It was an unusually busy week on the global scene, with magic and mayhem at Disney World, Mexico, Asia and Down Under. Augusta Chronicle columnist and golf writer Scott Michaux and CBSSports.com senior writer Steve Elling sift through the bodies, be they upright, prone or otherwise.
Now that some of the knee-jerk reaction has abated, how did you greet the news that 21-year-old star-in-the-making Rory McIlroy will drop his PGA Tour card in 2011 and play mostly abroad?
ELLING: The news that the Irish lad had bolted after one year on the American tour was mostly met last week at Disney with shrugs of indifference by veterans. A year and gone? Few players could not have cared less -- it made for one fewer guy standing between them and the top 125 in earnings. For the tour marketing machine itself, it created a slight sting, even if the gleeful reporting overseas that characterized McIlroy's decision as a crushing blow to the U.S. circuit were clearly overstated. McIlroy can still play here 10 times next year as a non-member, and while some tournament sponsors will be upset that he won't be allowed to play in their events because of the limits of tour membership provisions, only the most ardent fans will notice the dropoff. He'll still play in the three U.S.-based majors and the World Golf Championships events with the big boys. Frankly, world No. 1 Lee Westwood's decision to remain a European Tour member was more impactful from a news standpoint. If Westy holds his spot through the holidays, the PGA Tour will begin in January without the No. 1 player in the world as a member for the first time since 1994.
MICHAUX: This is really a bit like Seinfeld -- it's a story about nothing. Lee Westwood never intended to join the tour next year, so why will his absence be any different? Did the PGA Tour dry up when Seve Ballesteros and Colin Montgomerie and many other European stars through the years elected to stay home and play only in the big events? McIlroy's choice is a little curious, only because his reasoning seemed somewhat disingenuous. He chirped that the playoff series was all about money. How magnanimous to pass up that potential bonanza for the guaranteed appearance fees he'll surely generate instead in European events all over the world -- fees that for a player of his, Westwood's and Kaymer's stature will more than likely cover what all but the top few will earn in the PGA Tour's merit sweepstakes. As long as those guys keep showing up for the events that really matter -- the majors -- who cares if they take a tour card? What really struck me as odd was the glee that the European players and media seemed to take in putting down the U.S. tour with these announcements. The Ryder Cup is over, folks. Save the vitriol for the 2012 matches at Medinah. I thought we were allies and that golf was just one big happy global stage. Apparently, the overseas tabloid press can't help but stir the pot, even when there's nothing of substance to stir.
It's officially official. The final for-real, official-money, sanctioned PGA Tour event of the year is in the books. Give us your first-blush view on how the 2010 season went.
ELLING: It's hard to envision a year with more news made off the course. Tiger Woods' career went septic, ratings dropped, attendance took a dive, a row over the grooves broke out early, and three non-members of the PGA Tour won majors, a historical first. Still, Phil Mickelson won the Masters in the feel-good moment of the year, and with Woods, Mickelson and Singh combining for a meager one victory between them, some less-heralded players made their bones. At some point, a transition from the Lefty-Woody era had to happen, and it started a bit earlier than we envisioned. With an extra 11 wins on the table -- that's what Singh/Mickelson/Mickelson averaged in combined victories over the decade from 2000-2009 -- plenty of guys bellied up to the table and claimed a chair, including 20-somethings Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and the aforementioned McIlroy. In a backward way, the issues facing Woods and Mickelson allowed some guys to bloom, and as long as the game's two top draws recapture some semblance of their previous form in 2011, that's only a good thing.
MICHAUX: I think you nailed it. This was a classic transition year, a rebuilding project of sorts in golf. While the usual suspects like Tiger, Phil and Ernie played key roles at times, they were pushed and more-often-than-not beaten by a cast of characters that needed a few introductions. That cast isn't going anywhere now that it has arrived. Guys like Westwood, Kaymer, McIlroy, Day, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen are worldly figures who broaden our horizons. And D.J., Fowler, Hunter Mahan, Nick Watney, Bubba Watson, Anthony Kim and Jeff Overton freshened the landscape of American golf that has for so long been a bit redundant with Tiger, Phil, Furyk, Stricker and Stewart Cink. It all bodes well for a wide-open 2011. The other point of interest in 2010 was the scoring. There was a 56 (Trevor Murphy), 57 (Alabama teenager), 58 (Ryo Ishikawa) and two 59s (Paul Goydos and Stuart Appleby) shot in various tournaments around the world and McIlroy very nearly became the first person to shoot a 62 in a major at St. Andrews. Oh yeah, Jonathan Byrd had the first-ever walk-off ace. Should we even bother to bring up all the crazy rules fiascos that came by the bushel? So as rebuilding years go, there was plenty of drama and excitement.
Ballots will be mailed to players soon, but give us your nod on the PGA Tour player, rookie and comeback player of 2010.
ELLING: If we're not in total agreement on this front, I'll be more surprised than if Mickelson makes it through the holidays without becoming a carnivore again. With the opening created by Mickelson and Woods winning only once between them, gritty and underrated veteran Jim Furyk ought to be the runaway winner of the top-player award after claiming a career-high three wins, including the Tour Championship and its $10 million bonus prize. That honor would only bolster his chance of making the Hall of Fame in the future. As for the top rookie, based on feedback from players last week, McIlroy's decision to bolt from the tour after one season won't help his chances of winning that award, which will now fall to Rickie Fowler. McIlroy won a tournament, but Fowler made a huge splash, is turning into a box-office draw and outplayed McIlroy at the Ryder Cup. According to one report, the tour might skip awarding the Comeback Player of the Year honor because there's no clear-cut candidate, though Matt Kuchar deserves a look. Sure, he finished 24th in earnings in 2009 and 70th the year before that, but he'd previously been sent back to the Nationwide Tour because of poor play and has clearly emerged as the most-improved player in golf over the past three years. If that's not a comeback, what is? Kooch topped the 2010 money list and won the Vardon Trophy for best scoring average, and there isn't a nicer guy around. Steve Stricker won the comeback award two years in a row and never topped the money list. The global player of the year, though, is Martin Kaymer -- he mustered four wins, including a major, and quite possibly will claim the European Tour's money title next week.
MICHAUX: The PGA of America announced its points-based Player of the Year results on Monday and Furyk earned 60 points to edge Stricker and Kuchar (50 apiece) for that particular title. Seems fair enough. In a year when nobody took command, Furyk aced the final FedEx Cup exam. But since his other wins came against relatively weak fields at Tampa and Hilton Head, there is certainly room for debate regarding the tour's top-player award. Even though I will vote for Furyk on our Golf Writers Association of America ballot, I kind of favor Dustin Johnson's season myself. He won twice, including beating a slightly larger field at the third playoff event, he dominated the story lines at two majors and showed a level of resilience that is unreal. Can we just give him the Comeback Player of the Year award for how he came back from the meltdown at Pebble Beach and the bunker breakdown at Whistling Straits? Those were the best comebacks aside from Tiger Woods finishing fourth at the Masters in his "comeback" event after his offseason fall from grace. As for top rookie, to me that was clearly Rory over Rickie. McIlroy won an elite event in flying fashion and if a foul wind hadn't tripped him at St. Andrews he probably would have won the British Open as well. He also played his way onto the Euro Ryder Cup team on merit not as a captain's pick. Fowler was impressive, but he was second best by at least a club length because he failed to close everywhere except in Wales.