Was Tiger really the top golfer of 2007?

Originally Published: December 10, 2007
ESPN.com

Let's not bury the lede. One of our "experts" watched the entire 2007 golf season and has declared that Tiger Woods was not the best player of the year.

Whom does Jason Sobel choose instead? We'll let him explain, as Bob Harig backs up his claim for Woods in this week's edition of Alternate Shot:

Tiger and Lorena:
The Director's Cut

Sure, Tiger Woods and Lorena Ochoa each had great seasons on the course in 2007. But their performances off the course may have been even better.
Bob Smiley
Who had the better season?

Sobel: I'm in a fightin' mood, Bob, so lemme get right to the point. Tiger Woods did not have the best season of any professional golfer in 2007. There, I said it. Call me crazy, then step aside as I prove my thesis true.

Harig: Well, it's no stretch to question your sanity. Proceed.

Sobel: Despite what you may be thinking, I'm not calling for a guy like Phil Mickelson or Steve Stricker to take the season-ending award over Woods. Hey, I'm not that crazy. But I will put Lorena Ochoa's 2007 campaign up against that of Tiger -- and give her the advantage. While they each won a single major, Ochoa won one more tournament than Woods and earned nine more top-10s (in nine more starts). But there's no greater statistic to back up her dominating performance than straight cash, homey. The Mexican sensation tallied $4,364,994 this season, which bested the previous single-season high (Annika Sorenstam's $2,863,904 in 2002) by more than $1.5 million -- or 152 percent. In order for Woods to take down Vijay Singh's PGA Tour single-season mark by the same percentage, he'd need to bust the $16-million barrier. Wow.

Harig: Well, if Woods played nine more tournaments -- or a total of 25 -- he just very well might eclipse that mark. You might have very well ruined your own argument -- she needed nine more tournaments to win one more time. Look, I am not knocking what Ochoa did. She had a monumental season in which she surpassed Annika Sorenstam to become No. 1 and really left no question as to who the top player is in women's golf. She finally got that first major, winning at St. Andrews, a huge relief. And we're quibbling about greatness here. But I like Tiger's season better. Not only did he win a major, but he finished second in two others that could have very easily gone his way. He won two World Golf Championship events, too, along the Buick Invitational and Wachovia -- a couple of high-profile events. He then added two playoff events and finished second in a third. We're talking about the absolute best fields of the year.

Lorena Ochoa
Hunter Martin/Getty ImagesOchoa not only became the first LPGA player to break the $3-million barrier, she surpassed $4 million, too.

Sobel: If ... if ... if. The fact is, Tiger didn't play nine more tournaments and he didn't win those other two majors. We can only judge him based on his body of work, rather than what could have been. You write about Woods' sublime performance against upper-echelon fields, which is an admirable feat, but nearly all of Ochoa's appearances came against the best of the best on the LPGA, where elite players don't eschew nearly as many weeks. Sure, it was a down season for Annika Sorenstam, who was injured for the majority of the year, but other top players like Suzann Pettersen and Paula Creamer were out there for almost every tourney.

Harig: I'm not saying Ochoa needs to apologize for anything, but if we're going to compare years, I'm taking Tiger's because of the fact that he accomplished so much while playing so little. You can't help but think what he would have done had he played more. And if you say he can only be judged on when he played, well then I say it's pretty remarkable what happened in so few tournaments. I'm guessing that Ochoa doesn't win the money title if she plays only 16 times. I know it's hypothetical, but there must be some basis for comparison.

Sobel: Since it's so difficult to compare Ochoa with Woods, let's compare each to their main competition. Lorena earned nearly two and a half times more than Pettersen, who finished second on the money list. She had eight more top-10s than the next-closest competitor. And she led the tour in both greens in regulation and putts per greens in regulation. For all his accomplishments, Tiger can't make any of those claims. And even though this all-encompassing Player of the Year award doesn't even really exist, we should give special commendation to the player who elected to compete nine more times this season.

Harig: If you want to compare them against their competition, Tiger was pretty dominant, too. He nearly doubled Phil Mickelson in season earnings -- despite playing six fewer events. In addition to his whopping lead in the world rankings and on the money list, he also led the tour in scoring average and greens in regulation and was fourth in putting average. His scoring average was particularly impressive: 67.79 -- one and a half strokes lower than Ernie Els, who finished second. That works out to six strokes a tournament, an incredible difference. And then there is the thing we're all overlooking: the FedEx Cup. For all its flaws, it was a season-long competition that again showed his dominance against the competition. Tiger won the season by some 11,000 points over Vijay Singh -- the same number of points that separated the second and 20th positions. And even though everyone was re-seeded going into the playoffs, Tiger could have skipped two of the four events and still won the whole thing. As it was, he skipped one, won two and finished second in the other.

Sobel: All good points. Let's just agree to disagree, my friend. Woods and Ochoa both enjoyed dominant seasons. One thing we can agree on: You can't go wrong picking either one.