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- Updated: September 7, 2013
I always love when award shows announce the runner-ups and the honorable mentions first. It’s like “Hey, you didn’t win. We understand if you want to skip the rest of the presentation and get out of here.”
So before we get into the real crux of the PGA Tour Player Of The Year debate, which for all intents and purposes or intensive purposes has come down to a two horse race, let’s acknowledge golf’s best losers.
The Aussie memorably captured his nation’s first Green Jacket way back in April. His playoff victory over Angel Cabrera produced arguably the moment of the year in golf.
It was a long time coming for Rose, whose travails in the professional game have been well documented. He once failed to retain his European Tour Card and was forced to re-enter qualifying school. In June he captured the US Open by more or less surviving the treacherous Merion Golf Club.
The twenty year old turned professional last November has immediately made a name for himself. He started the season with little PGA Tour status and will now finish it at the Tour Championship – with only 30 other players. He won his first career tournament at the John Deere Classic, becoming the first teenage winner on Tour in 82 years. Spieth played well in the final Majors of the season before nearly claiming win number two in a playoff at the Wyndham. Fred Couples chose the talented youngster as a Captain’s Pick for the upcoming President’s Cup.
Everyone loves Duf. The waggling, dipping, mop-topped, lug of a golfer put on the best ball striking display of the season when he won the PGA Championship at Oak Hill with a -10 270. Duf made the cut at all four majors, adding a top five at the US Open to his increasingly impressive resume.
Phil Mickelson vs. Tiger Woods
It’s the rivalry that produces far more intrigue off the course than on it. As the PGA Championship beckoned in early August, hopes grew for a Tiger v. Phil showdown on the course. Tiger had just won his eighth Bridgestone Invitational by seven shots, posting a 61 in the process. A few weeks prior, Phil had won the British Open with the most impressive Sunday round in recent memory.
Both players fizzled out at the PGA, however, taking the de facto “Player of the Year” championship back to the written page. Before embarking on a full on Tiger v. Phil debate, let’s look back at previous winners to provide some context for a vote.
In the last ten seasons, only three times has a golfer been named PGA Tour Player Of The Year without winning a Major tournament. That being said, all three occurrences have come in the last four years. The recent precedent bodes well for Tiger. In fact, Woods himself took home Player Of The Year honors in 2009 without a Major triumph. He did win six times on tour, though, and grabbed the FedEx Cup to boot.
In 2010, an effectively Tigerless season, Jim Furyk took home the hardware with the help of his own FedEx victory. He too went without a Major that season. Luke Donald repeated the somewhat dubious achievement the following year when his two tour victories were enough to win him the Player Of The Year.
The Major-less winners can be somewhat explained away, although it’s not meant as a slight, by those who did win Majors. Starting with Y.E. Yang’s PGA Championship in 2009, golfers who spent a majority of their seasons playing overseas captured the Majors. With the exception of Mickelson at Augusta in 2010, no full-time tour member won a Major between Yang in ’09 and Keegan Bradley in 2011, a span of seven tournaments.
Donald and Furyk, and to some extent Tiger who deems any season without a Major sub-par, were able to win Player Of The Year despite comparatively substandard seasons.
This year the question becomes “Do Phil’s two wins including a Major defeat Tiger’s five Major-less victories?” In addition to his Open Championship, Phil also memorably finished runner-up at the US Open. Like Tiger, he made the cut at all four Majors. Both golfers earned two top tens. Phil’s were a first and a second. Tiger’s were a T4 at Augusta and a T6 at The Open.
Mickelson outplayed Woods in the toughest tests in golf. Furthermore, his 66 at Muirfield on Sunday was undoubtedly the performance of the year.
But five wins is an awful lot. Two wins is a very good season. Three is tremendous. Four is world class. Five is best in the world status. Granted, Tiger’s 2013 wins have come at courses that he’s owned over the years. Then again, there are very few that he hasn’t. Woods leads the Tour in scoring average and vaulted to the top of the regular season FedEx standings. And he may very well have won the Masters had he not been assessed a two stroke penalty for an illegal drop.
Tiger won in January and he won in August. Over the course of the season he’s been the favorite at every event he’s played. By his standards, 2013 will go down as another disappointment. By any other golfer’s, it would mark a career achievement.
The award measures the winner against other players, not against himself. So while Mickelson presents a compelling case, this has been another year of the Tiger.