Singh's '04 season tops the list
With the PGA Tour season officially ending on Sunday, it seemed as good a time as any to list the 18 people in golf who had the best years in 2004.
What criteria were needed to make the list? For some, it only took one or two swings; for others, it meant finally breaking through at a major.
Don't see your name on the list? Maybe your year wasn't as good as you thought. Stay tuned to next week's Weekly 18 for the list of those who had the worst years in golf.
We start with a man for whom "worst" is merely a rhyme with "first," something he knows all too well.
The good news for Singh this year: He won nine PGA Tour events, became the first player ever to eclipse the $10-million plateau in a single season and claimed possession of the No. 1 spot in the World Ranking. The bad news: With all those trophies and oversized checks, no doubt Singh had to build another wing onto his home just to house the mementos. According to most experts, Singh's accomplishments didn't rank with those of Byron Nelson in 1945 or Arnold Palmer in 1960 or Tiger Woods in 2000, but they were good enough to merit debate in the subject of best seasons in PGA Tour history.
Another year, another LPGA Player of the Year title for Annika. Ho-hum. You get the feeling she could do this with her eyes closed these days, as she captured her fourth straight season with at least six wins and $2 million in earnings. The worst part of Annika's season? The fact that hardly anyone who doesn't closely follow the LPGA even acknowledges her accomplishments anymore; the mainstream sports media only wakes up to Annika's superiority when she's competing with the men or talking about making a run for the Grand Slam.
OK, it's like this: If you played a match with your buddy and he hit a 45-foot putt to win, then danced around on the green while you tried to finish out, you'd probably want to beat him pretty badly the next time. And so it goes for the Europeans, who have now celebrated two consecutive wins since Justin Leonard made The Putt Heard 'Round The World at the Country Club. Even the staunchest supporter of American golf couldn't have helped but crack a smile on that Sunday afternoon at Oakland Hills while watching the European fans, draped in flags and drenched in champagne, sing old tunes with new lyrics corresponding to their favorite Ryder Cupper. Our favorite: "Whoa, Bernhard Langer! Whoa, Bernhard Langer! Walking along, singing a song, walking in a winter wonderland!"
Now a senior at UNLV, this kid won the NCAA individual championship, the U.S. Amateur and the World Amateur Team Championship. Check the records: He may have also won the Member-Guest at your club and beat your kids in putt-putt. Perhaps the only safe bet in Vegas right now is that Moore is going to shine on the PGA Tour ... and soon. In an era where the Casey Wittenbergs and Paula Creamers of the golf world are taking the LeBron James route to the pros, Moore should receive special commendation for staying in school.
Mickelson was quickly becoming the Boston Red Sox of the PGA Tour but fittingly both won that elusive title in '04. After about a thousand second- and third-place finishes in majors, Lefty transformed the famed Phil Flop into the Mickelson Leap after holing that sidewinder on the 18th at the Masters. Unable to control his emotions, Phil leapt about eight inches off the ground and the world leapt with him. "The People's Champion," Mickelson wouldn't even let a subpar second half (no top 10s since August) ruin his historic year.
So, you and your old man like to play golf together every once in a while, then maybe sit around the dinner table and regale the family of tales from your round, reliving all the great shots they missed? That's nothing compared the Percassis of Rochester, N.Y. On the night of Aug. 21, father and son came home to gloat about their holes-in-one. On the same day. On the same course. On the same hole. On back-to-back shots. They could shank every other shot for the rest of the year, but this feat alone gets these guys on the list.
How cool was Jones' season? After finishing in the top five in five of his first six Nationwide events -- ensuring he'd have a spot on the PGA Tour in '05 -- this guy basically played wherever he wanted, Ernie Els-style. The result? Jones not only finished sixth on the Nationwide money list, but also came in sixth on the Australasian Tour, making just under a combined half-mill worldwide. In between, Jones qualified for three of the four majors (he didn't play in the Masters), missing the cut in each, but shooting only 1 over combined in the opening rounds of those tournaments.
The stoic Goosen was so happy to win the U.S. Open, he almost cracked a smile. One non-golf fan, while taking in the televised action from Shinnecock Hills, remarked, "I've heard of birdies and eagles, but what's a Goosen?" Congrats to Retief, who's maintained his spot in the world's top five while remaining a no-name to most Americans -- just the way he likes it.
Don't think of it as losing a Ryder Cup, Elin; think of it as gaining a gazillion dollars. The former Miss Nordegren missed out on celebrating with her European-born counterparts, but she now owns a yacht, a jet and all the "Property of Stanford Golf" T-shirts she could ever want. As for her hubby bringing home more major hardware, she shouldn't fret; Jack won all 18 of his majors after pairing up with Barbara.
No Martha and his tournament saw The Best Player To Have Never Won A Major finally break through and win one? Magnolia Lane must have seemed like Easy Street for Johnson and the Augusta National hierarchy this year. While criticism of the club's men-only membership policy died down, the '04 Masters will go down in history as one of the most entertaining majors of all time. First, Arnie's Army watched Palmer march across his battlefield one last time. Then on Sunday, a final round filled with miraculous shots ended with the greatest 18-foot putt the world has ever seen. No news is good news in Hootie's world and this year all major stories at the Masters were written on the course.
A late entry to this list, Varallo is a golfing rarity -- a 22-handicapper who's never broken 90, but finds his name with the likes of Vijay and Annika. And all the 31-year-old attorney had to do was make two swings this past Saturday. The first, a seven-iron on the 143-yard third hole at Liberty Lakes Golf Course near Spokane, Wash., promptly put the ball into the hole. The other, an eight-iron on the 140-yard 11th hole, also went right into the hole. Yup, two aces in a span of nine holes. That was the good news. The bad news for Varallo was that he played the other 16 holes on the par-70 course in 35 strokes over par, resulting in a score of 101 for the round.
Yeah, we know there was no President's Cup this year, but these guys must have been licking their chops as they saw the U.S. Ryder Cup team get trounced by a European squad that isn't half what Ernie, Retief and the boys are. In addition to the South African duo, Singh, Mike Weir, Adam Scott, Stuart Appleby and Stephen Ames -- locks for the team -- all won on the PGA Tour this season. The top seven players in the international team's current points standings combined for 22 worldwide wins this year (19 PGA Tour, three Euro Tour).
A year ago, Todd Hamilton could have knocked on your door and introduced himself and you still wouldn't have known who he was. OK, so you still might not recognize him if he's not holding the Claret Jug, but at least he's got one. And Hamilton didn't exactly back into his British Open win like Paul Lawrie in '99. He stared down Els for four holes and beat him straight up, immediately sending millions of golfers to the nearest pro shop looking for a "Texas wedge."
The son of the Walrus, Stadler earned the nickname Maxi-Me (at 5-foot-10, 250 pounds, there's nothing "mini" about him) before ever turning pro. He made waves at this year's U.S. Open, shooting rounds of 68-72 before finishing in 65th place. One week later, without owning status on any tour, Stadler won his first Nationwide Tour event in a playoff, then duplicated that feat two weeks later.
Like most 15-year-old girls, Wie enjoys listening to music, talking on the phone and hanging out at the mall. Unlike any other 15-year-old girl in the world, she can hit a golf ball 300 yards and has taken the golf world by storm. You could say she's 15-going-on-a-hundred-million -- dollars, that is; the minute she turns pro, Wie is poised to sign the most lucrative sponsorship deal for any golfer not named Tiger. Sure, Team Wie was heavily criticized this year for deciding to forego some amateur tournaments in favor of accepting sponsor's exemptions on the LPGA, but Michelle finished in the top 20 in six of the seven professional events she entered in '04. Let's see if that criticism dies down in '05 when Wie builds on these experiences and starts winning LPGA events while still an amateur.
After Captain Smith sank the Titanic, all his counterparts had to do was keep their ships afloat to be considered a rousing success. The 12-man U.S. crew that sails into The K Club in '06 can't sink any further, so Lehman -- a career underdog who got a late start on the PGA Tour -- will bring an underdog mentality to his squad. Lehman led three tournaments after three rounds in the final two months of the season, but failed to capitalize with a victory in any of them. He was destined to wind up on next week's list, but being appointed Ryder Cup captain not only made his year, it made his career.
The Nationwide Tour's leading money winner in '03, Johnson proved he belonged with the big boys, earning five top 10s, including his first career win at the BellSouth Classic. Trust us: Johnson is a budding superstar. Pencil in the 28-year-old for the Tour Championship in each of the next 10 seasons. And, by the way U.S. golf fans, you'd better hope Johnson's good at match play -- he'll be a stalwart on Ryder Cup and President's Cup teams for years to come.
Judging by some of Poulter's outlandish outfits this year, you may have expected to find this guy on next week's list. But unlike most tailors to the pros who probably hand out a few pairs of slacks and send the player on their way, this guy's got a full-time job in Poulter, who often looks like a cross between the late Payne Stewart and Groundskeeper Willie (with Billy Idol's haircut, of course). Here's to you, Ian Poulter's tailor -- may Union Jack trousers never go out of style.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.
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