The time has come, fellow duffers, to turn off our TV sets and weep, silently, for the end of the meaningful PGA Tour season. What is a golf fan to do for the next four months without hearing Jim Nantz say “Hello, friends," or hearing Ian Baker-Finch interview a corporate suit just before the 72nd hole climax, or Johnny Miller saying “Boy, he really gagged that one. I mean, Choke-o-rama?"
Ok, enough with the sentiment. Time to start handing out Yahoo’s First Annual Lateral Hazard Year-End Awards. To the envelopes!
The Everything-Feels-Possible-Around-The-New-Year Hyperbole Award: To Nick Faldo, who said with certainty at Torrey Pines (on CBS): “This is the year Tiger wins the Slam.” It helps if you actually play more than two majors, as we later learned. Of course, your author deserves a co-writing credit on the award. My debut on Yahoo! compared Tiger to the ’07 New England Patriots. This was one week before the Super Bowl against the Giants. Cough, cough.
The Sorry To Bring It Up, Ernie, But Man Was This Another Layer Of Scar Tissue Or What Award?: To Ernie Els, who held a 4-shot lead over Tiger Woods at Dubai, then shot 38 on the back nine while Tiger shot 31. For good measure, Ernie got wet on 18 in what my column called “The Splash of Shame." But hey, the second place check was robust!
The Say What? Award: To Steve Lowery, who won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Who remembered that? Seriously. Don’t kid with me. We’re friends here. You know you didn’t. Hell, Steve Lowery’s friends don’t even remember that. Lowery had the last laugh. He has a photo with Dirty Harry and some Waterford crystal, to boot.
The Nigel Tufnel Memorial Award: To Phil Mickelson, who made an 11 on the 14th hole at Pebble Beach. Yes, Lefty. These go to 11.
The Maybe-We-Should-Have-Been-Paying-Attention-And-Understood-He'd-Be-A-Good-Ryder-Cup-Pick Award: To J.B. Holmes, who gave Tiger Woods every haymaker in his bag at the Match Play. This was when Tiger was doing his Superman thing, winning everything in sight. Holmes was 3-up with 5 to play, and though Tiger won the match – of course he did – Holmes showed some mettle. Seven months later at Valhalla, he’d show some more.
The You'll Never Make Those Putts When Tiger Has His Force Field Switch To ‘On’ Award: To Aaron Baddeley, who faced putts on 18 and 19 to beat Tiger at the Match Play – and missed them both. Of course, he did. Tiger created a force field. He has that superpower, remember?
The Well-He-Won-A-Tour-Event-So-We-Should-Praise-Him-But-This-One-Really-Doesn't-Count-That-Much, Does-It Award: To Ernie Els, who overcame the Dubai Disaster and won the Honda Classic. That was the good news. Bad news was, nobody was watching, Tiger was nowhere near the premises, and Ernie would go on to miss four of his next six cuts. And I’m an Ernie fan!
The Moment Of The Year Award, Setting Aside The Ryder Cup, Of Course; And Setting Aside Tiger At Torrey, Of Course: To Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer, who had a magic moment at Bay Hill. Tiger made a sliding 25-footer to keep his win streak alive, slam-dunked his hat in such a blaze of adrenaline that he didn’t even remember doing it, then met The King for a heartfelt embrace just off the green. “What else is new?” The King said, eyes crinkled, like a proud Daddy. “Every now and then,” Tiger said, unable to wipe the 10-million watt smile off his face. One of my favorite non-major moments in golf, ever.
The Cap'n-Azinger-Must-Have-Been-Watching-And-Kept-It-In-Mind-When-He-Made-His-Captain's-Picks Award: To Woody Austin, who cold-topped a shot on the 72nd hole at New Orleans, then said loud enough for the cameras to hear: “You are the biggest choking dog ever.” In an amazing coincidence, Paul Azinger did not select Austin as a pick for the Ryder Cup.
The I-Ended-The-Tiger-Wins-The-Slam-Talk-Yet-Nobody-Stops-Me-In-Airports Award: To Trevor Immelman, who won the Masters with a steely display of shot making and guts … and then never followed up on it and slowly faded from our memory. He’ll only return to our minds next April, when we read the stories about him ordering BBQ’ed springbok for the Champions Dinner.
The Epic Year Of Golf Sadly Derailed By Life Award: To Lorena Ochoa, who followed up on her 2007 Player of the Year Award by winning 5 of her first 6 starts, including the first major of the year, the Kraft Nabisco, and then struggled in the summertime after two deaths in her family consumed her concentration.
The We-Shoulda-Known-He-Was-Gonna-Be-A-Ryder-Cup-Superstar-Both-On-The-Course-And-In-The-Press-Room Award: To Boo Weekley, who won at Harbour Town after playing the pro-am with his Mom, and then said of his second Harbour Town win and second plaid jacket: “I can wear one on Saturday, and one on Sunday.”
The Why-Weren't-We-Paying-Attention Award: To all of us, who seemed to have forgotten that Tiger shut it down for six weeks after the Masters with a knee injury, and appeared on crutches at Tiger Jam. For all of us who doubted the sincerity of his knee injury at Torrey – cough, cough, hack, hack, ahem, ahem – the post-Masters limp should have tipped us off.
The Coming Out Party Of The Year: To Anthony Kim, who won the prestigious tour stop at Quail Hollow, and broke Tiger’s scoring record in doing so. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I will, noting my post-Quail Hollow column said Kim had all the right stuff, tangible and intangible, to be the real deal. Hey, I needed the street cred after doubting Tiger’s knee injury, right?
The Dirtbag Award: To Paul Goydos, and the sentiment is expressed with utter sincerity. A more welcome Dirtbag golf has never seen. Goydos nearly won The Players Championship wearing a Long Beach State “Dirtbags” ball cap he bought at an airport. He missed a putt on the 72nd hole that would have won it, then kerplunked his tee shot on 17 in the playoff with Sergio Garcia. The Dirtbag nearly did it; but he reminded us of grace, humility and good humor along the way.
The Jim Brown/I’m-Outta-Here Award: To Annika Sorenstam, who blindsided us with her sudden retirement in the spring. Like all things Annika, it was done quietly and with class. Only Barry Sanders, Brown and Michael Jordan drew comparisons to an all-time great leaving before it was over. Fare thee well, lass.
The Most Unlikely Best Actor, Comedy Series, Award: To Phil Mickelson, who starred in the amusing and ironic Crowne Plaza “Meetings With Phil” ad campaign. For those frustrated by Lefty’s blown leads, missed putts and sometimes-condescending attitude to the media, it was a welcome blast of fresh air.
The Shot Of The Year Award, Non-Major Category: To Phil Mickelson, again. Or did you miss his side hill, downhill wedge on the 72nd hole at Colonial, out of the rough, under one tree branch, over another, to 9 feet? Then you missed the Shot of the Year, Non-Major Category. As if pre-ordained, he made the winning putt and an inebriated fan did a perfect cannonball into the drink just as the stroke dropped.
The Boy-He-Really-Put-Every-Egg-Ever-Into-One-Basket, Didn't-He? Award: To Kenny Perry, who won the Memorial and then announced he’d skip the U.S. Open because he didn’t like Torrey and didn’t want to 36-hole qualify. Many observers – cough, cough, ahem, ahem – found this distasteful, and darn near un-American. He would later skip the British Open, too, just to make sure he wasn’t discriminating against majors by nationality. Against a hailstorm of critics, Perry would wind up winning the Ryder Cup in his home state, a moment he said didn’t make his year, it “made my career." Fair play, Kenny. Fair play.
The We-Should-Have-Had-An-Inkling-He'd-Be-A-Little-Too-Prickly-To-Be-Captain-Of-A-Winning-Side Award: To Nick Faldo, who bristled when Gary McCord mistakenly called him Nick Price on the air. “I’m the European captain, not the South African captain,” Faldo said, thus acting huffy and insulting Price, a Zimbabwean, all at once. Later that summer, when Tiger Woods phoned Anthony Kim after Kim’s win at Congressional, Faldo said: “No doubt Tiger’s calling collect.” Yeah, easy laugh, eh, Cap’n? And karma is a you-know-what, dude.
The Where-Were-You-At-5:52-PM-Pacific-Time-June-15-2008? Award: To all of us, who get to remember where we were when Tiger jumped into a stance of mind-blowing celebration, and pumped both fists as if his arms were about to explode. He made the birdie putt on the 72nd hole that got him into the U.S Open playoff, by the way.
The Our-Favorite-Guy-Of-2008 Award: To Rocco Mediate, for providing us with everything we ever wanted, and more, the next day.
The If-I’m-Gonna-Go-Out, I’m-Gonna-Go-Out-In-Style Award: To Annika Sorenstam, who decided to end her U.S. Women’s Open career with an eagle from 199 yards out on the 72nd hole. A “five-star wowser” is what Johnny Miller called it.
The Our-Second-Favorite-Guy-Of-2008 Award: To Greg Norman, who took the first Tiger-less major since 1996, and penned an epic ode to star power and charisma. His 63-hole lead at Royal Birkdale would have been the best story in any golf year that didn’t feature Tiger at Torrey or Zinger at Valhalla, but as it was, it’ll stand as a damn good 3rd place. Plus, thanks for bringing Chrissy Evert back to our TV sets! Cheers, mate.
The What-About-Me, Do-I-Only-Rate-Fourth-Behind-Tiger-At-Torrey-Zinger-At-Valhalla-And-Norman-At-Birkdale? Award: To Padraig Harrington, who won back-to-back majors in the same year, becoming the first since Tiger to do so. He’s won three of the last six, by the way. And his fairway wood on the 71st at Birkdale was only the stuff of greatness; to be followed by the touch of genius on the 71st at Oakland Hills, his 5-iron to 10 feet … and yes, when we get to Augusta National shortly, we will be talking about the “Paddy Slam."
The Who Remembers Ji-Yai Shin Award?: To Ji-Yai Shin, who won the Women’s British Open.
The Boy-We-Really-Should-Have-Known-He-Wasn't-Going-To-Bring-Home-A-Winner-For-Europe Award: To Nick Faldo, again. At Oakland Hills, when Sergio Garcia, holding the lead, appeared to be gunning for the flag at 16 on Sunday, Gary McCord first-guessed it as the wrong decision. Faldo one-upped McCord, defending his Ryder Cup hero, saying it was the right move. Sergio got wet; Sergio didn’t win the PGA; Sergio had a lousy Ryder Cup; and Faldo is 0-1 as Team Europe captain. There’s nothing more to see. Move along.
The Coach Of The Year Award: Not to Bill Belichick; not to Phil Jackson; not to John Calipari … no, no, no. We’re looking for a WINNER here. To Paul Azinger, who won the Ryder Cup by putting into action Vince Lombardi’s treasured chestnut: Luck is where preparation meets opportunity. If the U.S was lucky that Hunter Mahan poured in a blazing bomb on 17 against Paul Casey; if the U.S was lucky that countless Euro putts grazed the cup; if the U.S was lucky that Boo Weekley’s semi-insanity rubbed Team USA the right way and not the wrong way, let’s end this with a huge salute to Cap’n Zinger for understanding that everything else was in his control: His four captain’s picks; his revving up of the Louisville crowd; his pods-of-four preparation strategy; and his good fortune to turn a Tiger-less team into a cohesive bunch of hungry players. It was damn fun to watch, and a helluva way to end the year.