Golf's choice: 2 majors vs. 4 months of greatness
During a break in a recent meeting, PGA Tour executives were asked their choice for player of the year. Half of them chose Padraig Harrington. The other half raised their hands for Tiger Woods.
None received a ballot, which was mailed last week to players for a vote that could show what they regard as relevant.
Topping the list of five nominees were Harrington, the British Open and PGA champion who became only the seventh player since 1960 to win consecutive majors in the same season; and Woods, who won four times in six starts, including the U.S. Open in a playoff, before season-ending knee surgery.
The 16-man Players Advisory Council and four players on the PGA Tour policy board, which compiled the ballot, added FedEx Cup champion Vijay Singh with his three victories, three-time winner Kenny Perry, and a most peculiar selection of Camilo Villegas, who won the final two playoff events.
Why not Anthony Kim, who also had two victories (against full fields), had more top 10s and finished higher on the money list while playing the same number of tournaments?
They would have been better off listing only four names rather than snubbing someone.
Not that it matters.
Players really only have two choices, and this is one case where it might be helpful to have exit polling. Then again, it would really be helpful if the TASS-oriented PGA Tour disclosed the vote totals like every other sport.
Harrington is considered the front-runner based on recent precedence and the value of majors.
``Anytime you win a major championship, it's always going to be a great year,'' Woods said last year after winning the PGA Championship for his only major that season.
So what does two majors make it?
Since the PGA Tour award began in 1990, no one has won two majors without winning the award. Double major winner Nick Faldo was not a member in 1990 when the inaugural award went to Wayne Levi, who won four times and was second on the money list.
Faldo did win the points-based award from the PGA of America in 1990, although Gary Player won two majors in 1974 when the PGA award went to Johnny Miller and his eight victories.
``If I had been voting, I would have gone with Gary,'' Miller wrote in the December issue of Golf Digest.
And if Miller were voting this year (he's not), his choice would be Harrington. The Irishman had four other top-five finishes, including a tie for fifth in the Masters. But those majors were his only victories.
The recent precedence for the PGA Tour award is Mark O'Meara in 1998. He won the Masters and British Open at age 41, the oldest player to win two majors in one year. Players voted him over David Duval, who led the tour with four victories, won the PGA Tour money title and the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average.
But the other major champions in 1998 were not worthy of serious consideration. Lee Janzen's only victory was the U.S. Open. Vijay Singh tacked on the International a week after winning his first major at the PGA Championship.
The other major winners this year were Masters champion Trevor Immelman, who like Janzen had no other victories; and Woods, whose four-month ledger is comparable to Tom Lehman's career.
Along with winning the U.S. Open, he was second in the Masters. The only other tournament Woods failed to win was the CA Championship at Doral, where he tied for fifth. He won the Buick Invitational by eight shots, the Accenture Match Play Championship by a record score (8 and 7) and the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a 25-foot birdie on the final hole.
Woods sat out the entire month of May after a knee surgery, then missed the final three months of the season because of another operation. He still finished second on the money list, and didn't give up the lead until there were two tournaments left.
That's how dominant Woods was the first half of the season.
But over the second half of the season, Harrington's golf was special.
``A vote for Tiger is essentially saying that had there been no knee injury, he would have won one of the majors that Padraig did,'' Miller wrote. ``But there is no assurance that Tiger would have won the British or PGA, and you can't give him credit for winning the majors he didn't play.''
This might be one time the players agree with Miller.
Duval, the subject of such a debate 10 years ago, reached a similar conclusion Tuesday afternoon. Woods' record in only six tournaments is worthy of consideration - four wins, one major, no finish worse than fifth, second on the money list.
``It sure looked like it might have been a walkaway,'' Duval said. ``But the fact is, he didn't play. Who knows what would have happened? You're assuming he would have played that way all year. I don't think that's fair for a player who played all year and won two majors.''
Lee Westwood suggested this month that Harrington did not have the most consistent year or he would have wrapped up the Order of Merit in Europe without having to play the final month.
But when asked about player of the year, he returned to Harrington.
``Any player that wins two majors in a year has to be classed as the best of the year,'' Westwood said.
If he doesn't win, perhaps Woods can aspire to something else never accomplished.
Along with being a perennial candidate for player of the year, Woods might be a shoo-in next season for comeback player of the year.
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