I suppose that after Bart Bryant’s three wins in 15 months, capped by the Tour Championship romp last week, I’ll have to start paying more attention to the soft-spoken Texan with the groovy mustache. But what a fitting way to end the 2005 golf season. With Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Retief Goosen in the field, along with most of the rest of the top thirty players in the world, it was Bryant who walked away with the season-ending win in Atlanta, a tournament that has more and more prestige and will have even more by 2007 when it becomes a sort of Super Bowl of golf.
So here’s to you, Bart Bryant. Here’s to you, Ted Purdy. Here’s to you, Wes Short, Jr. Here’s to you, Jason Bohn. Here’s to you, Olin Browne. Somewhere,someone saw something in you that not many others did. Somewhere, someone won big on you guys.
For all my focus on wins by unknowns this year, plenty of lead horses won as well. Woods and Singh won early—Singh in the second week of the season, Woods the third. Phil Mickelson won in the fifth and sixth weeks. By the end of April, all three would win at least one more time, including Tiger’s dramatic win at The Masters in April. Woods would also win the British Open and he contended in all four majors in 2005. This was his best season since 2000.
Mickelson won the PGA Championship later in the year. Also winning in 2005 were Goosen, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott (an unofficial, rain-shortened win in February at the Nissan Open), Jim Furyk, Stuart Appleby (who repeated in Kapalua to start the year off), David Toms and Padraig Harrington, who won twice (the first in March, his first Tour victory).
Rain again was a frustrating theme for the first few months of the season. It took until the summer to dry out. And by mid-August, the majors in the books, the season limped to its close with unexciting tournament after unexciting tournament, fielded by fewer and fewer stars. Wednesday of last week, before the Tour Championship, Tour commish Tim Finchem unveiled plans to address the issue of flagging interest after the PGA Championship because many top players don’t play in late season tournaments together. I bitched about these lame events just about every week down the stretch, so I’m glad to see the issue is being addressed. What little we know of the plan for 2007, though, raises questions.
The idea is to move the Tour Championship to September as the culminating event in a kind of playoff series called the FedEx Cup. The lame post-PGA-Championship events I referred to will still be played, under the rubric of “Quest for the Card.” Virtually none of the game’s top players will play in these events, as few do now, because they’re not aiming for #125 or better in the world to retain their Tour cards. This will, in effect, become a silly season without star power.
Moving the Tour Championship up is a great idea because it comes closer to the last major and finishes up the season before the NFL really gets going. There’s a potential problem with the FedEx Cup, at least as it stands now (Tiger has said he’s met with Finchem several times about the proposed changes and each time has gotten a different answer, so much is still in the air—you can bet Tiger is in mind by Finchem, et al, down there in Ponte Vedra as they try to put this together), which is that three tournaments leading up to the Tour Championship will comprise the bulk of the Cup, or the bulk of the points earned toward winning the Cup, even though points will supposedly be accrued from the start of the season. This means that a player could win the FedEx Cup without actually winning the season-ending Tour Championship, which is meant to be golf’s Super Bowl. The Super Bowl has one winner, not an accrued winner. Who wants to be doing math on Sunday during the Tour Championship: “Let’s see, Tiger’s eight back of leader Jason Gore, but Tiger had more points coming in because he won one of the three playoff events and finished in the top-10 in two others, so if he can finish in the top 25 of the Tour Championship, where he is now, even if Gore wins by eight strokes, Tiger’ll win the Cup…all he needs is to par out in his last six holes assuming Gore doesn’t go any lower.” That’s no good. It’s like stages in the Tour de France. Who wants to see that? Not I.
None of these changes will go into effect until 2007 anyway. I’m sure we’ll be a hearing a lot more about it as we move into 2006.
I’m already looking forward to Kapalua for all the usual reasons: it’s nice to vicariously visit Hawaii in the dead of winter, to see sun and sea,cutaways of surf, and to watch a small, competitive field. Kapalua also yields prodigious drives and after watching Tiger average well over 300 yards with his drives last week, hitting one 378 on Sunday, I’m wondering if he might just drive the mainland from the top of Kapalua. He’s going to be exciting to watch in 2006, as is Mickelson in the majors. It’ll interesting to follow Singh, to see if he can fix his putting woes of 2005. Will Ben Crane stop shimmying and shaking, speed up his play? Whether he does or doesn’t, his skill with the putter is worth watching in 2006. Gore’s worth watching, too. And O’Hair. Will Charles Howell III go from competitive golfer, always in the mix, to winner? Chris DiMarco? His grit at Augusta was impressive and may portend a win in one of 2006’s majors. I’ve written him off many times, after many second place finishes, but he may have turned a corner. And who of the unknowns—who of the mini-tour set, who of the multiple Q School set—will emerge in 2006?
We have two months to figure it out.