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Taking Stock of 2010

I choked my guts out on a 4-footer on the last hole to lose 1 down to my 12-year-old son in mini golf Monday. It’s 107 degrees in the sun, I’m sluggish and there seems to be no end in sight to the 2010 season. If these are summer’s dog days, the pup’s pantin’ with his tongue hangin’.  

Fret not, though, because we’re about to turn the corner for home with some bounce in our step. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson return at Firestone in two weeks to share the stage with Louis Oosthuizen, then it’s the season’s final major followed by the playoffs and then the Ryder Cup.  

With the finish looming, it’s a good time to address a few topics starting with Player of the Year. Barring a late run, it won’t be Tiger for a change. Instead, it’s wide open.

Eight guys could jump to the front with a win at the PGA Championship: Ernie Els, Steve Stricker, Justin Rose, Jim Furyk, Tim Clark, Mickelson, Graeme McDowell and Oosthuizen.

Mickelson, McDowell and Oosthuizen all have the chance to become double major winners in 2010, and that usually seals a Player of the Year honor.

Els, Stricker, Rose and Furyk could be three-time winners, perhaps even four-time winners, depending on what happens at the Bridgestone, with a major included. Clark could come out of the fray with more meaningful victories than anyone else were he to win the PGA Championship on top of his Players title.

The top choices for Most Improved appear to be Ricky Barnes and Jeff Overton. Barnes’ only top-10 or top-25, for that matter, a year ago was his improbable runner-up at the U.S. Open. This year he’s posted six top-10s and nine top-25s. Barnes attributes the better play to patience.
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods has his work cut out for him to win his 11th PGA Tour Player of the Year award. (Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Overton’s racked up two second-place finishes and two thirds, jumping from 67th in the FedEx standings to 12th. Both Barnes and Overton are threats to make the Ryder Cup team.

There’s no award for most disappointing, but there are plenty of candidates. Woods is glaring. And Sergio Garcia hasn’t put up a single top-3 finish in 29 starts over the last two years. That’s unacceptable given his talent level.  

Geoff Ogilvy owns a win in 2010, but hasn’t done a thing since that season opener at Kapalua. He missed cuts at The Players, U.S. Open and British Open and his best finish since the SBS in early January is a T-13 at Colonial.

Sean O’Hair recorded a win and nine top-10s in 2009. This year he’s without a top-3 and owns just two top-10s. He continues to struggle with his putting and as a result he’s dropped from 21st to 105th in birdie average.

Y.E. Yang hasn’t backed up his big 2009, nor has Lucas Glover.

Padraig Harrington, Mike Weir, Henrik Stenson and Michael Sim have all fallen short of reasonable expectations as well.

The shot of the year belongs to Mickelson. His 6-iron from the pine straw on 13 at Augusta on Sunday qualifies to be at least discussed in the “25 best shots ever” debate.

McIlroy’s 5-iron to set up eagle on the 15th at Quail Hollow on his way to a Sunday, game-winning 62 still lingers, as does Tiger’s ocean-bending bullet on the 18th at Pebble in Round 3 of the U.S. Open.

There have been memorable rounds, too, like Mickelson's Sunday 67 at the Masters, Tom Watson’s opening 67 that same week, Anthony Kim’s final-round 65 at Augusta, McIlroy going 5 under the last five holes to shoot 62 in Charlotte, Els' last-round 66 at Doral, Clark’s final-round 67 at The Players, Rose’s Sunday 66 at the Memorial, and Paul Goydos’ 59 at the John Deere Classic.

In 32 events, including those opposite the majors, we’ve seen 17 American winners, six from Great Britain and Ireland, four South Africans, three Aussies, a Colombian and a Swede.

Of course, it’s not over.  And that reminds me. I have a rematch with my kid this afternoon. It’s only 102 degrees.