A different kind of year, to be sure

Originally Published: December 11, 2003
By Bob Harig | Special to ESPN.com

Golf made national news on numerous occasions in 2003, and Tiger Woods was not the reason. At least not all of the time.

Fan
Vijay Singh had a great season on the course, but caught some heat for his remarks about Annika Sorenstam playing in the Colonial.

The man responsible for most of golf's headlines in recent times was just another golfer this year, relegated to so-so status despite Player of the Year honors and the most victories on the PGA Tour.

The biggest news in 2003 was made by a couple of women: Annika Sorenstam on the course and Martha Burk off of it.

Sorenstam became the first woman in 58 years to compete in a PGA Tour event when she played in the Colonial in May. Earlier, Burk, chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations, sought to have Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters, admit its first female member.

It was a different kind of year.

Woods won five times, including two World Golf Championship events, and had the second-best scoring average in PGA Tour history. Meanwhile, some wondered what was wrong because he didn't win a major championship or the money title.

More women competed on men's tours around the world (at least six) than David Duval made cuts (four) in PGA Tour events. Led by Sorenstam and followed by Suzy Whaley, Michelle Wie, Jan Stephenson, Se Ri Pak and Laura Davies, women competing with men was one of the biggest stories of the year. Meanwhile, Duval, who just two years ago was considered a challenger to Woods, missed the cut in all four majors and finished 211th on the money list.

Woods didn't scare anyone at the major championships this year. In fact, he was only a Sunday factor in one of them, the British Open, where he let an excellent chance get away by bogeying two of the last four holes to miss a playoff by two shots. Meanwhile, Ben Curtis, playing in his first major and ranked No. 396 in the world, took the lead, then made an eight-footer for par on the 18th hole that ended up clinching the Claret Jug. Curtis' next top-10 will be the second of his career. He was among four first-time major winners this year, a first since 1969.

Masters Tournament
Martha Burk wasn't the only woman trying to mud up The Masters -- Mother Nature made her presence felt as well.

Craig Stadler, who turned 50 and became a force on the Champions Tour, rejoined the younger set in July at the B.C. Open and won. In fact, 10 other players age 40 and older won on the PGA Tour, combining for 15 victories. Meanwhile, Phil Mickelson, 33, in the prime of his career, was shut out in 2003, stumbling from second to 13th in the World Ranking. Mickelson's best finish of the year was third at The Masters.

Ernie Els won seven times around the world, including the first two events of the year on the PGA Tour. He captured his first European tour Order of Merit title and seemed poised to duel Woods for major championships. But he sprained his wrist on a punching bag at his home in England in early March, killing his early-season momentum and causing him to miss the Players Championship. Els had top-10s at three majors but couldn't win one despite Woods' woes. And none of his tournament victories came with Woods in the field.

Vijay Singh had a career year. At age 40, he won four times, won his first PGA Tour money title, finished the season with eight straight top 10s and was a strong contender for Player of the Year. During the second round of the U.S. Open, he became just the fourth player to shoot 63 in tournament history. And yet, his year might be remembered more for the remarks he made about Sorenstam playing in the Colonial and the subsequent tense relationship he had with the media the rest of the season.

Fred Couples had questioned his own desire and ability to win again, but showed signs of his old self this year. He put it all together at the Houston Open, where he shot a final-round 67 to win by four strokes. It was his first victory in five years. Meanwhile, the lack of a major championship for Woods overshadowed the fact that offseason knee surgery prevented him from playing the first five weeks of the season. He came back, won his first tournament at the Buick Invitational, then won twice more the next month at the Match Play and Bay Hill Invitational, where he won for the fourth straight year.

The best shot of the year was Shaun Micheel's 7-iron approach to the 72nd green from 177 yards at Oak Hill during the PGA Championship, and will forever be a part of major championship history. Micheel, clinging to a one-shot lead over Chad Campbell, pulled off the pressure shot of the year, then tapped in for a two-stroke victory.

But for pure pressure, Sorenstam's opening tee shot at the Colonial might have been the most dramatic. With her highly anticipated start in a PGA Tour event came immense scrutiny, and Sorenstam dreaded the beginning. She managed to knock her tee shot straight down the middle and past her playing partners.

It was a season without a label: The Year of the Woman? Not quite. Year of the Tiger Shutout? Nah. Year of the Long-Shot Major Champ? Nope. No single moniker reins in the varying storylines, but one thing's certain: It was an interesting season, to be sure.

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times, and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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