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A Real Awards Race is Brewing

Tiger Woods must have grown weary giving the same speech.
Whether it was at Kapalua, Pebble Beach or Torrey Pines, the PGA Tour annual awards ceremony always featured the same routine -- Woods accepting another trophy as player of the year, making a crack about surviving a confirmed media slump, reminding everyone that winning a major constitutes a great year.
This hasn't been a great year for Woods -- yet.
And unless he wins the PGA Championship next week at Oak Hill, it might be time for someone else to pick up the tour's top prize for the first time in five years.
That could be a half-dozen players, starting with Masters champion Mike Weir and ending with British Open champion Ben Curtis.
Major championships carry that much weight.
In 1998, the only year Woods didn't win the award, PGA Tour players voted for Mark O'Meara and his two majors instead of David Duval, who won four tournaments, the money title and the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average.
The last guy to win player of the year without winning a major was Greg Norman in 1995. The Shark won three times, never missed a cut, captured the money title with a record $1.6 million and had the tour's lowest scoring average. His peers deemed him superior to Corey Pavin (U.S. Open, Nissan Open, third on the money list).
Unless someone wins two majors, the race is wide open, and a victory at Oak Hill would thrust Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and David Toms into the player-of-the-year mix.
Otherwise, here is how it's shaping up:
Tiger Woods is the first player in PGA Tour history to win at least four times in five straight seasons, particularly impressive because he has played only 11 times because of knee surgery. He also leads the money list by $400,000 over Jim Furyk, and is virtually a lock to win the Vardon Trophy for the fifth straight year.
Besides not winning a major, Woods is hurt by having already won the award five times. If it's close, players might be inclined to reward a career-year -- Weir or Furyk -- over someone who has been there, done that.
But if no one captures two majors, and Woods winds up with the most victories, most money and lowest scoring average, it will be tough to deny he was the tour's best player.
Outlook: If he wins the PGA Championships, the race is over. Otherwise, Woods will have to win at least six times and have $1 million more than anyone else.
Mike Weir became the first Canadian and the first lefty to win the Masters, capping off a stunning spring in which he also won the Bob Hope Classic and the Nissan Open at Riviera. He still has a chance to win the money title (only $500,000 behind) and is second in scoring average.
Outlook: Win the PGA Championship and the trophy goes north of the border. If not, he might need to win the money title, one more tournament and hope that Woods doesn't win again this year.
Jim FurykHe dominated at the U.S. Open and held off Woods and others to win the Buick Open.
Furyk has 12 top 10s going into the PGA Championship, more than any other player. Still, the only other tournament where he had a legitimate chance to win was at Doral (playoff loss to Scott Hoch). He is too far behind to catch Woods for the Vardon Trophy, but the money title is within reach.
Outlook: Win the PGA Championship and he's player of the year. If not, he'll have to win one more tournament to be considered ahead of Weir.
Love doesn't have a major, but he gets partial credit for winning the fifth major. He closed with an 8-under 64 in cold, windy conditions to win The Players Championship, and won at Pebble Beach and at Hilton Head.
Having started his PGA Tour career when Woods was still in elementary school, this might be Love's best chance at player of the year.
Outlook: A victory at Oak Hill makes him the front-runner because he'll have 11/2 majors. Anything less knocks him out of the picture.
Perryis the hottest player in golf, with three victories among seven straight tournaments in the top 10. Then again, Weir was equally dominant in the spring, and two of Perry's victories (Colonial, Milwaukee) came against fields that did not include all the top players on the money list.
He is the best feel-good story in golf, having won only four times in his previous 17 years on tour.
Outlook: Must win the PGA to merit serious consideration, or double his victories over the final two months.
Ben CurtisOne major played, one major won.
Does two major championships make him player of the year? It worked for O'Meara in 1998, although he was 41 and had amassed 14 wins in his career. Curtis is a 26-year-old rookie who started the year hopeful of keeping his card.
Outlook: Winning the PGA is his only a chance, but he'll still be at the awards ceremony as rookie of the year.

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