ATLANTA — Tiger Woods always has been measured against Jack Nicklaus and his 18 majors, and most recently Sam Snead and his 82 PGA Tour victories.
Now he’s being measured against himself.
And it’s not a fair fight.
The PGA Tour sent out its awards ballot Monday to those players eligible to vote. The winners are to be announced Friday.
Woods should be a lock for player of the year, provided he is measured against the other four names on the ballot instead of the previous seasons when he won the award.
He won five times this year, and the only tournament that could be classified as a medium-strength field was at Torrey Pines. Woods won two World Golf Championships, at Doral and Firestone. He won The Players Championship on perhaps his least favorite course on tour. And he won Bay Hill. The world ranking points he earned from those five wins alone were more than any player has earned all year except for Henrik Stenson.
But he didn’t win a major, the very standard by which Woods measures a great season. And there was nothing particularly memorable about his wins, except that two of them were on a Monday and all of them were on courses where he had won before. In fact, Woods couldn’t even remember where he won. It was a harmless oversight, but no less amusing, when Woods last week at East Lake put himself down for winning Memorial instead of Torrey Pines. Nice problem to have.
Woods already has won the award 10 times. His record this year is worse than every season he won the award except 2003. So this has been a great season by any other comparison except with himself.
Three of the last four winners did not win a major.
Luke Donald won in 2011 with only two victories, one of them at Disney. He also won the money title and the Vardon Trophy, and his win at Disney was one of clutch performances. Needing nothing short of a win to be the first player with money titles on both sides of the Atlantic in the same year, he birdied the first six holes on the back nine and shot 64 to do just that.
Jim Furyk won in 2010 with only three victories and one other significant trophy — the FedEx Cup. Phil Mickelson won the Masters that year, but the other majors went to players who weren’t even PGA Tour members at the time (Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer).
Woods won in 2009 with seven wins and a sweep of all the other awards (Vardon, money title).
To be sure, Mickelson and Adam Scott could have made a convincing case by winning the Tour Championship. That would have given either of them three wins, including a major and the FedEx Cup (Mickelson would have needed some help for the latter).
But they didn’t.
One of the more famous sayings in golf is that the scorecard has only a number, not pictures.
These are the numbers:
— Woods led the league with five wins. He won the money title by over $2 million. He won the Vardon Trophy for lowest adjusted scoring average.
— Scott won the Masters and The Barclays, which arguably has the strongest field in golf. He finished in the top 5 at two other majors.
— Mickelson won the British Open and the Phoenix Open. He was runner-up in the U.S. Open.
Stenson also is on the ballot with two FedEx Cup playoff wins and the trophy itself (along with the $10 million bonus). He finished in the top 3 at two other majors. Two great wins and zero majors don’t cut it. Matt Kuchar is also on the ballot, but only for balance. He had his best year ever with two wins. That will have to do.
Adding pictures to the scorecard is the only thing that could change the vote.
Mickelson came within in a dimple of 59 in the Phoenix Open. He had the lead on the back nine at Merion and was runner-up at the U.S. Open for the sixth time. He bounced back to win the British Open — the major not even Mickelson thought he could win — with what his peers consider one of the greatest closing rounds in a major. It left him one leg short of the Grand Slam, though winning on a links course already defines him as a complete player even without a U.S. Open.
Scott became the first Aussie in a green jacket and he was leading the British Open on the back nine until making four straight bogeys. He was poised for a run at the Tour Championship until getting sick at the wrong time.
Both are great stories. But did they have better years?
Here are a few things to keep in mind. This is a vote of the players, and there’s no telling how they define the award. Best player or best year? Do they have an agenda? Is it a popularity contest? Still baffling is Rickie Fowler winning rookie of the year in 2010 over Rory McIlroy, even though McIlroy won at Quail Hollow, Fowler didn’t win at all and neither reached the Tour Championship.
Is it a sentimental pick for Mickelson, the greatest to have never won player of the year? Is there resentment toward Woods for how he handled the penalty given to him at Conway Farms for his ball moving?
The tour won’t release results, only a winner. And it won’t reveal voter turnout. Most of these guys only pay attention to their tee times.
One final thought as it relates to Woods: If his record this year belonged to any other player, would this even be a debate?