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Player of the Year vote closest for years

For any other player but Tiger Woods, it would have been considered a career-defining season on the PGA Tour.

He won five times, all against strong fields, two of them in the World Golf Championships. He won a record fifth straight Vardon Trophy for having the lowest adjusted scoring average; at 68.41, it was the second-lowest in history.

But for Woods, it will be considered an ordinary season, his lowest output in five years.

Vijay Singh had a comparable season, winning four times and capturing the PGA Tour money title for the first time with over $7.5 million, the second-highest total in history. He also had 18 finishes in the top 10, including his final eight tournaments of the year.

It was Singh's greatest season by far, the best by any player not named Tiger Woods since Greg Norman won three times, the money title and the Vardon Trophy in 1995.

Norman was the last player to win PGA Tour Player of the Year without a major. Singh could be the next.

Ballots were sent out Monday to the approximately 200 members of the PGA Tour who played in at least 15 tournaments this year. The results are expected Dec. 8.

Asked to state his case for PGA Player of the Year honors, Woods pointed to his five trophies.

``Number of wins,'' he said. ``Not only the quality of tournaments that I won, but the percentage of tournaments that I played in, and my winning percentage, as well as my stroke average.''

The 40-year-old Singh hasn't campaigned as much as Woods in recent weeks.

His goal was the money title, and the smile on his face when he finished in a tie for fifth at the Tour Championship showed how much it meant.

``It's more than a dream,'' he said. ``It's probably the biggest accomplishment that I've had in my career, especially at my age. Hopefully, I can get voted for Player of the Year. But if I don't, in my mind I've done what I wanted to do.''

Ernie Els shed some light on the decision facing the players who get a ballot.

``I'm probably leaning toward Vijay,'' Els said. ``If you look at players on this Tour, you've got to play consistently to win the money title, and he's done that. So you've got to look at that strongly.

``Then you look at Tiger,'' he continued. ``He has five wins out of 18 events. That's pretty strong. So at the moment, I'm on the fence.''

It all comes down to expectations and perception.

Woods has more victories. He finished $900,000 behind Singh on the money list, but he played in nine fewer tournaments.

Both finished in the top 10 in two-thirds of the tournaments they played.

Singh was better than Woods in three majors -- they tied for 20th in the other -- but both were in contention on the back nine Sunday only once, at the British Open, and neither was able to catch Ben Curtis.

Singh, however, left a lasting impression.

Singh was simply relentless the final three months of the season. Everyone expected to see his name among the leaders on the weekend. His worst finish over the final eight tournaments was a tie for sixth at the Canadian Open and the NEC Invitational.

How close the vote is -- the PGA Tour doesn't release the results -- will be determined by whether players judge Woods against Singh, or judge Woods against Woods.

Their decision depends on what they deem the most noteworthy -- performance in majors, victories, scoring average, the money list, average money per start, top 10s.

David Toms said he usually gets his ballot and takes two minutes filling it out. How long will it take this year?

``About the same time,'' Toms said. ``Is there any doubt who the best player is?''

Toms then began to sort through the details.

The No. 1 player doesn't play as many tournaments. Would he be as successful if he played more? Is the vote for the best player, or the best year?

Masters champion Mike Weir cannot be ruled out.

He only won three times, none since slipping on the green jacket. He was third in scoring (behind Woods and Singh) and fifth on the money list.

``I think I have as much right to it as anybody,'' Weir said. ``That's the way I see it. But it doesn't mean that 160-some guys will see it that way. Obviously, I think that momentum is on Vijay's side. He's got more attention about his season.''

The PGA Tour finale only enhanced Singh's case.

He and Woods played together in the first round, when Woods put five strokes between them in five holes and eventually finished three shots better (70-73). The rest of the week, Singh continued to move up the leaderboard; Woods went the other direction and was 26th.

In a peculiar gauge of how close the race might be, consider the three men after whom PGA Tour awards are named, and the tournaments they run.

Woods won the Byron Nelson Award (the Vardon Trophy is from the PGA of America) for having the lowest scoring average. Singh won the Byron Nelson Championship.

Singh won the Arnold Palmer Award for leading the money list. Woods won Palmer's tournament, the Bay Hill Invitational.

The Jack Nicklaus Award is for player of the year. His tournament is the Memorial.

Woods and Singh tied for fourth.

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