.
 
At the Bay Hill Invitational, Woods was more than human and battled through a stomach ailment and heavy rain to post an 11-shot victory and capture the event for the fourth consecutive season.
 
Woods had won three of his first four events and tied for 11th at the Players Championship heading into the season's first major.
 
While Augusta was crawling with protestors, a few Elvis impersonators and a guy who had been booted from the KKK, the networks prepared to air The Masters commercial free, upstaging Martha Burk's plan of getting the sponsors involved in the debate over female membership at Augusta National.
 
Woods wasn't a factor at the tournament and finished tied for 15th. His play wasn't any better at the U.S. Open, where he finished tied for 20th.
 
While Woods had already racked up three victories, the first half the 2003 season was nothing like the year before. Woods had already completed the first half of the single season grand slam but now he was being upstaged by the likes of Mike Weir and Jim Furyk at the tournaments Woods lived for.
 
Woods quieted those who made it a point to publicly criticize his clubs with a victory at the 100th Western Open before heading to Royal St. George's where he was in contention at the season's third major.
 
Woods tied for fourth at the British Open, his best showing in a major in 2003, and traveled to Oak Hill for the PGA Championship where he posted his worst finish of the season, a tie for 39th.
 
So what was wrong with Woods? For one, his driver, or lack of it. But really, Woods wasn't having a bad year. But after you do what Woods had done throughout his career, no major victories leads to talks of a slump.
 
Woods got back to business at another WGC event and walked away with a victory at the American Express Championship.
 
And what about Singh?
 
Singh was crucified early in the season for speaking out against Annika Sorenstam's appearance at the Colonial. However, the Fijian, who isn't exactly a media darling, was on his way to the best season of his career.
 
He picked up his first victory of the year at the Phoenix Open and added another one at the Byron Nelson, after which he promptly pulled out of the Colonial.
 
Singh was determined and played tournament after tournament, raking in the cash. He finished strong with victories at the John Deere Classic and FUNAI Classic at The Walt Disney World Resort.
 
Singh unseated Woods and took home the money title, so the debate was open for player of the year. Woods, who did not win a major or the money title, and Singh, who played in significantly more events, were the unanimous finalists.
 
Woods took the award because in addition to his five victories, he finished first in stroke average, again.
 
What to expect in 2004, hasn't 'more of the same' with regards to Woods been uttered before?
 
THE MAJORS
 
Since Woods didn't win one, here's a little bit on the four guys who did.
 
Mike Weir won the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic early on in what would be an incredible season for the Canadian.
 
He knocked off Charles Howell III in a playoff to take home the Nissan Open and carried that momentum into the Masters.
 
Weir was as solid as they come and with ice pumping through his veins he stood on the 18th green at Augusta National with a single putt remaining to force a playoff with Len Mattiace.
 
Weir drained the putt and became only the second left-hander to win a major as Mattiace bogeyed the first playoff hole.
 
A lefty winning a major. Now that Weir has done it, who knows if Phil Mickelson ever will.
 
The model of consistency in 2003 was Jim Furyk. The man with the awkward swing ran off nine top-10 finishes through his first 14 events before heading to Olympia Fields.
 
Furyk was stellar throughout the week at the U.S. Open and walked away with his first major title on Father's Day.
 
Picking Weir and Furyk as major winners wasn't a stretch. If not this year you would think that the two would break through eventually, but there was no way to predict what happened at the following two majors.
 
An unknown from Ohio named Ben Curtis traveled to Royal St. George's to make only his 16th career start on the PGA Tour.
 
Curtis, who was ranked 396th in the world before that fateful week, made sure he was near the top of the leaderboard as the days went on while bigger names faltered on the difficult English layout.
 
Thomas Bjorn opened the door for Curtis with his remarkable collapse on the 16th on Sunday and Curtis converted the winning putt before the tournament was even over.
 
As he prepared himself for a possible playoff, Curtis was notified that he had in fact won the British Open, becoming one of the most improbable winners in the history of the majors.
 
The closing holes of the PGA Championship were outstanding with Shaun Micheel and Chad Campbell battling it out down the stretch.
 
Micheel held a one-shot lead with one to play as his drive at the 18th found the unforgiving rough at Oak Hill that had brought players to their knees, but the ball kicked out and nestled securely in the first cut.
 
The shot of the year followed as Micheel played the seven-iron of his life and watched as the ball stopped within inches of the cup to solidify the win.
 
STORY OF THE YEAR
 
As the speculation increased last year on whether or not the top player in women's golf would play a PGA Tour event if she were invited, Annika Sorenstam revealed more and more that she would play.
 
It didn't take long for the invitations to start lining up and Sorenstam chose the Colonial as the tournament where she would become the first woman in 58 years to compete with the men of the PGA Tour.
 
The frenzy picked up steam as the weeks approached and everyone was asked their opinion on the matter. Some spoke favorably of Sorenstam's desire, some didn't speak at all, and perhaps others wish they hadn't.
 
Vijay Singh was the most vocal and others like Nick Price joined him in opposing Sorenstam's participation in the Colonial.
 
No matter what was said, Sorenstam was playing with the men.
 
Would she make the cut?
 
Not many thought she would, but she had people wondering after a remarkable opening round of one-over-par 71. Although she missed the cut after a second- round 74, Sorenstam had showed that whether or not she played the weekend wasn't really that important.
 
How would she deal with the pressure?
 
Pressure is nothing new to Sorenstam and she dealt with it brilliantly at the Colonial. She played to the crowd and had the thousands that were there in attendance pulling for her every swing.
 
She later broke down in a press conference and the emotions poured out as she stated that she had accomplished a dream.
 
Sorenstam was only the first of many women who would test their game against the men in 2003.
 
Suzy Whaley earned a spot in the Greater Hartford Open through a regional qualifier and quickly became a fan favorite.
 
Michelle Wie, the young phenom who recently turned 14, teed it up on both the Nationwide Tour and the Canadian Tour.
 
Se Ri Pak made the cut at a men's event, the Korean Tour's SBS Super Tournament. Jan Stephenson played alongside the men on the Champions Tour and Laura Davies also tried her luck against the men at the Korean Open.
 
Sorenstam started the trend and it will likely continue in 2004 as the presence of these women in men's tournaments will continue to attract fans, and increased media coverage, to the events that are more than happy to invite them.
 
THE PRESIDENTS CUP
 
Who says Woods doesn't really care about these international team competitions? One only has to go as far back as the ridiculous playoff between him and Els at this year's Presidents Cup to see that the fist-pumping is always there.
 
The Internationals took an early lead at The Links Course at Fancourt Hotel & Country Club Estates in South Africa but the Americans battled back to square the match after Friday morning's fourballs.
 
In the afternoon, the U.S. took control of the championship and led 9 1/2 - 6 1/2 heading into the weekend.
 
The Internationals weren't ready to roll over, however, pulled off an unprecedented sweep of the Americans on Saturday to regain the lead.
 
With everything coming down to Sunday's singles, U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus left two of his bug guns, Woods and Love, in the final two matches and who would have known that they actually made a difference?
 
Several dramatic matches ensued like Kenny Perry's 1-up victory over Nick Price and the Americans began to claw back.
 
In the final match, Love held a 1-up lead over Robert Allenby with one to play but the American struggled on the closing hole. Allenby won the 18th to square the matches at 17 and, with daylight fading, it was off to the envelopes.
 
It was no secret when Woods and Els were revealed as the captain's pre- tournament choices for a playoff and finally the two, who were pitted early in the season to duel it out throughout the year, got a chance with the sun setting in Els' backyard.
 
The matches came down to the third playoff hole, the par-three second, where both players were left with incredibly long birdie attempts.
 
Woods had outwards of 100 feet to the hole and rolled his putt 15 feet past the cup. Els left his putt inside Woods' at seven feet.
 
Woods drained his putt but Els was able to match him and halve the hole. It was then determined that there was not enough light to continue that Sunday, and the vast majority was clear that they did not want to come back the following day to finish off what had been an intense week of international team match play competition.
 
Nicklaus quickly threw out the fact that since the U.S. had won the event in 2000 that the Americans would retain the cup, but that didn't really fly with International team captain Gary Player.
 
It was ultimately decided that the matches would end in a tie.
 
PLENTY OF LIFE AFTER 40
 
Kenny Perry was off-the-hook great in 2003. The Kentucky native led a group of 40 somethings who had a resurgence on the PGA Tour this year.
 
After the hype died down over Annika at the Colonial, Perry appropriately captured the spotlight and never let it hit the ground.
 
He dazzled the crowds with a remarkable round of 61 on Saturday and closed out the win with a 68 in the final round. The next week at The Memorial, Perry was at it again.
 
Perry carried his momentum from the previous week in Jack's tournament and opened with rounds of 65-68 en route to his second consecutive victory of the season.
 
Perry then tied for third at the U.S. Open and took home the Greater Milwaukee Open title shortly after that for his third victory in four starts.
 
That remarkable summer was enough to lift Perry past the $4 million mark and up to sixth on the 2003 PGA Tour money list.
 
Fred Couples returned to the winner's circle for the first time since 1998 with an emotional victory at the Houston Open.
 
The University of Houston grad missed only one cut in 2003, and the victory at the Houston Open brought back signs of the Freddy of old.
 
Peter Jacobsen, who was chosen as the PGA Tour's comeback player of the year in 2003, also returned to the realm of the winning this season.
 
Jacobsen, who will turn 50 in March, rekindled some magic at the Greater Hartford Open and captured the title for his first PGA Tour victory since 1995.
 
Although Jay Haas didn't win in 2003, he was the most consistent of the 40 somethings. Apologies to Mr. Haas, who has since turned 50.
 
Will Haas make time for both the PGA Tour and the Champions Tour next year?
 
Craig Stadler did, and he won on both in 2003.
 
GOOD YEARS
 
Davis Love III had one of his best years to date in 2003. The former PGA Champion got rolling in his second event of the season and birdied the final hole of the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am to win the event for the second time in his career.
 
Love had another stellar Sunday in store at The Players Championship and fired an eight-under 64 to come from behind and win the prestigious event by a six- shot margin.
 
Love was among the favorites heading to Augusta but managed only a tie for 15th at The Masters.
 
He got back to his winning ways the very next week with a playoff victory over Woody Austin to capture The Heritage for a fifth time.
 
Love then went wire-to-wire in the modified Stableford format to cruise to his fourth victory of the season at The International.
 
He finished third at the WGC-NEC Invitational for another sizeable check and found himself in the race for the money title as the season began to wind down.
 
Love, who was also in the running for player of the year, missed the cut at the Chrysler Classic of Greensboro but ran off a string of top-10 finishes over his last three events to finish third on the money list behind only Singh and Woods.
 
Chad Campbell will be remembered for his thrilling loss to Shaun Micheel at the PGA Championship this season, but that really isn't a bad thing.
 
Campbell transformed into a legitimate contender in 2003 and redeemed himself at the season's final event.
 
Campbell qualified for the Tour Championship ahead of the likes of Phil Mickelson (who will be mentioned later) and captured the event to become the first player to make the Tour Championship his maiden PGA Tour victory.
 
BAD YEARS
 
Every new year carries with it the possibility of Phil Mickelson finally winning a major championship, and 2003 was no different, but this year Lefty truly disappointed.
 
It started well for Mickelson with four top-10 finishes in his first five events and a remarkable birdie outside of 80 feet on the second hole of the final day at The Masters. He finished third at Augusta and that would be the highlight of Mickelson's season.
 
His next top-10 came four months later at The International and he added a tie for ninth at the Las Vegas Invitational for his last top-10 of the season.
 
Mickelson finished 38th on the money list and failed to qualify for the Tour Championship for the first time since 1992.
 
It is somewhat unfair to put David Duval in this category because there is something seriously wrong with the guy.
 
The 2001 British Open champion missed cut after cut but showed some signs of a recovery with a sizzling 62 in the second round of the FBR Capital Open. Duval struggled over the weekend, however, and finished tied for 28th, his best finish of the season.
 
Duval missed the cut at Royal St. George's and later pulled out of the PGA Championship after an opening-round 80.
 
The former top-ranked player in the world finished 212th on the PGA Tour money list in 2003.