Even without a major, Woods is Player of the Year

Tiger Woods did not need to win a major championship this year to win the respect of his peers.

CLIFTON BROWNNew York Times News Service

Tiger Woods did not need to win a major championship this year to win the respect of his peers. For the fifth consecutive year, Woods was voted the PGA Tour's Player of the Year, beating out Vijay Singh, his most serious challenger.

While the Tour does not release the results of the voting, the Tour's players faced their most difficult vote in years.

For the first time since 1998, Woods did not win a major or the money title. And while Woods had the most victories on Tour (five), as well as the lowest-scoring average, Singh won the money title, and he had four victories.

At various times this year, Davis Love III (four victories), Mike Weir (three victories, including the Masters) and Jim Furyk (two victories, including the United States Open) were all candidates for the honour.

"I had a feeling it was going to be close," Woods said in a teleconference after the award was announced. "A lot of guys value the money title. Other guys value number of wins. It all depends on where you stand."

Enough players still believed that Woods, the world's No. 1 player, had a better year than anyone else. For Woods, it did not compare with 1999, when he won eight times, or to his remarkable 2000, when he won nine times, including three majors.

But by normal standards, it was an excellent year. Unable to play until February after having off-season arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, Woods returned in top form, winning three of his first four starts, including a dominant performance at the Accenture Match Play Championship, where he won six matches.

For Woods, winning tournaments and winning Player of the Year awards will never get old. Mark O'Meara (1998) was the last player other than Woods to win Player of the Year, but Woods also won in 1997, giving him the honour six of the last seven years.

"If you look at my career so far, the only year I didn't win a big award was 1998," said Woods, who has set a Tour record by making 114 consecutive cuts. "I'm very proud of that. That shows the consistency."

Woods also had high-quality victories, capturing the Accenture and the American Express Championship, two World Golf Championships events that feature most of the world's top players.

"I think those helped get me over the top," Woods said.

Yet it was a strange year, with all four majors being won by players who had never won one before — Weir (Masters), Furyk (United States Open), Ben Curtis (British Open) and Shaun Micheel (P.G.A. Championship). The British Open was Woods's biggest disappointment; the rookie Curtis pulled off a shocking victory, and Woods finished tied for fourth.

Woods is usually at his best when the stakes are the highest, but at majors this year, he never found the magic.

"I went into the back nine with a chance to win, but I just made some mistakes," Woods said of the British Open. "I bogeyed 15 and 17, and that took me out of it."

Singh did not win a major this year either, and his late-season charge was not enough to sway the vote in his favour.

From mid-August until the season-ending Tour Championship in early November, nobody played better golf than Singh. In his last eight starts, Singh finished no worse than a tie for sixth, including victories at the John Deere Classic and the Funai Classic at Walt Disney World.

That run of superb golf lifted Singh to the money title, and Woods expects Singh to pick up where he left off when the 2004 season begins at the Mercedes Championships in Hawaii from Jan. 8-11.

"This year he was more consistent than he has ever been," Woods said. "He got on a roll, and he had a lot of confidence. You know he's going to keep working at it."

Woods plans to keep working as well. He will turn 28 years old on December 30, moving into the prime years for most golfers.

As David Toms, winner of the 2001 P. G. A. Championship, said after the Tour Championship: "Is there any doubt who the best player is? Tiger's still No. 1."

So while this year's majors eluded Woods, and other players have clearly elevated their games, he remains the player to beat, with another Player of the Year award to show for it.

"In more than half my starts, I finished in the top five," Woods said. "It was a solid year."