THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — At the 1998 Masters, when the golf world was just beginning to try to make sense of Tiger Woods, tournament leader Fred Couples told the press, "I wish I was Tiger's age, but when he's 30, I think he's going to be spent."
Or not. Woods is coming to the end of 31 (he turns 32 later this month), and on Tuesday he was announced as the PGA Tour's player of the year for the ninth time, a surprise to virtually no one. He was at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., to host his Target World Challenge tournament when the news was announced.
"This year was just a fantastic year on the golf course and even better off the golf course," said Woods, who will try to defend his title at the Target.
Woods did almost all that was asked of him in 2007. He won seven tournaments, including his 13th major at the PGA Championship, two events in the season-ending FedEx Cup playoffs, and the season-long FedEx Cup, collecting $10 million in deferred compensation. He won the Vardon Trophy for low scoring average, again; led the money list, again; and is now the player of the year, again.
There were a few bumps along the way, some of them unprecedented. He worked his way into the last group on Sunday at both the Masters and the U.S. Open, a position from which he'd been a virtual lock for his entire career, but lost both tournaments. At the British Open at Carnoustie he hit the worst looking shot of his career, a shockingly bad pull-hooked iron off the first tee box that bounded aimlessly into the drink.
He lost the Deutsche Bank in Boston to Phil Mickelson, the first time Woods had ever bowed to his rival when the two were paired together in the last group on Sunday. Mickelson had said earlier in the week that his new coach Butch Harmon had told him the secret to beating Woods, and in Boston it seemed to work. (No word on whether Mike Weir deployed the same methods to beat Woods in an inconsequential Presidents Cup singles match, delighting a deafening crowd in Montreal.)
"I was just a few shots away from basically doing what I did in 2000; the number of seconds I had, it wasn't that far away," Woods said, alluding to his best season, when he won three majors. "What did I finish, second to Phil, and then the two major championships? If I get those done, get those squared away, people would probably be comparing it to 2000 if not better."
Still, each time Woods showed signs of vulnerability, he came back to crush the competition, as usual. He shot a 63 in the second round of the PGA at sweltering Southern Hills in Tulsa, then put it on cruise control to hold off a surging Woody Austin and knock off major number 13. (Mickelson tied for 32nd.)
And when it appeared Mickelson might be in the driver's seat to win the inaugural FedEx Cup, Woods simply stormed back with victories at the BMW at Cog Hill and the Tour Championship (by eight strokes) at East Lake, winning the Cup in a cakewalk.
He had a kid. He inked a deal to design his first golf course in the United States and amicably ended a longtime endorsement deal with American Express. He birthed a new official Tour event, the AT&T National in Washington, D.C., while his wife, Elin, struck a blow against reckless sensationalism, winning a libel suit against an Irish magazine.
It was, as usual, a busy but very successful year. Along the way, Woods distanced himself from his coach, Hank Haney, a step toward the ultimate goal of owning his own swing, and being able to fix it on the fly. Not that there's much to fix.