ESPN 100: Top golf stories

Updated: January 7, 2004, 1:14 PM ET
ESPN The Magazine

It was a weird year in the world of sports, and golf was no exception to that trend. Five stories from a strange season in golf made The ESPN 100, and all fall into the category of the odd.

Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam excelled in her pressure-packed Colonial appearance.

No. 12: Woman Enough

"You da man!" a guy yelled as Annika Sorenstam stepped to the first tee at the Bank of America Colonial. After striping her drive 243 yards down the middle, the first female golfer to play in a PGA Tour event in 58 years went on to post a one-over-par opening round. She missed the cut by four strokes but won over millions of fans. Six months later, she took $225K playing in the Skins Game with Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson and Mark O'Meara. Annika says she's done, no more. She accomplished what she wanted to at Colonial, and we won't be seeing her on the men's Tour again. That would be a downright pity.

No. 25: Girl Enough

Michelle Wie
Wie
She won the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links (at 13, youngest ever to win an adult USGA event). She tied for ninth in the LPGA Tour's first major. She made the cut in six of the seven LPGA events she entered. Then Michelle Wie started high school. This January, thanks to a sponsor's exemption requested by Hawaii's governor, she'll become the youngest female ever to play in a PGA Tour event, when she tees it up with the guys at the Sony Open in Honolulu. For her 14th birthday in October, Wie got a cake shaped like the 14th hole at Augusta National. By the time she turns 18, she could be playing there.

No. 33: Gender Gap

Martha Burk
Burk
Hootie Johnson
Johnson
Regardless of whose side you took in the great debate, one thing was for sure: it was sure fun to watch. There was Hootie Johnson issuing "even if I drop dead right now" proclamations. There was Martha Burk countering with overblown lady-golfer-as-patriot rhetoric. Fittingly, in the end, neither got quite what they wanted. Only two of Augusta's 300-plus members resigned, but with Burk taking her fight to CEOs who tee off there, that pain in Hootie's ear isn't going away anytime soon. Fans were the real winners: commercial-free sports rules! Sunday's Masters playoff between Mike Weir and Len Mattiace was the third-most-watched final round ever. Maybe Hootie and Martha can sell their act to the NHL.

No. 43: One-Timers

Shaun Micheel
Micheel
Ben Curtis
Curtis
Jim Furyk
Furyk
Mike Weir
Weir
That new set of irons you've been eyeballing? Buy 'em. That $600 driver? Go for it. If Ben Curtis (ranked 396th in the world) and Shaun Micheel (169th) can win majors, none of us should give up hope. The other two first-time major winners, Mike Weir (Masters) and Jim Furyk (U.S. Open), weren't shocks. But Curtis (British Open) and Micheel (PGA Championship) came out of nowhere. A 2002 Q-school graduate, Curtis held steady to win by one stroke as leader Thomas Bjorn got caught in quicksand on the 70th hole and challenger Vijay Singh saw his putter go cold. For Micheel (pronounced Muh-KEEL, as practically nobody outside his immediate family knew until last August), heroics weren't exactly new: 10 years ago in North Carolina, he saved an elderly couple from drowning. But in golf, nothing's sweeter than a 175-yard 7-iron to two inches on the 72nd hole of a major championship to seal a two-stroke win. Still, as refreshing as it was to have all four majors won by first-timers, one question lingers: where was Slumpy all summer?

Tiger Woods
This was an all-too-common sight of Tiger Woods at the majors in 2003.

No. 44: Majorly Bummed

The shoulders said it all. Even though Tiger Woods kept insisting otherwise, his summer slouch said slump. By his standards, the shoulders spoke truth. He started late but hot after rehabbing from knee surgery, but soon Sunday fist pumps gave way to frustrated putter tosses. He floundered between Nike and Titleist drivers. He set career lows in fairways hit and had his lowest greens-in-regulation mark since 1998. And there were the majors. Masters: balloons to 75 on Sunday, later blames caddie for an early double-bogey (T-15). U.S. Open: spends most of week in the deep lettuce at Olympia Fields (T-20). British Open: misses six putts of 15 feet or less on Sunday's back nine (T-4). PGA Championship: never a factor; struggles to make cut (T-39). Five tourney wins, the Vardon Trophy for best scoring average and second place on the money list would have marked a career year for mere mortals. But for Tiger, all that -- oh, yes, and PGA Tour Player of the Year honors for the fifth straight time -- couldn't offset his oh-fer in the majors.

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