- Jason Sobel, Senior Golf Writer
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Poor Tiger Woods.
Seems like a nice guy, but he just can't catch a break. Three second-place finishes and three other thirds in 2004 make him the most lovable loser since Phil Whatshisface kept falling short in all those majors.
What ever happened to that guy anyway?
In any case, here's hoping Woods keeps plugging away. As anyone can see by his performance this year, the kid's got a ton of potential.
But that doesn't keep Tiger from topping this list of the 18 people in the golf world who had the worst years in '04. You can bet those New Year's resolutions can't come fast enough.
1. Tiger Woods
For most mortals, earning more than $5 million and getting married to a former model would constitute a pretty good year. Tiger is no mere mortal. He proved that with his eight major victories from 1997-2002 while replacing Michael Jordan as the world's most recognizable athlete. Sure, he won the Accenture Match Play and kept his consecutive cut streak alive, but Tiger is on record as saying he judges his yearly performance based on how he fares in the majors; this year he finished T-22 (Masters), T-17 (U.S. Open), T-9 (British Open) and T-24 (PGA Championship) in those four events and owned a losing record (2-3) in the Ryder Cup. You can argue that Woods' season of 14 top-10 finishes in 19 events is a success compared to most other players, but Tiger holds himself to a higher standard, one he did not live up to in '04.
2. Hal Sutton
Poor Cap'n Hal strode into Oakland Hills with guns ablazin', but his team was easily shot down by the sharpshooting Europeans. Was it Sutton's fault that Tiger and Phil finished 0-2 as partners? Or that his players seemingly couldn't make a putt of longer than five feet? Or that the foresome of Garcia/Westwood/Harrington/Clarke turned into the European second coming of Nicklaus/Palmer/Hogan/Jones? Certainly not, but like Curtis Strange in 2002, Sutton was the captain when the American ship sank and he has to bear the brunt of the criticism.
3. Tom Meeks
In the days leading up to this year's U.S. Open, players were effusive in their praise for the sterling condition of Shinnecock Hills. By the time the tournament hit the weekend, all the talk was about the course's dry, concrete-like greens. It started with the under-watered seventh green, and continued as the greenskeepers rolled the other ones to keep them similar. Players' infuriated rants were mostly directed toward Meeks, the USGA rules official who later admitted that, had the greens been watered for a few minutes each on Friday and Saturday night, there never would have been reason for complaints. If that wasn't bad enough, weeks later Meeks found himself having to make a quick about-face, apologizing after saying Ernie Els "gave up after the first hole" en route to shooting 80 in the final round.
4. Ty Tryon
The phenom who gained a full tour exemption through Q-school in 2001 at age 17 is now a 20-year-old journeyman and still waiting for another big chance at the big time. After missing the cut in 16 of 22 Nationwide events this season, Tryon tried to earn a card through Q-school once again, beginning with the first stage of qualifying at Martin Downs CC in Palm City, Fla., two weeks ago. Tryon, who would be a college junior right now had he not turned professional out of high school, shot 72-71-71-71 to finish T-36 and fail to make the next stage of qualifying. At 199th on the Nationwide money list, Tryon will have no status on any tour in 2005.
5. The European PGA Tour
Once the proving ground for such legends as Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo, the Euro Tour has fallen on hard times as of late. The top two players on the Order of Merit -- Els and Retief Goosen -- only played in a combined 28 events as dual members of tours on both sides of the Atlantic. Four of the tour's other top-nine players -- Ryder Cuppers Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke and Ian Poulter -- will compete more often in North America in '05, eschewing their European roots and leaving the crown of Euro king to the likes of Graham McDowell, David Howell and Nick O'Hern. That's not exactly a star-studded lineup.
6. Ernie Els
You know you're good when you can win five titles worldwide and still make this list. Despite finishing on top of the Euro Tour Order of Merit and second on the PGA Tour's money list, you'd better believe Els considers his season more failure than success. After putting himself into position to win all four majors, Els walked away with two second places, a fourth and a ninth ... and no trophies for his troubles. Els admitted it took about a month for him to get over not winning a major championship after a missed 10-foot par putt on the 72nd hole of the PGA Championship kept him out of a playoff and cinched his spot on this list. In a symbolic ending to his season, Els was passed by Woods for the No. 2 ranking in the world. It should be interesting to see which of those elite players can break their major drought first.
7. Charlotta Sorenstam
As Jermaine Jackson and Frank Stallone can attest, it ain't easy being the "other" sibling. Such is the case for Charlotta, who watched sister Annika make history with yet another sparkling Player of the Year performance while finishing only 139th on the LPGA money list herself. Charlotta's had a fine career when compared to other professionals -- she's 90th on the all-time LPGA money list -- but her accomplishments pale in comparison to Annika, who leads that same list by more than $5 million over the nearest competitor. This year Charlotta plunged to 139th on the money list, raking in a mere $29,643 in official earnings. The good news? If she ever needs a loan, she knows where to go.
8. David Gossett
Gossett was a golfing phenom from the first day he laced up his golf spikes. A two-time All-American at University of Texas, the 1999 U.S. Amateur champion and a 2001 Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame honoree, Gossett was poised to make a big splash on tour and did, winning the '01 John Deere Classic at age 22. He finished that season ranked 68th on the money list and made the top 100 in '02 and '03 as well. While battling injuries this season, Gossett made the cut in only two of 25 events (a 70th place at the FBR Open and a T-59 at the Honda Classic), failing to see the weekend in his final 19 tournaments of the season. Along the way, he shot only one round in the 60s, but six in the 80s, including a four-round stretch in Milwaukee and Boston where he shot 80-83 and 84-84, respectively.
9. Tom Kite
He won the 3M Championship and more than $1.8 million, but Kite still must be disappointed over what could have been a super season on the senior circuit. Talk about your close calls: Kite finished T-2, T-3, T-4, T-7, T-21 in the five majors this year, running his total of second-place finishes to seven in the past two seasons. As if that wasn't enough, Kite came close to winning a few events in home state of Texas, but fell short. He is now winless in 104 career Lonestar State starts in his PGA Tour/Champions Tour career.
10. Davis Love III
Three wasn't such a magic number for DL3 in '04. Love had three top-three finishes on tour, but none since the third month of the season, meaning much of his $3 million in earnings was made at those three early events. Following his four-win season of a year ago, Love claimed only one top 10 after July; in fact, he was the only player to finish in the top 10 on the money list without a victory. Still seeking a second major title to go with his 1997 PGA Championship win, Love finished T-6 at the Masters and T-5 at the British Open, but missed the cut at the other two majors. Adding injury to insult, Love withdrew from the season-ending Tour Championship last week with a recurring neck problem, kind of a symbolic injury for a man whose 2004 season was clearly a pain in the neck.
11. Rick George
The Champions Tour president may have a player revolt on his hands if he doesn't let up on his insistence to ban carts for the '05 season. The former director of the PGA Tour's New Orleans event, the 44-year-old wants to market his golfers as hip, rather than senior citizens on the verge of broken hips. What George could wind up with is a legal battle the likes of the PGA Tour vs. Casey Martin. That would give the Champions Tour some much-needed pub, but certainly not the kind George wants.
12. Duke women's golf team
Before the women's NCAA team tournament ever started, certain publications were favorably comparing the Lady Blue Devils to the best college teams of all-time. Led by individual stars Liz Janangelo and Virada Nirapathpongporn, Duke entered the Division I Women's Golf Championships as the top-ranked team and a near-lock to defend their title. But Dan Brooks' squad never got it rolling during the tournament's four rounds and finished in third place, 11 strokes behind winner UCLA.
13. Jack Nicklaus
You're probably thinking, What did Jack do this year? Well, nothing, though it's not really his fault. Through pumped-up purses and hefty tour sponsors, the Golden Bear was passed on the all-time money list by the likes of J.L. Lewis, Robert Gamez and Woody Austin this year. For the record, each of those players still trails Jack by 18 major titles.
14. Chad Campbell
He was last year's It Boy, gracing the cover of one major publication as the next young player to break through and win a major, as voted on by his peers. And he almost did it, losing the PGA Championship by two strokes before settling for a win at the Tour Championship for his first career tour victory. Campbell ended this year ranked 24th on the money list, but struggled the entire way. His only win came at Bay Hill, when Stuart Appleby blew a four-stroke lead entering the final round. In all, Campbell only netted four top-10s in 28 events -- not nearly enough for the supposed next great U.S. golfer.
15. New York Yankees
Oops, forgot this is a golf column. Well, we suppose the Yanks could have slipped in a few trips to the links in late October.
16. Aaron Baddeley
True to his nickname, Badds played ... ummm ... badly this year. The 23-year-old Australian phenom struggled with his game, barely keeping his card at 123rd on the money list and totaling only one top 10 on tour -- a sole second place in Tucson, a lesser-field event played opposite the Match Play. For Badds, the stats tell the story: It's tough to play well when you rank 191st in driving accuracy and 195th in greens in regulation.
17. Hilary Lunke
Last year Lunke made history by qualifying through local and sectional qualifiers to win the U.S. Women's Open -- her first career LPGA victory. This year Lunke failed to record even one top 10 on tour and finished 98th on the money list. In 62 total rounds, she shot below par only 13 times and made only 2.47 birdies per 18 holes.
18. Esteban Toledo
Last year, Toledo was DQ'd and missed the cut in the final two tour events, but watched and waited as he held onto the 125th spot on the money list by less than $3,000. He got his money's worth out of his tour card in '04, playing more events (36) than any other player. But quantity didn't equal quality for Toledo, who made the cut in just eight of those events (his highest finish was a T-21 at the B.C. Open) and finished 211th on the money list. Here's hoping Toledo, the youngest of 11 children who grew up in a Mexican home with dirt floors and no plumbing, makes it back to the PGA Tour soon and reverses the trend of this past season.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.
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