- Bob Harig, Senior Golf Writer
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Because another opportunity might not come along for a while, we'd like to see somebody besides Tiger Woods take home the hardware Monday when the PGA Tour announces the 2003 Player of the Year.
Woods -- who is still a good bet to win the award for the fifth straight year and sixth out of seven -- does not typically allow for such debate. This year he left an opening, however, which is as good a reason as any to argue for the other contenders in the voting.
In truth, it is probably not fair to judge Woods on his past. We should base our decision on this year and this year alone, comparing it to the performances of the other contenders in 2003.
Of course, we don't have a vote anyway, so this is just one way of looking at it. The PGA Tour players could not be blamed if they shared the same logic: to vote for somebody other than Woods because they had terrific seasons while, by Woods' standards, he did not.
Woods did not win a major championship (nor the money title) for the first time since 1998, which is also the last season he didn't win Player of the Year (Mark O'Meara won it). In fact, at three of the four majors, Woods was a Sunday sideshow. The last time the award went to a player without a major was 1995, when Greg Norman won it on the strength of three victories and two top-3 finishes in majors.
Is it fair that Woods could be penalized simply because he did not perform up to the amazing level he has established? Perhaps not. But then, golf is not always fair.
You could argue, instead, for Davis Love III, who won four times, including the Players Championship. His Sunday 64 at Sawgrass was one of the best rounds of the year. Love, who had his best season despite personal hardship, finished third on the money list and had 11 top-10s, including a tie for fourth at the British Open.
Or you could argue for Mike Weir, who had the best record of any player in the major championships. He won The Masters with a clutch back-nine putting performance that put him in a playoff, which he won over Len Mattiace. He also won two other tournaments, had 10 top-10s, including a tie for third at the U.S. Open and a tie for seventh at the PGA Championship. And he finished fifth on the money list.
Or you could argue for Vijay Singh, who won four times and closed the season with eight straight top-10s and 10 in the last 11 tournaments. Singh had 18 top-10s for the year. He also led the PGA Tour money list with $7.53 million, the second-highest total in history and nearly doubling his previous best.
The vote here would be for Singh, who at age 40 managed to win nearly $900,000 more than Woods. Yes, he played nine more tournaments than Woods, who was in the field for just 18 -- by his own choice. Woods did win the Vardon Trophy for low scoring average, and that is a difficult honor to ignore.
But Singh, who finished second in scoring average to Woods, stepped up at the end of the year. After finishing second to Woods at the American Express Championship, he beat Woods at the Funai Classic, finished second at the Chrysler Championship (Woods did not play), then tied for fifth at the Tour Championship, where Woods finished 26th in a 31-player field, just the second time all season he was outside the top 20.
Indeed, it is a season-long award, and Woods won five times, more than any other player. He won two World Golf Championship events. He won a fifth straight Vardon Trophy. If he were anybody else, it would be more than enough to win Player of the Year.
But, like we said, we're judging Woods by Woods, and this time, it doesn't measure up.
With everything on the line at the end of the season, he came up just short (Funai), skipped an event (Chrysler Championship), then had one of his worst tournaments of the year (Tour Championship).
The players have until Friday to submit their votes, and the results will be announced Monday on the 6 p.m. ET SportsCenter. Although there is a strong argument for Woods, there are plenty of reasons against.
Besides, it has been five years since Woods has given anyone else a chance. And he might not let it happen again.
Tiger left the door open, so Player of the Year voters should usher someone else through it while they can.