Woods’ award marks midpoint of wild ‘10 season

Tiger Woods smiles during a press conference after playing in the JP McManus Invitational Pro-Am.
Tiger Woods smiles during a press conference after playing in the JP McManus Invitational Pro-Am. ( Associated Press )

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – Tiger Woods is assured at least one trophy this year.

Even though he tied for 46th at the AT&T National – his first time out of the top 40 in five years among tournaments that he completed – Woods stayed at No. 1 in the world. This being the second week of July, that means he has clinched the Mark H. McCormack Award for the 13th straight season, given to the player atop the world ranking for the most weeks in a calendar year.

So he has that going for him.

Halfway through a PGA Tour season like no other, Woods at No. 1 is about the only thing that makes this year seem ordinary. It already has been anything but that.

Woods was only joking Sunday afternoon – early afternoon, it should be noted – when he was leaving the locker room at Aronimink and said over his shoulder, “Go watch some real golfers.”

Considering the standard has he has set during the past dozen years, Woods sure hasn’t looked like himself.

Considering the circumstances of the past six months, what is he supposed to look like?

He tied for fourth in the Masters and U.S. Open, which even Woods finds acceptable - at least when the cameras are off. In four regular PGA Tour events, he hasn’t cracked the top 10.

Woods missed the cut at Quail Hollow with the highest 36-hole total of his career. He withdrew from The Players Championship in the final round with a sore neck, marking the first time he had gone consecutive weeks without earning any money. Sunday was the first time in 11 years that he completed a regular PGA Tour event without breaking par.

That’s not to say 2010 hasn’t been memorable, for Woods or anyone else.

Imagine telling the PGA Tour brass at the start of the year that the highest television ratings would come from the TPC Sawgrass. Could any of them have guessed that it would be February instead of May? Woods was the star attraction, but he wasn’t wearing a red shirt and pumping his fist. He was dressed in a dark suit and looked into a camera that wasn’t working as he read a 13-minute statement about his spectacular fall through a sex scandal.

The low point for the Tour came a month earlier.

Woods was accused of cheating because he had a wife; Phil Mickelson was accused of cheating because he had a wedge.

Mickelson was among a small group of players who used 20-year-old Ping wedges with deeper grooves that were allowed under a legal loophole. The issue threatened to divide the tour until Ping chairman John Solheim allowed golf executives to ban his clubs from competition. Solheim should get a trophy for that.

One constant with Mickelson – no one ever knows what’s coming next.

He has won only one tournament this year – the Masters – but the timing could not have been better. It was the first time his wife, Amy, was at a tournament since being diagnosed with breast cancer a year ago. Mickelson has missed only one cut, and the timing could not have been worse. That was at Colonial, where he wasn’t around to take part in the “Pink Out” to show support for his wife.

Mickelson is at Loch Lomond this week for the Scottish Open, his fifth straight tournament in which he has a chance to replace Woods at No. 1 in the world.

Lefty has never been No. 1 – not in the world ranking, the money list, scoring average for the prestigious Vardon Trophy, not even on the majority of ballots for PGA Tour Player of the Year. Could this finally be his time?

Maybe. But remember, the year is only half over.

There already have been three multiple winners on the PGA Tour this year – Ernie Els, Jim Furyk and Justin Rose. Depending on how long it takes Woods to get his game back in shape, Els might be in the best position to take advantage. He has earned more world ranking points than anyone this year, the product of two big wins and third place at the U.S. Open. He also leads the PGA Tour in the two statistics that matter most – scoring average (69.54) and money (nearly $4 million).

A European never has won Player of the Year (Nick Faldo was not a member in 1990 when he won two majors), but maybe that’s about to change. A year ago, Europeans only won three PGA Tour events. This year, they won three in a row in June alone – Rose at the Memorial, Lee Westwood at the St. Jude Classic and Graeme McDowell at the U.S. Open.

Yes, it shows the increasing strength of European golf, particularly in England, which now has five players among the top 16 in the world. Funny, though, how no one ever says anything about the strength of American golf when Zach Johnson wins at Colonial or Steve Stricker wins at Riviera.

Rickie Fowler is still trying to win in what is shaping up as an interesting rookie of the year race.

So much depends on how one defines a rookie, especially considering that Vijay Singh won the award in 1993 when he was 30 and Todd Hamilton won in 2004 at 39.

Rory McIlroy is the right age – 21 – even if it seems as though he has been around forever. He is a rookie on the PGA Tour, and his 62 in the final round to win Quail Hollow will not be forgotten any time soon. Fowler is 21, yet he turned pro only 10 months ago. He had a chance to win in Phoenix and had the 54-hole lead at the Memorial.

But until he wins, the award he might get is best imitation of a traffic cone when he dresses in orange on Sunday.