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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, December 24, 2001

Challengers closed gap on Woods, but he's still No. 1

By Doug Ferguson
Associated Press

It would have been considered one of the greatest performances in PGA Tour history if it had been any other year than 2001 — and any other player than Tiger Woods.

He won the Masters for the second time by beating the second- and third-ranked players in the world on the back nine at Augusta National, making him the only player in history to hold the titles of all four professional majors at the same time.

Woods also won The Players Championship against the toughest field in golf. For good measure, throw in a World Golf Championship that he won at Firestone with the longest playoff on tour in 10 years, seven holes.

He won tournaments with hosts named Arnie and Jack, wrapped up the money title with a month left in the season and claimed the Vardon Trophy for the third straight year.

What did that get him?

A lot of questions about what was wrong with his game.

"If I can do that for the rest of my career, you can write 'slump' all you want," Woods said. "I think I'm going to have a pretty good one."

What everyone wanted was an encore, which was like asking Leonardo da Vinci to tweak the smile on Mona Lisa.

The question at the start of the season was whether Y2K — when Woods won nine times, including three straight majors — was the exception or the norm.

Even now, no one is sure.

"Maybe that was his big year, his Byron Nelson year," Davis Love III said. "We're going to have to get used to the fact that his 2000 season was one of the great all-time feats in sports and just be amazed at his 2001. Maybe he does not ever do better than that.

"But whether it's 2001, 2000 or 1999, we all want what he's got. We still want to be where he is."

It was a year no one will forget, not only because of what was won — the Tiger Slam — but what was not — a Ryder Cup that was postponed.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks caused the PGA Tour to cancel tournaments for the first time in 52 years. By the end of the week, officials decided to postpone the Ryder Cup in England until next September.

"I got the feeling it wasn't going to be much of an event," Mark Calcavecchia said. "You need guys excited about being there, and we weren't going to be."

On the course, Woods shared the wealth.

Calcavecchia had a 256 at the Phoenix Open to break a 72-hole scoring record that had stood for 46 years. The youth movement shifted to 17-year-old Ty Tryon, a high school junior who skipped classes to become the youngest player to earn his PGA Tour card.

Four players won the four majors, none named Phil Mickelson.

David Duval won the British Open for his first major. David Toms won the PGA Championship with a gutsy decision, laying up on the par-4 18th and beating Mickelson by getting up-and-down for par.

Retief Goosen tried to throw away the U.S. Open with a three-putt from 12 feet on the 72nd hole, but won the next day in a playoff and was the European tour's top player.

Mickelson didn't win that coveted major, but had 10 finishes in the top three.

By the end of the year, the gap had closed on Woods. The question was whether everyone got better or he came back to the field.

Golf actually did have a season like the one in 2000, only it belonged to Annika Sorenstam.

The straight-hitting Swede won eight times on the LPGA Tour, the most in 22 years. She won four straight tournaments, including a major championship, and became the first woman to shoot 59 — even though she missed a 10-foot birdie on the last hole.

In the process, she set a record for the lowest scoring average and became the LPGA's first $2 million woman.

Karrie Webb, the 26-year-old Aussie, became the youngest woman to win the career Grand Slam, and she did so in heartbreaking fashion. She nearly withdrew on the eve of the final round at the LPGA Championship when she learned her grandfather was dying in Australia. Webb won the slam, raced home to Australia but arrived too late to say goodbye.

The PGA Tour scored big in the boardroom, negotiating another four-year TV deal worth close to $1 billion. It lost big in the courtroom, where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Casey Martin and his cart.