2004: Major golf still to be played

The last major championship of 2004 is history, with Craig Stadler entering golf annals as winner of the Champions Tour’s Jeld-Wen Tradition.

Make way for football season, right?

Not so fast. There is much golf to be contested, even as the leaves begin to fall.

On college campuses across the nation, Division I teams are reassembling with an eye toward winning the NCAA Championship. The men’s championship will be staged at Caves Valley Golf Club in Maryland, the women’s championship at Sunriver Resort in Oregon. The growing depth of junior golf and a renewed interest in the sport by athletic departments have resulted in unprecedented parity in the college game (College Preview, page 14). In the men’s game, traditional powerhouses such as Oklahoma State, Florida and Arizona are being challenged by upstarts such as Kentucky, Penn State and Vanderbilt. Which is good for college sports in general, and golf in particular.

In professional golf, the Ryder Cup is only two weeks away. Both sides look exceptionally strong. Subplots abound, such as: How will veteran captain’s picks Jay Haas and Colin Montgomerie perform? Will Tiger Woods reverse his fortunes in foursomes and four-ball matches? And, will the less-heralded Europeans demonstrate once again that team golf is more than a numbers game?

While it’s hard to imagine anyone getting the best of Vijay Singh, the PGA Tour Player of the Year race isn’t over yet. With a couple of late-season victories, Phil Mickelson could state a strong case.

On the LPGA, with 10 tournaments left on the schedule, Meg Mallon and Lorena Ochoa still have a chance of dethroning Annika Sorenstam from atop the money list. Mallon is a strong contender for Player of the Year, as well. She would ice it with a victory at the ADT Championship in November.

With eight events left on the Nationwide Tour calendar, the last four or five of 20 PGA Tour exemptions remain up for grabs. At No. 16, Kevin Stadler – son of the aforementioned Walrus – is closing in on his spot in “The Show.” All will be settled when the Nationwide Tour Championship concludes Oct. 31 in Prattville, Ala.

Not to be lost in the autumn shuffle is one of the most intriguing events in golf, the biennial World Amateur Team Championships at Rio Mar Golf Club in Puerto Rico.

The World Amateur Team Championships are the Olympics of golf. If there were any doubt that interest in the game is exploding globally, consider the record-breaking participation that is expected. Three-person teams from 52 nations will vie Oct. 20-23 for the women’s Espirito Santo Trophy; 71 countries will be in the field Oct. 28-31 for the men’s Eisenhower Trophy. The previous highs were set in 2000 in Germany: 40 teams in the Espirito Santo field, 63 vying for the Eisenhower Trophy. Iran sent teams to the 2002 WATC in Malaysia, and China will be represented for the first time in Puerto Rico.

When it comes to compelling story lines, golf will more than hold its own this fall.

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