Woods voted top athlete of the decade
For 10 incomparable years, no one ruled a sport like Woods. He won 64 tournaments, including 12 major championships. He hoisted a trophy on every continent where golf is played. And those 56 titles in one decade on the PGA Tour? Consider that only four of golf’s greatest players won more in their entire careers.
Even as a shocking sex scandal changed the way people look at Woods, the records he set could not be ignored.
Woods was selected Wednesday as the Athlete of the Decade by members of The Associated Press in a vote that was more about his performance on the course than the self-described transgressions as a person.
“The only reason I wouldn’t vote for Tiger Woods is because of the events of the last three weeks,” said Mike Strain, sports editor of the Tulsa (Okla.) World. “And I didn’t think that was enough to change my vote. I thought he was a transcendent sports figure.”
He received 56 of the 142 votes cast since last month by editors at U.S. newspapers that are members of the AP. More than half the ballots were returned after the Nov. 27 car accident outside his Florida home that set off sensational tales of infidelity.
Lance Armstrong, a cancer survivor who won the Tour de France six times this decade, finished second with 33 votes. He was followed by Roger Federer, who has won more Grand Slam singles titles than any other man, with 25 votes.
Record-setting Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps came in fourth with 13 votes, followed by New England quarterback Tom Brady (6) and world-record sprinter Usain Bolt (4). Five other athletes received one vote apiece.
Woods, who has not been seen since the accident and has issued only statements on his Web site, was not made available to comment about the award.
Seattle Times sports editor Don Shelton discussed the vote with his staff, which he said was torn among Woods, Armstrong and Federer. He voted for Woods in the early stages of the scandal.
“I’m not sure I would change my vote,” Shelton said. “I looked at him as an athlete, I really did. I separated him a little bit. If this had happened three years ago and his performance had dropped off, that’s a different factor.”
Allegations of rampant affairs starting come out just 10 days after Woods won the Australian Masters before record crowds for the 82nd worldwide victory of his career. He received a $3 million appearance fee in Australia, and the government estimated a return of $20 million from the number of fans Woods attracted.
Few other athletes changed their sport, from TV ratings to galleries to prize money.
A new image emerged quickly in the days following his middle-of-the-night accident, when he ran his SUV over a fire hydrant and into a tree. He became the butt of late-night TV jokes, eventually confessed to infidelity and lost a major sponsorship from Accenture.
“Seems an unlikely time to vote for him, but he had more influence and impact on the complete decade, 2000 to 2009, than any of the other athletes,” said Paul Vigna, sports editor of The (Harrisburg, Pa.) Patriot-News.
AP members found Woods’ work on the golf course over the last 10 years without much of a blemish. He took an early lead in the balloting, and continued to receive roughly the same percentage of votes throughout the process.
“Despite the tsunami of negative publicity that will likely tarnish his image, there’s no denying that Woods’ on-the-course accomplishments set a new standard of dominance within his sport while making golf more accessible to the masses,” wrote Stu Whitney, sports editor of the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader. “The only proof needed are the television ratings when Tiger plays in a golf tournament, compared to those events when others have to carry the load.”
The fall was as spectacular as his rise.
Woods won the career Grand Slam three times over in the decade, the last of his 12 majors at the 2008 U.S. Open despite playing on a mangled left leg. He twice won the British Open at St. Andrews, the home of golf, by a combined 13 shots.
“It seems like everybody has jumped on the ‘slay Tiger’ bandwagon,” said Dan Lebowitz, executive director at the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University. “I understand the dynamics around that. But I’d also like people to recognize how great he operated under a microscope for a long period of time.”
Woods won more than one-third of all the tournaments he played this decade, an unprecedented rate in golf. Nine of his victories were by at least eight shots. He was No. 1 in the world ranking for all but 32 weeks in the decade.
He did his best work in the biggest events. Along with his 12 majors this decade – he has 14 overall, four short of the record held by Jack Nicklaus – Woods was runner-up in six other majors. He won 14 times out of 27 appearances in the World Golf Championships.
Woods finished the decade with $81,547,410 in earnings from his PGA Tour events, an average of $482,529 per tournament.
“No athlete dominated a particular sport the way Tiger Woods did this decade,” said Phil Kaplan, deputy sports editor at the Knoxille (Tenn.) News-Sentinel.
Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers
CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.
Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.
While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.
“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”
Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.
“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”
Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close
CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.
McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.
“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”
The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.
“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”
He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.
“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”
Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence
CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.
Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.
Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.
It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.
“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”
Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.
“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”
Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection
CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.
Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.
Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.
“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”
Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.
“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”
Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.
“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”