A Nearly Great Year There were thrills aplenty, but 2003 lacked a single defining performance

November 17, 2003

In a year in which Mike Weir emerged as the best lefthander in
golf and fellow portsider Steve Flesch produced one of the most
dramatic victories, in New Orleans, the defining moment of the
season came when Tiger Woods went lefty, which was proof that all
was not right in the golf world. Woods was forced to stand on the
wrong side of the ball to play a recovery shot out of a bush on
the 3rd hole in the final round of the Masters. He went on to
make a double bogey that blew him out of the tournament,
heralding a year in which he would struggle mightily in the
majors.

With Woods a nonfactor in the year's most important tournaments,
a spirited group of veterans gamely tried to fill the void. In
the end there were a number of terrific performances, but no one
was able to define the season, as Woods has so often done. Greg
Norman was once tabbed Nearly Man by the British tabloids because
of his near misses. In that spirit, this was the year of the
Nearly Men.

Mike Weir and Jim Furyk made major breakthroughs in winning the
Masters and the U.S. Open, respectively, but both were quiet
after the PGA, reducing the buzz. Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel
snapped up the other two majors--charming winners, but neither
has done anything since to impress. Ernie Els, Davis Love III and
Kenny Perry were all brilliant at times, but their multiple wins
were devalued in a season full of players having career years.
Vijay Singh was a force from start to finish, and his obsessive
pursuit of the money title put some rare juice in the post-PGA
schedule. But Singh also gave away the British Open on the back
nine on Sunday, and he squandered a lot of goodwill with his
mean-spirited remarks about Annika Sorenstam and his subsequent
surliness with the press.

The other big moments of 2003 also had an unfinished quality.
Sorenstam's appearance at the Colonial was the feel-good story of
the year, but in the end she missed the cut. Tom Watson opened
the U.S. Open with a riveting 65, propelled by the emotion of
playing for his ALS-afflicted caddie, Bruce Edwards, but Watson
ran out of magic and struggled for the rest of the week. Martha
Burk's protest at the Masters was a messy end to nine months of
fevered buildup, and when a fatigued press corps gave up on the
story, the complicated issues raised by Burk went without a
satisfying resolution.

So 2003 was exceedingly eventful, but was it a great year?
Nearly, man. --Alan Shipnuck

COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT HALLERAN (SINGH) Singh COLOR PHOTO: ANDY LYONS/GETTY IMAGES (FURYK) Furyk COLOR PHOTO: SHAUN BEST/REUTERS (LOVE) Love III COLOR PHOTO: FRED VUICH (WOODS) Woods COLOR PHOTO: MIKE BLAKE/REUTERS (WEIR) COLOR PHOTO: DONALD MIRALLE/GETTY IMAGES (MICKELSON) COLOR PHOTO: DAVE MARTIN/AP (CURTIS) COLOR PHOTO: AMY SANCETTA/AP (MICHEEL) FOUR COLOR PHOTOS: RUSTY JARRETT (MAGGERT SEQUENCE) COLOR PHOTO: CHRIS O'MEARA/AP (WEIR PUTTING) COLOR PHOTO: DAVE MARTIN/AP (SORENSTAM) COLOR PHOTO: DAVE ROSSMAN/WIREIMAGE.COM (CAMPBELL) COLOR PHOTO: DAVE MARTIN/AP (DUVAL) COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL (DALY) COLOR PHOTO: DAVID J PHILLIP/AP (WILSON) COLOR PHOTO: ADAM BUTLER/AP (NORDEGREN)

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

What's all this nonsense about money per start? Who cares about a
strong fall finish? The major championships are what really
matter in this race, which is why Mike Weir gets the nod. For
precedents, see 1998, when David Duval won the money and the
scoring titles and four tournaments but lost POY to Mark O'Meara,
whose only two victories were majors. For a second opinion, ask
Tiger Woods, who says, "Majors are so much better than anything
else." Weir won the Masters with a bogeyless final round, and he
was rock solid in a tie for third at the U.S. Open and a tie for
seventh at the PGA. Throw in two other victories and five other
top 10s, and this is a no-brainer.

NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR

In a year of Grand Slam surprises, the major shock was a nice kid
from Ohio, rookie Ben Curtis, who stole the British Open in only
his 16th career start. HONORABLE MENTION: Frank, Tiger Woods's
talking headcover, who has more personality than most Tour
players.

SHOT OF THE YEAR

An early favorite for shot of the century, Shaun Micheel's
seven-iron to two inches on the 72nd hole iced the PGA
Championship. HONORABLE MENTION: Woods's great escape on the 15th
hole at San Diego, in which he carved his ball out of the rough,
under a tree and over the sand for a birdie that put an
exclamation point on his successful return from knee surgery.

WORST SHOT OF THE YEAR

Forget SportsCenter, Jeff Maggert belonged on Stupid Human Tricks
when he doinked himself with a ricochet in a fairway bunker on
the 3rd hole to tumble from the Sunday lead at the Masters.
DISHONORABLE MENTION: Thomas Bjorn's day at the beach on the 70th
hole of the British Open, where he needed three tries to execute
a simple bunker shot, part of a collapse that gave the claret jug
to Curtis.

QUOTE OF THE YEAR

"He hates that I can fly it past him now. He has a faster swing
speed than I do, but he has inferior equipment. Tiger is the only
player who is good enough to overcome the equipment he's stuck
with."
--Phil Mickelson, beginning a year in which an emboldened pack of
players would challenge Woods's superiority, while Tiger's
struggles off the tee, and his high-profile search for the right
driver, would reveal a rare vulnerability in the world's No. 1
player

HONORABLE MENTIONS: "If I drop dead right now, our position will
not change on this issue. It's not my issue alone. And I promise
you what I'm saying is, if I drop dead this second, our position
will not change."
--Hootie Johnson, defiantly defending Augusta National's all-male
membership during Masters week

"I got my eyes fixed, but [the doctor] didn't give me night
vision."
--Scott Hoch, explaining his decision to suspend a playoff at the
Ford Championship because of darkness

"I hope she misses the cut."
--Vijay Singh, welcoming Annika Sorenstam to the PGA Tour

PUTT OF THE YEAR

Weir's knee-knocking six-footer on the 72nd hole at the Masters
to force a playoff with Len Mattiace. "I wouldn't wish that putt
on anybody," a victorious Weir said afterward.

TOURNAMENT OF THE YEAR

The buildup to the Colonial was delicious, and Annika Sorenstam
delivered the most electric Thursday in recent memory. Then Kenny
Perry shot a Saturday 61 on his way to a record win, and on
Sunday, Justin (J Low) Leonard stood in the 18th fairway with a
chance to shoot 59.

ROUND OF THE YEAR

GOLF PLUS cover boy Chad Campbell's Saturday 61 at the Tour
Championship tied for low round of the year on Tour and
established course and tournament records. It also made the world
sit up and take notice of the talent of this soft-spoken Texan.
HONORABLE MENTION: Davis Love III's final-round no-bogey,
six-birdie, one-eagle 64 to take the Players Championship, and
Tom Watson's emotional first-round 65 to lead the U.S. Open,
which began the cult of Brruuuuuuce.

WORST ROUND OF THE YEAR

David Duval's first-round 83 at the Greater Hartford Open, which
included a quadruple-bogey 8 on the 1st hole and a 9 on the par-4
12th, left him in last place by six strokes, eight shots in
arrears of Suzy Whaley and 20 behind the leaders.

IN THE NEWS

That's the problem with Swedish meatballs

He didn't win a major for the first time since 1998, but Tiger
Woods summoned one of the guttiest performances of his career at
the Bay Hill Invitational. A Saturday-night pasta dinner cooked
by his girlfriend, Elin Nordegren, the former bikini model-nanny,
left Woods with an acute case of food poisoning, but he
dry-heaved his way to a closing 68 to win by 11 strokes.

Of course, it's much harder to choke when you're eating only
Metamucil

Toini Norman, 72, made a hole in one on number 14 at Pelican
Waters Golf Course outside Brisbane, Australia, a layout designed
by her son, Greg.

Be cool, stay in school

Ten fortysomethings won on Tour this season, as did 50-year-old
Craig Stadler, whose final-round 63 at the B.C. Open was one of
the best rounds of the year. Meanwhile, Ty Tryon, 19, missed 17
of 21 cuts and finished 196th on the money list.

We putt, you decide

CNN news anchor-golf nut Aaron Brown was widely criticized in the
TV industry for declining to cut short his participation in the
pro-am at the Bob Hope after the space shuttle Columbia blew up.
While NBC anchor Tom Brokaw ditched a Caribbean vacation to rush
onto the air, Brown didn't make it into the studio until 36 hours
after the tragedy.

Finally, Jesper is a factor at a major

English journeyman Mark Roe shot a Saturday 67 to put himself
within two shots of the lead at the British Open, only to be DQ'd
for signing the wrong scorecard, which belonged to playing
partner Jesper Parnevik. In a brave press-conference performance
Roe accepted blame for the snafu, though he quipped, "I must've
been distracted by Jesper's pants."

And the statuette for best supporting role in a drama goes to...

Hunky Hawaiian Dean Wilson made plenty of fans while serving as
Annika Sorenstam's head cheerleader-playing partner at the
Colonial, and he flashed plenty of game en route to a solid
21st-place finish.

But he still cleaned up in Vegas when he took the "under" on
himself

Phil Mickelson had the worst year of his career, failing to win a
tournament or crack the top 30 on the money list while plummeting
from second to 13th in the World Ranking.

He had to do something with all of those weekends off

John Daly's had a tough year on and off the course, but the
saddest development was seeing him hustling logoed merchandise to
fans.

But they're still going to have to put IRONS ONLY signs on the
driving range

The unstoppable force/immovable object debate reached the PGA
Tour, as hotter balls and drivers necessitated longer, tougher
setups. The verdict? Thick rough, baked greens and hide-and-seek
pin placements can still bring players to their knees.

After that he took Tiger's face off the bag

Ernie Els was off to a record start on both sides of the Atlantic
when his season suffered a TKO due to a wrist injury sustained
while he was working out on a punching bag in his garage.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)