As we stock up on the chip and dip and prepare for golf’s silly season on television, I was trying to decide what my favorite moment of the 2008 season was.
Sergio Garcia victory at the Players Championship seemed to be the breakthrough win he needed to finally be recognized as an elite player. Can a major championship be far behind? It was also fun, terrible and then fun again to watch Paul Goydos. He’s got style.
Trevor Immelman’s Masters victory was also stylish. The good-looking South African held it together around Amen Corner and stretched his lead to as many as six shots on the back nine. A two-putt par on the final hole gave him a 3-over 75, matching the highest final round by a Masters champion. Even so, it was good enough for a three-shot victory over Tiger Woods, whose hopes for a calendar Grand Slam ended with a thud.
Still Tiger Woods was one of the great stories in 2008.
By January he had already won the Buick Invitational and pocketed $936,000. Then came a record-breaking victory in the Accenture Match Play Championship where he captured his 15th World Golf Championships and held all three world titles for the first time, but he was just getting started.
After passing Arnold Palmer’s 62 tournament wins in January, Tiger won Arnold’s own Invitational tournament in March. And, although he didn’t intend to rub it in, it worked out that way when he sank a 24-foot putt on the 72nd hole for his 64th Tour victory, then it was on to the U. S. Open.
Coming off of arthroscopic knee surgery a few weeks earlier, Tiger’s limp was evident on Thursday and became progressively worse as the week went on. But he continued the fight. Then, only a few miles south of Hollywood, Tiger decided to rewrite the script and birdie the 72nd hole to tie Rocco Mediate in regulation.
I’m not sure if Tiger knew it, but I did; Tiger had already won. And, although they would play 19 more holes the next day and Rocco would put up the fight of his life, destiny and Hollywood would have it no other way. Tiger won the U.S. Open in a 19-hole playoff for his 14th career major and maybe the most thrilling of them all.
In 2008, Tiger played in only six tournaments. For the year he had four wins, one second, and six top tens and finished second on the money list. Any questions?
Playing as good as anyone in the world, Padraig Harrington successfully defended his title at Royal Birkdale with a four-shot cushion, but he was just getting started.
Without Tiger, Harrington became the game's best players at the PGA Championship. Looking a bit like the 2007 British Open, Sergo Garcia had a change to grab his first Major until his approach at the 16th hole found water instead of land, and suddenly Padraig Harrington had won three out of the last six majors.
Once again, without Tiger the FedEx Cup seemed wide open, but in the end it was all over after Vijay Singh won the first two events. With Vijay coasting home another one of the young guns grabbed the spotlight when Camilo Villegas won the next two events. But alas Vijay’s lead was too much to overcome.
Then as if to say you ain’t seen nothing yet, Captain Paul Azinger engineered a change in the selection process that weighted the points in favor of the current year and allowed him four wild card picks rather than two. He even divided the team into four distinct "pods" based on temperament for practice rounds and pairings.
The result was a super-cool 16 to 11 U.S. victory that left the Americans standing on the balcony with gigantic champagne bottles.
In 2008 there were 13 different players in their 20s who won on the PGA Tour, including Anthony Kim, Camilo Villegas and Trevor Immelman. And, by the end of the year few if any questioned how this or that might have been different if Tiger had played. But as Scarlett O’Hara said in Gone With The Wind, “Tomorrow is another day,” and so is 2009.