Sorenstam Leads a Year of Surprises

By Associated PressDecember 25, 2003, 5:00 pm
In a year of surprises, from Ben Curtis and Hilary Lunke winning majors to Tiger Woods getting grand slammed, the biggest story in golf should have come as no surprise at all.

After all, the attention at the start of the season was on a woman who unwittingly sparked a fierce debate over gender blending.
And sure enough, that's what made headlines.

Only it wasn't Martha Burk at the Masters.

It was Annika Sorenstam at the Colonial, as the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour.

'You cannot have any conversation about 2003 without starting off with the contributions and accomplishments and awareness that have been generated as a result of Annika Sorenstam,' LPGA Tour commissioner Ty Votaw said.

Jay Haas summed it up more succinctly.

'You'll remember that forever,' he said.

It might not have been the most spectacular season in golf, but it certainly was one of the most peculiar.

-- For the first time in 34 years, the majors were swept by guys who had never won a Grand Slam event. Curtis never even played in a major until winning the British Open.

-- Woods broke one of the oldest records on the PGA Tour by making the cut in his 114th consecutive tournament, even though it came at an event that had no cut.

-- A lefty won a major for the first time since 1963.

-- Players in their 40s won more often than players in their 20s.

Still, the biggest story was a player who missed the cut.

'It was a Cinderella story,' Sorenstam said.

No one had a more memorable season than the steely Swede. She won two majors to complete the LPGA career Grand Slam, and capped her year by getting inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

But it was one swing under stifling pressure (her opening tee shot), one ordinary score (71) in an extraordinary round at the Colonial, and two days on the PGA Tour that captivated everyone's imagination.

'I've climbed as high as I can, and it was worth every step,' Sorenstam said after respectable rounds of 71-74.

When the year began in Hawaii, there was an uneasiness on the PGA Tour about the battle between Burk and Augusta National over the all-male membership at the home of the Masters.

Despite pressure on corporate members, TV sponsors and top players, club chairman Hootie Johnson held his ground that Augusta National would invite a female member on its own timetable. And Burk's rally turned into a circus, with more media than protesters.

Mike Weir became the first Canadian man to win a major and the first lefty in 40 years (just not the one everyone expected).

Vijay Singh was mum on the Augusta controversy, but had plenty to say about Sorenstam.

'I hope she misses the cut,' he told The Associated Press just before the Colonial. 'Why? She doesn't belong out here.'

That brought only more attention to Sorenstam, and made her performance even more remarkable.

In one of the most anticipated shots in golf, with more than 10,000 fans straining for a view, Sorenstam pulled back her 4-wood and belted it down the middle.

She made birdie her fourth hole, but she couldn't make enough to stick around for the weekend.

'She played amazing,' Jesper Parnevik said. 'I guess we have the Shark, the Tiger, and now we have the Superwoman.'

Singh withdrew from the Colonial -- and the media. Through it all, the 40-year-old Fijian had his best season ever with four victories and $7.5 million to end Woods' four-year reign atop the money list.

It still wasn't enough to earn him PGA Tour player of the year.

That went to Woods for the fifth straight time, even though he failed to win the money title or a major for the first year since 1998.

Woods missed the first five weeks of the season recovering from knee surgery. He won two of his first three tournaments, including the Match Play Championship, to become the first player to capture all four World Golf Championships.

The real Grand Slam belonged to Weir, Jim Furyk, Curtis and Shaun Micheel.

Weir won the first Masters playoff in 13 years, and his two other victories made him the highest-ranked southpaw in golf.

Furyk has a peculiar swing, but there was nothing strange about his performance in the U.S. Open. Accuracy was his hallmark at Olympia Fields, where he won by three shots.

Curtis was No. 396 in the world ranking and a 500-1 longshot at Royal St. George's in England, the ultimate no-name on a leaderboard chock full of stars.

The 26-year-old rookie closed with a 69 to win the British Open over Singh, Woods, Thomas Bjorn, Davis Love III, Sergio Garcia and Kenny Perry.

Equally surprising was Micheel, who had not won in 163 previous tournaments. No one will forget the shot that clinched the PGA Championship at Oak Hill -- a 7-iron that stopped 2 inches from the cup on the final hole.

There were a few surprises on the LPGA, none bigger than Lunke.

One of the shortest hitters on the longest course in U.S. Women's Open history, Lunke won in an 18-hole playoff. She had never finished better than 15th on the LPGA Tour.

Michelle Wie was among a record 14 teenagers who qualified for the Women's Open and by year's end was making herself at home on just about every tour.

The 13-year-old Hawaiian played against the men on the Canadian and Nationwide tours and in the final group at an LPGA major, and she accepted an invitation to next month's Sony Open on the PGA Tour.

In all, seven women competed against men this year.

Some of the most exciting golf came in team competitions.

Europe won the Solheim Cup in Sweden. The final score was 171/2-101/2, the largest margin ever, although the celebration was so chaotic once Europe earned the decisive points that the final four matches never finished. The Americans conceded three of them.

At the Presidents Cup, Woods and Ernie Els tried to settle a tie with some of the most pressure-packed par putts in golf. There was still no winner after three playoff holes, so captains Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player decided there should be no loser.

They called it a tie and shared the cup.

'I think some people will be upset with that decision,' Nicklaus said. 'But both Gary and I feel in our hearts ... that it was the right thing to do. And we stand by it.'

Given the bizarre season in golf, it was the perfect way to end the year.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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McCarthy wins Tour Championship by 4

By Associated PressSeptember 24, 2018, 2:14 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Denny McCarthy won the season-ending Tour Championship on Sunday to earn fully exempt PGA Tour status and a spot in the Players Championship.

McCarthy closed with a 6-under 65 for a four-stroke victory over Lucas Glover at Atlantic Beach Country Club. The 25-year-old former Virginia player earned $180,000 to top the 25 PGA Tour card-earners with $255,793 in the four-event Tour Finals.

''It's been quite a journey this year,'' McCarthy said. ''The PGA Tour was tough to start out the year. I stuck through it and got my game. I raised my level and have been playing some really good golf. Just feels incredible to finish off these Finals. So much work behind the scenes that nobody really sees.''

McCarthy finished at 23-under 261.

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Glover, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, closed with a 69. He made $108,000 to finish seventh with $125,212 in the series for the top 75 players from the regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200.

Jim Knous earned the 25th and final card from the four-event money list with $41,931, edging Justin Lower by $500. Knous made a 5-foot par save on the final hole for a 71 that left him tied for 57th. Lower missed an 8-footer for birdie, settling for a 69 and a tie for 21st.

''It was a brutal day emotionally,'' Knous said. ''I wasn't quite sure how much my performance would affect the overall outcome. It kind of just depended on what everybody else did. That's pretty terrifying. So I really just kind of did my best to stay calm and inside I was really freaking out and just super psyched that at the end of the day finished right there on No. 25.''

The top-25 finishers on the regular-season money list competed against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. Sungjae Im topped the list to earn the No. 1 priority spot of the 50 total cards.

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LaCava pushed Woods to work on bunker game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 1:52 am

ATLANTA – Last week as Tiger Woods prepared to play the season finale at East Lake he sent a text message to his caddie Joey LaCava that simply asked, what do I need to do to get better?

Although when it comes to Woods his proficiency is always relative, but LaCava didn’t pull any punches, and as the duo completed the final round on Sunday at the Tour Championship with a bunker shot to 7 feet at the last the two traded knowing smiles.

“We had a talk last week about his bunker game and I said, ‘I’m glad you kept that bunker game stuff in mind,’” LaCava said. “I told him he was an average bunker player and he worked at it last week. There were only two bunker shots he didn’t get up-and-down, I don’t count the last one on 18. He recognized that after two days. He was like, ‘What do you know, I’m 100 percent from the bunkers and I’m in the lead after two days.”

Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

For the week, Woods got up-and-down from East Lake’s bunkers seven out of nine times and cruised to a two-stroke victory for his first PGA Tour title since 2013. That’s a dramatic improvement over his season average of 49 percent (100th on Tour).

“His bunker game was very average coming into this week,” LaCava said. “I said you’ve got to work on your bunker game. If you had a decent bunker game like the Tiger of old you would have won [the BMW Championship].”

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For Woods, is this only the beginning?

By Damon HackSeptember 24, 2018, 1:42 am

If this is Tiger Woods nine months into a comeback, wait until he actually shakes the rust off.

This was supposed to be the year he kicked the tires, to see how his body held up after all those knives digging into his back.

To see if a short game could truly be rescued from chunks and skulls.

To see if a 42-year-old living legend could outfox the kids.

On the final breath of the PGA Tour season, it was Tiger Woods who took ours away.

Playing alongside Rory McIlroy on Sunday at the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club – and one group behind the current World No. 1 and eventual FedEx Cup champion Justin Rose – Woods bludgeoned the field and kneecapped Father Time. 

It was Dean Smith and the Four Corners offense.  Emmitt Smith moving the chains. Nolan Ryan mowing them down.

And all of a sudden you wonder if Phil Mickelson wishes he’d made alternate Thanksgiving plans.

Even if everybody saw a win coming, it was something else to actually see it happen, to see the man in the red shirt reach another gear just one more time.

Win No. 80 reminded us, as Roger Maltbie once said of Woods when he came back from knee surgery in 2009: “A lot of people can play the fiddle. Only one guy is Itzhak Perlman.”

It wasn’t long ago that Tiger Woods seemed headed toward a disheartening final chapter as a broken man with a broken body.

Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

He would host a couple of tournaments, do some great charity work, shout instructions into a walkie talkie at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, and call it a career.

There would be no Nicklaus 1986 Masters moment, no Hogan Mystique at Merion.

He would leave competitive golf as perhaps both the greatest to ever play the game and its greatest cautionary tale.

Willie Mays with the New York Mets. Muhammad Ali taking punishment from Larry Holmes.

But then Brad Faxon and Rickie Fowler started whispering at the end of 2017 that Tiger was healthy and hitting the ball hard. 

There was that hold-your-breath opening tee shot at the Hero World Challenge, a bullet that flew the left bunker and bounded into the fairway.

Rollercoaster rides at Tampa and Bay Hill, backward steps at Augusta and Shinnecock, forward leaps at The Open and the PGA.

He switched putters and driver shafts (and shirts, oh my!) and seemed at times tantalizingly close and maddeningly far.

That he even decided to try to put his body and game back together was one of the all-time Hail Marys in golf.

Why go through all of that rehab again?

Why go through the scrutiny of having your current game measured against your untouchable prime?

Because you’re Tiger Woods, is why, because you’ve had way more wonderful days on the golf course than poor ones, despite five winless years on the PGA Tour.

Suddenly, Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour wins is in jeopardy and Jack Nicklaus, holder of a record of 18 major championships, is at the very least paying attention.

Woods has put the golf world on notice.

It won’t be long until everyone starts thinking about the 2019 major schedule (and you’d better believe that Tiger already is).

The Masters, where he has four green jackets and seven other Top 5 finishes. The PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, where he won in 2002 by 3. The United States Open at Pebble Beach, where he won in 2000 by 15.

The Open at Royal Portrush, where his savvy and guile will be a strong 15th club.

But that’s a talk for a later date.

Tiger is clearly still getting his sea legs back.

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Nonfactor McIlroy mum after lackluster 74

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 24, 2018, 1:04 am

ATLANTA – Rory McIlroy didn’t have anything to say to the media after the final round of the Tour Championship, and that’s understandable.

McIlroy began the final round at East Lake three shots behind Tiger Woods. He finished six back.

McIlroy closed in 4-over 74 to tie for seventh place.

In their matchup, Woods birdied the first hole to go four in front, and when McIlroy bogeyed the par-4 fourth, he was five in arrears. McIlroy went on to make three more bogeys, one double bogey and just two birdies.

Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

McIlroy was never a factor on Sunday and ultimately finished tied for 13th in the FedExCup standings.

The two rivals, Woods and McIlroy, shared plenty of conversations while walking down the fairways. On the 18th hole, Woods said McIlroy told him the scene was like the 1980 U.S. Open when people were shouting, “Jack’s back!”

“I said, ‘Yeah, I just don’t have the tight pants and the hair,’” Woods joked. “But it was all good.”

It’s now off to Paris for the upcoming Ryder Cup, where Woods and McIlroy will again be foes. It will be McIlroy’s fifth consecutive appearance in the biennial matches, while Woods is making his first since 2012.