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Not much was typical this year

In the world of golf, things you never thought would happened, did.

BOB HARIG
Published November 11, 2004

The final putt, the final green, the final stroke of the 2004 golf season. At the beginning of the year, it would have been reasonable to expect Tiger Woods to be doing the honors. You'd have a hard time getting anyone to believe, however, that the moment would be so meaningless.

Woods was not the biggest story in the game this year, and that in itself is a story.

Woods concluded the 2004 season on Sunday at the Tour Championship in Atlanta, where for only the third time in 33 tries, he relinquished a third-round lead. Retief Goosen came from four back to beat Woods by four.

For the first time in six years, Woods won't be the PGA Tour Player of the Year. He failed to capture the PGA Tour money title for the second straight year. Vijay Singh took over No. 1 in the world and won nine times as many tournaments.

Eight players won more tournaments than Woods, who made more headlines for his October wedding than he did for his play on the course.

While Woods won once, his worst season since 1998, the year was plenty entertaining. Singh, 41, had another phenomenal year. All four of the men's major championships were compelling, with two going to playoffs. Phil Mickelson finally won his first major, and Ernie Els was a hard-luck loser in all four.

Annika Sorenstam continues to make history for the women, while teenager Michelle Wie nearly did.

Here is a recap.

VIJAY MEANS VICTORY

It will rank as one of the best individual performances in PGA Tour history. When Singh captured the Chrysler Championship at Innisbrook two weeks ago, he joined Woods as the only players since 1950 to win nine times in a season. Singh took his third career major at the PGA Championship, where he won a three-hole aggregate playoff over Chris DiMarco and Justin Leonard. He also won six of his last nine starts while becoming the first to surpass $10-million in season earnings. Singh has won 12 times since turning 40 last year.

SORENSTAM SOARS

Sorenstam put enormous pressure on herself when she stated she wanted to win a calendar-year Grand Slam. Though she captured just one major, the LPGA Championship, Sorenstam was still the dominant force. She won for the seventh time this year on Sunday at the Mizuno Classic in Japan, her 55th career title. She is tied for fifth all-time with Betsy Rawls and trails No. 3 Patty Berg by five. At 34, the only thing stopping Sorenstam is desire.

MICKELSON MAKEOVER

After his worst season as a pro in 2003, and despite vowing he never would change his style of play, Mickelson remade his game. Working with instructor Rick Smith, he developed a trusty fade off the tee. Working with short-game guru Dave Pelz, he fine-tuned his wedge play and expanded his repertoire around the greens. The result was a riveting victory over Els at the Masters, and near-misses in the rest of the majors. Mickelson finished second to Goosen by two at the U.S. Open, missed a playoff by one at the British Open and by two at the PGA. Though Mickelson slumped at the end of the season, he still finished third on the money list and is ranked fifth.

TIGER'S TROUBLES

Woods might be the happiest he ever has been, having recently married Elin Nordegren and then spending three weeks at sea on a 155-foot yacht. But in terms of golf, it was not a good year. While consistently saying he was "close," Woods kept missing fairways at an alarming rate and went without a stroke-play victory. More bothersome is his aura seems to be gone. On consecutive weeks in May, Woods led through 36 holes and failed to win. Then on Sunday at the Tour Championship, he held a share of the 54-hole lead and didn't convert. He had done so every time since 2000 and 30 of 32 times in his career. Woods still managed one win (at the Match Play Championship), two seconds, and three thirds. In all, Woods had 10 top-five finishes and 15 top-10s in 19 events. And he has gone nearly seven straight years without missing a cut. But for a guy who won a minimum of five times for five straight years, this was a disappointing season.

RYDER ROMP

Typically one of the sport's most compelling events, the Ryder Cup turned into a final-day bore as the Europeans routed the Americans 181/2-91/2, the United States' worst defeat. Nothing worked for U.S. captain Hal Sutton, who, for some reason, did not have the players practice with their partners in the days leading up to the tournament and whose controversial pairing of Woods and Mickelson on the first day led to two defeats. Woods went 2-3 and dropped to 7-11-2, again raising questions about his commitment to the event. Of 11 matches that went to the 18th hole, the Americans lost three and tied eight. The Americans have lost four of the past five Cups.

A WIE BIT SHORT

Wie, who was 14 at the time, turned heads with her prodigious drives at the Sony Open in Hawaii, where she was given a sponsor exemption into the PGA Tour event. Wie came within one stroke of making the 36-hole cut and gained the praise of the PGA pros. Wie finished tied for fourth at the LPGA's Kraft Nabisco and tied for 13th at the U.S. Women's Open, almost making people forget she is not old enough to drive. She finished in the top 20 six times in seven LPGA starts. On the negative side, Wie did not win on any level. That has made many in the game wonder if she shouldn't concentrate on amateur golf and learn to win. At the moment, Wie is taking 10th-grade classes.

UNEASY ERNIE

It was a heartbreaking year in the major championships for Els. He stood on the putting green, awaiting a playoff at Augusta National, when the roars of the crowd told him everything: Mickelson had holed the winning birdie putt on the 18th green to beat him. He was paired alongside countryman Goosen in the final group at the U.S. Open, two shots out of the lead. But a treacherous Shinnecock Hills course led to a round of 80, while Goosen shot 71 to secure the title. Els then came within an eyelash of birdieing the last three holes at Royal Troon to steal the Open Championship from Todd Hamilton. But his putt for birdie on the final hole went below the cup, and Els then lost to the unheralded Hamilton in a four-hole aggregate playoff, making bogey on 17. With one last chance at the PGA Championship, Els was on the fringe of contention all weekend, and seemed to try to force things on Sunday. A three-putt bogey at the last hole became maddeningly disappointing when the other contenders fell back and Els missed a playoff by a stroke.

LONG JOHN LORE

John Daly added to his legend with his victory at the Buick Invitational in February. The long-driving fan favorite had not won in nine years and had suffered through trips to rehab and divorce court. But he got it together in 2004, winning in a playoff over Luke Donald and Chris Riley, qualifying for the Masters, nearly beating Singh at the Buick Open and qualifying for his first Tour Championship since his rookie season of 1991.

ARNIE SAYS GOODBYE

He shot consecutive 84s to miss the Masters cut for the 21st straight year, but nobody much cared. Arnold Palmer had played in his 50th consecutive Masters, and then said it was his last. His first was in 1955, and he won the green jacket in 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1964.

SEASON HIGHLIGHTS

BEST SHOT: Craig Parry's eagle at Doral's 18th in the first hole of a sudden-death playoff against Scott Verplank. The 176-yard 6-iron shot took one bounce before rolling for a dramatic victory. Doral's 18th turned out to be the hardest hole of the year on the PGA Tour.

BEST PUTT: After getting a read from DiMarco, Mickelson used the knowledge to trickle in an 18-foot downhill birdie putt on the 18th green at Augusta National to win the Masters. It was his first major title after 12 years as a pro.

BEST ROUND: Goosen didn't even match par during the final round of the U.S. Open, but his 1-over 71 still was the stuff of legend. While most players got frustrated with the difficult final-round setup of Shinnecock Hills, Goosen managed to stay calm. He had 12 one-putt greens and his score was more than seven better than the field average.

BEST AMATEUR: UNLV's Ryan Moore might have had the most dominant year by an amateur since Bobby Jones. Moore won six straight tournaments, including the U.S. Amateur, the U.S. Amateur Public Links, the Western Amateur and the NCAA Championship. He is a senior at UNLV and will play the first three majors next year before turning pro.

BEST YEAR BY PLAYER YOU DIDN'T KNOW, LPGA: Mexico's Lorena Ochoa had a record-setting college career at Arizona and was the 2003 rookie of the year. She took another step this year with her first two pro victories and 18 top-10 finishes.

BEST YEAR BY PLAYER YOU DIDN'T KNOW, PGA: Hamilton toiled in Japan for 12 years, never able to earn his PGA Tour card. After finally doing so, Hamilton broke through in a big way, first holding off Davis Love to win the Honda Classic in March, and then going shot for shot with Els in a playoff to win the British Open.

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