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2008 golf year in review

People used to say that the only things that could stop Tiger Woods would be marriage and children, then possibly an injury.

He handled the first part so well that Elin is pregnant with the couple's second child. However, Woods could not avoid his first truly serious injury. He did the best he could gutting it out, which was a victory at the U.S. Open and nearly taking another Player of the Year award.

Woods is a freak of nature and dominated yet another year even though he only made it through half of it.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR - Padraig Harrington Runners-up - Lorena Ochoa, Tiger Woods

Here's the easiest way to tell why Harrington deserved this award: Tiger voted for him. No, not in this Player of the Year race, but in the PGA Tour's version, Woods cast his ballot for the British Open and PGA Champion.

At Woods' pre-tournament press conference at the Chevron World Challenge, he acknowledged he voted for Harrington. Woods' reasoning couldn't have been any simpler.

"He won two."

Yes, Harrington won two. He won two major championships in a season. That should be good enough for anyone. The last time someone without the surname Woods won two majors in a year was Mark O'Meara in 1998. That Irishman won the players' vote as well.

You might have heard the theory that Harrington's accomplishments were a little tainted by Woods' absence. But two majors are two majors. That is undeniable and to turn the trick in back-to-back majors makes Harrington's special year even more so.

Woods was astonishing in 2008. He started six events, he won four of them. Remember this, too: Woods finished second at the Masters. His other finish was a fifth at the WGC-CA Championship. That's a remarkable half-year.

Oh yeah, and Woods did it all on one functioning leg.

Ochoa was no bum either. She won seven times, including four in a row early in the year. Ochoa took home another major title, another money title and once again dominated the LPGA Tour.

But did Ochoa win two majors in the year? Nope. Did Tiger? Nope.

Harrington did.

This is not to say Harrington's season didn't have some downward turns. He was awful in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, missing the cut at the first two events and sharing 55th at the BMW Championship. Harrington was so bad he didn't even get into the Tour Championship field.

Harrington was 0-3-1 in the Ryder Cup in a losing effort for Europe.

But Harrington did the one thing no one else did in 2008.

"He won two."

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR - Yani Tseng Runner-up - Bernhard Langer

Yani Tseng will turn 20 about three weeks after the New Year. That's young to be a contributing member of the LPGA Tour, but if that's all you think of Tseng, you're doing her quite a disservice.

In her first season on the LPGA Tour, Tseng made her first victory a major when she toppled Maria Hjorth in a playoff for the LPGA Championship. It was the highlight of an amazingly consistent season.

Tseng posted nine top-10 finishes, including seven top-threes. She pocketed a cool $1,743,553 in earnings, which was good for third on the money list. And Tseng's remarkable rookie year vaulted her to second in the Rolex Rankings.

Langer had a magnificent year with three wins, although none were major titles. He won the Champions Tour Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year, which was only the third time in the history of the elder circuit a player swiped both trophies.

Much like Harrington's case for Player of the Year, major championships mean a great deal. Tseng got one, Langer didn't.

TOURNAMENT OF THE YEAR - U.S. Open Runners-up - Ryder Cup, Senior PGA Championship, British Open Championship

Let us paint a picture.

On one side you have a journeyman, loved by all who know him. He's always had a serious back problem -- it even once cost him a shot at the Masters on the back nine Sunday.

On the other side you have the best golfer in the world -- maybe in the history of the world. He's probably the most famous American not named Oprah or George and he's the favorite every time he plays a major.

This journeyman -- let's call him Rocco (even that's a perfect underdog journeyman name) -- gets into the clubhouse at one-under 282. The favorite -- say his name is Eldrick -- needs a birdie at the last hole to force 18 more on Monday.

This Eldrick knocks his third to 15 feet at the par-five closing hole at Torrey Pines. Of course he makes it. "I knew he would make that putt. That's what he does," says Rocco.

It's Monday morning on the west coast and, once again, the underdog has the advantage. He's got a one-shot lead on the 18th tee and makes a par after his 20-foot birdie try stayed above land. Eldrick two-putts for a birdie and it's off to the 91st hole of the championship.

Of course in the end, the favorite prevailed. It brought Rocco back into the public consciousness and showcased Eldrick in the best possible way.

It was after this victory that Eldrick hobbled off to surgery. Eight days later, he had season-ending surgery for a torn ACL. Eldrick Woods went 91 holes for his third U.S. Open with a torn ACL, but no one forgot the journeyman named Rocco.

STORY OF THE YEAR - Tiger's season ends. Runners-up - Annika Sorenstam retires, Greg Norman contends at British Open, Seve Ballesteros' cancer.

When the top player in the world misses half of the season due to knee surgery, that's huge. When you realize his accomplishments on one useful leg, you marvel.

Woods won four out of six tournaments he played in 2008. When you think about the fact that he did it on a leg in such bad shape that it required surgery, you shake your head.

With Woods shelved, several players made their mark, most notably Harrington. But Paddy wasn't the only golfer to soak up the sun with Woods in rehab.

Vijay Singh won the FedEx Cup title. Camilo Villegas and Anthony Kim invigorated the youth movement in golf. Sergio Garcia is back on the landscape as a major force.

Would any of this be possible if Woods didn't have ACL surgery? Impossible to say, but with four wins out of six starts, you'd have to think these guys wouldn't have been able to accomplish what they did.

Woods has missed time due to various knee problems before, but that was like a chipped fingernail compared to major leg surgery. He's claiming he will play some events before the 2009 Masters, but who knows?


Paul Azinger - The U.S. Ryder Cup captain went into the matches without the best player on the planet and didn't flinch. He took an old military strategy and broke his team of 12 into three groups of four all week and everyone came together. The Americans won in what turned out to be a landslide, but Zinger looked like a genius before that, just for tweaking the points system and getting four picks. Azinger's players loved him so much, they lobbied for him to return in 2010. The PGA of America didn't bite and tabbed Corey Pavin.

Paula Creamer - She is the fourth-ranked women's player in the world and finished second on the LPGA Tour money list. Creamer won four times, posted seven top-five finishes and with the retirement of Sorenstam, assumes the position as top threat to Ochoa.

Kenny Perry - No one beat up Perry more than yours truly. He skipped trying to qualify for the U.S. Open (didn't like Torrey Pines) and passed on the British Open (he wanted to play where he had a strong record -- the U.S. Bank Championship Milwaukee). Perry's lone goal for the season was to play near home, at Valhalla for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. He accomplished the goal with three wins in a five-week span during the summer. Perry went 2-1-1 for the Ryder Cup week and his decisive 3 & 2 victory over Henrik Stenson in singles went a long way toward helping the U.S. get its desperately-needed win in the Ryder Cup.

Golf at the Olympics - Golf is trying to get on the schedule for the 2016 Olympic games and there is a unified front for its proposal. Former LPGA Tour Commissioner Ty Votaw, Sorenstam and Jack Nicklaus are some of the point people for golf and with a serious drug policy in place, this could be a reality.


John Daly - He has no playing status and his life seemed to implode once again. He was found drunk and unconscious in the parking lot of a Hooters and destroyed a spectator's camera in Australia when the fan got too close.

O'Meara - He joined the Champions Tour in recent years with all the intent of winning some big money and becoming one of the circuit's biggest stars. O'Meara finished below Jeff Klein, Gary Koch and Costantino Rocca on the Schwab Cup points list and took 62nd on the money list in 16 starts.

The FedEx Cup - Once again, players complained about the FedEx Cup. This year, Singh won the first two playoff events and all but clinched the title. Tour players thought -- perhaps correctly -- that there needs to be more emphasis on the Tour Championship. Now there will be more changes before next year's FedEx Cup.

Steve Williams - First, his guy Tiger misses half of the season after leg surgery, although it's doubtful Williams cried poor. Toward the end of '08, Williams was quoted in a New Zealand newspaper calling Phil Mickelson a bad word and didn't really do anything to defuse the situation.


December 30, 2008

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