Looking Back on the PGA TOUR

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PGA Tour (75x100)PHILADELPHIA -- The 2006 season saw big wins on the course, some big losses off the course and the usual dramatic and sometimes strange endings.
 
It was a year when the world's No. 1 player, Tiger Woods, lost his father and missed a cut at a major before rebounding with a stunning stretch of golf that saw him win the final two majors of the year.
 
The season also witnessed several first-time winners as well as some veterans reclaiming their cards in different ways. Jeff Maggert (1999) and Corey Pavin (1996) snapped long winless streaks to secure playing privileges for the next two years, while former major champion and television broadcaster Paul Azinger finished inside the top-125 on the money list to earn his card for next year after using his one-time, top-50 all-time money list exemption.
 
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods won eight times on the PGA TOUR in 2006, including his last six starts.
The season got off to a fairly normal start for Tiger Woods with two wins in his first four starts, but that is not what made him the Player of the Year.
 
After earning those two early wins and being unable to come from behind and win the Masters, Woods' biggest loss would come off the course.
 
He lost his father, Earl, to a long battle with cancer after failing to win the Masters. The younger Woods would not be seen on a golf course again until the U.S. Open, but what followed the most difficult loss he has faced to this point in his life was a stunning display of golf.
 
After grieving the loss of his father, Woods returned to the course at the U.S. Open. Maybe he wasn't ready, maybe this, maybe that. Whatever you want to call it, the result still stands. Woods missed the cut for the first time as a professional in a major.
 
Woods was next seen on a golf course at the Western Open, where he has won three times in his career. The 30-year-old posted three rounds in the 60s, but finished two strokes behind first-time winner Trevor Immelman.
 
From that point forward, the rest of the PGA TOUR was left in the dust. Woods ran off six, count 'em six, straight wins.
 
These tournaments did not have watered-down fields. They included the best of the best.
 
In order: He claimed his third British Open by two strokes over Chris DiMarco (whose mother had passed away the week before the championship); won the Buick Open by three over Jim Furyk; cruised to five-shot win over Shaun Micheel at the PGA Championship; bested Stewart Cink in a playoff for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational title; used a Sunday 63 to take down Vijay Singh by two at the Deutsche Bank Championship; and ran away with a six-shot victory over Adam Scott and Ian Poulter at the WGC-American Express Championship.
 
PHEW!!!
So let's recap. That was six wins that: came by an average of over three shots per title; earned him $7,016,480 (which in and of itself would have put him second on the money list); gave him 12 major championship titles and moved his PGA Tour win total to 54.
 
Oh, by the way, he did win the money title with $9,941,563 and had eight total wins in just 15 starts. Not a bad winning percentage for a golfer.
 
Woods says his win streak came to an end with his first-round loss at the HSBC World Match Play Championship on the European Tour, but his PGA streak is still intact.
 
He is more than halfway to Byron Nelson's record of 11 straight wins and has a stellar record at the season-opening events where he normally plays. Who knows what could happen. I surely wouldn't doubt him in his quest for history.
 
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
The Rookie of the Year race was a tight one between Trevor Immelman and Camilo Villegas. The nod here goes to Immelman, mostly due to his win at the Western Open.
 
The South African missed fewer cuts -- five to Villegas' 11 -- had one more top-five finish, four more top-10s and earned over $2.1 million more than the young Colombian.
 
Immelman got off to a really slow start with five missed cuts in his first nine starts. However, he didn't miss a cut the rest of the year. In his final 15 PGA TOUR starts in '06, Immelman finished outside the top 20 just three times.
 
In May, he collected back-to-back second-place finishes, including a playoff loss to Jim Furyk at the Wachovia Championship. Immelman's best finish in a major came at the U.S. Open, where he tied for 21st.
 
He broke into the winners circle in July at the Western Open, an event dominated recently by Tiger Woods. Immelman closed with a four-under 67 to hold off Mathew Goggin and Woods by two strokes.
 
He ended the season as the only rookie in the field at the Tour Championship. Immelman closed with three straight rounds in the 60s to finish in a tie for fifth and earn $266,000, which gave him over $3.8 million for the season, putting him seventh on the money list.
 
Kudos to Villegas for his stellar season as well. He did have four top-five finishes and earned over $1.7 million. That came one year after he played his way onto the Nationwide Tour after beginning the '05 season with no status.
 
SHOT OF THE YEAR
We're going to split this one into good shot of the year and bad shot(s) of the year.
 
The good, okay great, shot of the year was Tiger Woods' hole-out eagle at the British Open. While successfully defending his title at the Open Championship, Woods needed every stroke he could get as he fended off a strong challenge from Chris DiMarco.
 
Woods approached his ball in the 14th fairway at Royal Liverpool with four- iron in hand. He ripped his second shot to the par-4 on the exact line he was targeting.
 
What Woods wouldn't know, as he was unable to see the green, was how perfectly the ball bounced and rolled right toward the hole. The ball tracked the final 15 feet perfectly and dropped into the hole for eagle.
 
'I never saw it. I didn't see the flag,' admitted Woods. 'Just left of the TV towers was where I was aiming. I was trying to hold it on the wind. I hit it pretty good.'
 
The bad shots go to Phil Mickelson. With the U.S. Open in his grasp, Mickelson lost his drive on the 17th hole into a trash can. Good aim, Phil, but the trash can was nowhere near the middle of the fairway.
 
If that wasn't bad enough, Mickelson's tee shot at the 18th bounced off the tents lining the fairway to the left. He then hit a tree with his second shot, which led to a double-bogey that cost him the title and left Mickelson famously saying, 'I'm such an idiot.'
 
Honorable mention for a good shot goes to Chris Couch. Couch, who turned 33 the day after the event, needed a par on the final hole at the Zurich Classic to win by one stroke over Charles Howell III and Fred Funk.
 
Couch found a greenside bunker at the last and had a tough lie. With water over the green, Couch could only advance the ball a few feet into the rough.
 
Using his cross-handed chipping style, Couch chipped his fourth shot into the hole from 55 feet to secure the win. The shot was impressive enough, but it helped Couch complete a comeback that saw him make the cut on the number then rally for the win. He became just the fourth player in PGA TOUR history to make such a comeback and win.
 
TOURNAMENT OF THE YEAR
The aforementioned collapse by Phil Mickelson at the U.S. Open was not the only bad ending at Winged Foot.
 
Winner Geoff Ogilvy chipped in for par on 17, then was in a sand-filled divot on 18 and was able to save par from that as well, closing with a two-over 72 to finish at plus-5.
 
Mickelson's late mistakes cost him as he closed with a 74 to end one behind the Australian. Colin Montgomerie, already a two-time U.S. Open runner-up, was in the fairway at the last.
 
The Scotsman changed clubs for his approach and came up well short of the green in some thick rough. Montgomerie blasted his chip 40 feet from the hole and, three putts later, he was in the clubhouse at 6 over par. That mistake came after he poured in a long birdie putt at the 17th.
 
Oh, yeah, current world No. 2 Jim Furyk also had a shot at winning the title, which would have been his second U.S. Open title. He pushed a seemingly simple par putt at the last and that bogey cost him a shot at a playoff as he shared second with Monty and Mickelson at plus-six.
 
So after all that, Ogilvy walked off with his first major championship win and third PGA Tour title overall.
 
GOOD YEAR
Despite his tough loss at the U.S. Open, it was a stellar year for Jim Furyk. He began the 2006 as the seventh ranked player in the world, but ends it ranked No. 2 behind only Tiger Woods.
 
Furyk was one of five people on the PGA TOUR with two wins this year, while he also posted the most top-5 finishes (12) and tied for the most top-10s (13). Furyk ended the year second on the money list with $7,213,316.
 
Australian Adam Scott capped a spectacular season with a victory at the TOUR Championship. That was his first victory since the 2004 season. Scott ended the season with $4,978,858 and eight top-5 finishes.
 
Though several others collapsed to give him the U.S. Open title, Geoff Ogilvy also won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship en route to finishing fifth on the money list.
 
BAD YEARS
Okay, so he got off to a good start with four top-10s in his first five starts and won two events, including the Masters, but Phil Mickelson's year ended with a thud. After sharing second at the U.S. Open, he played in just five events with his best finish a share of 16th at the PGA Championship. He closed his season by going 0-4-1 at the Ryder Cup, then announced he wouldn't return until 2007. Hope his four-month vacation was fun.
 
Despite being ranked in the top-10 in the world all year, Retief Goosen was unable to collect a PGA TOUR win and posted just five top-5 finishes in 18 starts. He ended second at the Players Championship and tied for third at the Masters, but finished just 18th on the money list.
 
Another player ranked in the top-10 in the world all year who went winless was Ernie Els. He posted just two top-5s, including a third-place finish at the British Open. However, Els finished only 28th on the money list and slid to seventh in the world rankings.
 
It is hard to pick on a guy who made a stunning admission, but it came well after the fact. Steven Bowditch told reporters during PGA TOUR Q-School that he had battled depression throughout the season. That helps explain his missing the cut 13 times, being disqualified four times, withdrawing from three events and making just two cuts all season. Here's hoping he recovers soon and plays well in '07 as he'll be on the PGA TOUR for five events through the minor medical extension.
 
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