In the best major of the decade, Tiger Woods beat Rocco Mediate to win the 2008 U.S. Open.
Robert Beck/SI
By Gary Van Sickle
Friday, December 18, 2009

Best player: Sergio Garcia. Just kidding. It's Tiger Woods, of course. The only player whose numbers remotely rival Tiger's in the last decade (56 wins, 12 majors) is Annika Sorenstam (54 wins, 8 majors), and she compiled hers in nine years because she retired a year ago. The numbers are pretty close, in fact. Woods gets the nod when it comes to majors, however.

\nBest major championship: The 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines may prove to be Tiger's signature championship, and that's saying a lot. First, he limped through 72 holes on a bad leg — he had microfractures from playing on a blown ACL and needed season-ending surgery soon afterward. Then he turned Saturday into one big highlight show with a pair of dramatic eagles, and Sunday sank a clutch putt on the 72nd hole to force a playoff. His blue-collar, every-man opponent, Rocco Mediate, enjoyed his own underdog following and surprisingly took Woods to a 91st hole — and was actually ahead late in the round — before finally losing. It was a mesmerizing, captivating week.

\nBiggest shocker: No contest here. It was Tiger Woods falling from grace in stunning, messy, nasty tabloid-like fashion. It all began with a National Enquirer story that accused Tiger of flying a New York city hostess to Australia for a tryst. Then there was the suspicious early morning one-car accident just outside Tiger's Orlando home. Then we were then plunged into a weeks-long salacious scandal. Woods has dropped out of sight after announcing he was taking an "indefinite leave" from golf. His wife, Elin, has bought a mansion on an island in Sweden, and People Magazine is reporting that she will leave her husband. Accenture cut ties with Woods, and other sponsors seem to be questioning their relationship with him. Meanwhile, the PGA Tour and its players are left to wonder what impact his indefinite absence will have on their future.

\nMost amazing shot: Tiger's chip-in at the 16th in the '05 Masters, when his ball rolled past the cup, changed directions and rolled back the other way, barely toppling in at the end.

\nBest clutch shot on 72nd hole of a major: Australian Karrie Webb holed out a pitching wedge from 116 yards for eagle on the last hole of the 2006 Kraft Nabisco Championship. Her big shot got her into a playoff, which she won.

\nSecond best clutch shot on 72nd hole of a major: Little-known Shaun Micheel, one shot ahead after a weekend duel with Chad Campbell, stiffed a 7-iron to two inches to ice his first (and only) career win at the 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill.

\nBiggest one-hit wonder: Stanford alum Hilary Lunke, who beat Angela Stanford and Kelly Robbins in a playoff at the 2003 U.S. Women's Open. It was not only Lunke's only win and her only top-35 finish in a women's major, it was her only top-10 finish in any LPGA event, ever.

\nClick here for a photo gallery of the Best and Worst Moments of the Decade

\nBest Cinderella finish: Obscure Aussie Craig Perks bogeyed seven of the first 15 holes in the final round of the 2002 Players, then chipped in for eagle at the 16th, holed an unlikely birdie putt at the 17th and chipped in again for a miraculous par at the 18th to pull out the victory.

\nWorst hunch: Perks, after his Players win, said, "I hope this is not my defining moment." It was his only moment. Perks, now 42, retired in frustration after the 2007 season.

\nLoudest tear-inducing ovation: When Ireland's Darren Clarke walked to the first tee for Friday morning's 2006 Ryder Cup matches at the K Club in his home country, just weeks after his wife passed away from cancer, the roar was like nothing ever heard before in golf — not the Masters, not the 16th hole in Phoenix, not the New Yorkers at the Bethpage People's Open.

\nBest gender barrier-breaking event: Lorena Ochoa, the top player in women's golf, won the 2007 Women's British Open at St. Andrews, the first women's event held at the Old Course, which is the home of the male-only R&A. It was Ochoa's first major championship, making her the first player since Tony Lema in 1964 to win that first career major at the Old Course. "Being at St. Andrews to make history — there's no more to say," a happy Ochoa said.

\nBest non-major tournament: No man with two young sons ever needed a victory, or maybe just a weekend to play golf and take a brief break from reality, more than Clarke at the '06 Ryder Cup. Clarke played brilliantly, once holing a putt in excess of 100 feet from just off the green, and just missed scoring the clinching point for Europe by a matter of minutes. It was the feel-good story of the decade, even if you were an American. Honorable mention: Assorted Bay Hill tournaments where Tiger Woods holed walk-off winning putts on the final green. (See here and here.)

\nBest comeback: The Comeback Player of the Year Award used to be reserved for players who overcame physical adversity, but Steve Stricker took the prize when he revived his game in 2006 and rose from 337th in the world rankings to 63rd. The next year, he rose to No. 4 in the world and won it again. "After I won it the second time," Stricker said, "Tiger looked me in the eyes and was dead serious and said, 'You know, no one will ever do that again.' Which is pretty cool."

\nMost famous footwear: Annika Sorenstam won the 2002 Nabisco Championship wearing Dorothy-like ruby red slippers. Sorenstam said she almost changed shoes at the turn the first day because every time she looked down to putt, "they were distracting."

\nBiggest upset: Y.E. Yang, a 37-year-old Korean and your 2009 Honda Classic champion, played in the PGA Championship's final-round pairing with Tiger Woods, who had a two-shot edge and had never lost a major championship that he led after 54 holes. Until now. Yang stared down Woods, hit the hybrid shot of his life to the 72nd green, won the PGA by three strokes and acquired lifetime superstar status as the first Asian-born golfer to win a major.

\nBest quote: Phil Mickelson, after making double bogey to lose the '06 U.S. Open at Winged Foot by one stroke: "I am such an idiot."

\nWorst quote: Van Erven Dorens, the TNT Dutch Open tournament director, on offering Tiger Woods a $2 million appearance fee in 2000 to play his event: "He's the Jesus Christ of golf right now."

\nMost overrated player: Michelle Wie showed signs of progress on the LPGA tour this year, with her first win and stellar play in the Solheim Cup, but has any golfer gotten $10 million to turn pro and done less? She's still only 20, however, and seems poised to become one of the LPGA's top players.

\nClick here for 10 Signature Moments of the Decade

\nMost underrated player: Kenny Perry. If he had won the 2009 Masters like he could have (or maybe should have), Perry wouldn't be far from a Hall of Fame career. Because he works the ball only one direction and has a unique swing, he doesn't get enough credit for having more wins (14) than David Toms, Jim Furyk or Justin Leonard.

\nBest round you never heard about: Jason Bohn won a 2001 Canadian Tour event at Huron Oaks in Sarnia, Ontario, with a final round of 58, 13 under par, one stroke better than any recorded PGA Tour score. (Shigeki Maryuama once shot 58 in a U.S. Open qualifying event.) Bohn's round featured one bogey, and he laid up on the finishing hole, a reachable par 5 over water, to ensure a par and the win. "It was crazy wild," he said. "I'd hit a bad shot and then chip it in."

\nWorst Masters round never shot: Former champion Billy Casper, 73, made a return visit to the 2005 Masters and found the lengthened course too much to handle. He shot 105, including a 14 on the par-3 16th hole, but pocketed his scorecard instead of signing it into the history books.

\nBest simultaneous drive for show, putt for dough: At the 2001 Phoenix Open, Andrew Magee's drive at the 332-yard par-4 17th hole bounced onto the green while Tom Byrum was lining up a putt. Magee's ball glanced off Byrum's putter and into the cup for a crazy-but-valid hole-in-one. "It was the first putt Tom made all day," joked a caddie in the group.

\nBiggest cash grab: The FedEx Cup started in 2007 with $10 million to the winner of a four-week playoff series after a season-long points qualifier and $35 million in prize money overall. The $10 million was paid as an annuity in the first year; the last two years $9 million of it came as cash.

\nBiggest letdown: See Biggest cash grab.

\nBest non-major walkoff shot: Scott Verplank had just hit a brilliant recovery shot on the first playoff hole in the 2004 Ford Championship at Doral's tough 18th hole. Then Craig Parry hit a sweet 6-iron shot from 176 yards that went in the hole for an eagle and the win.

\nMost amazing coincidence: Parry, the last man to play Doral's 18th in the '04 Ford Championship, eagled the hole. Esteban Toledo, the first man to play Doral's 18th in the first round of the '05 Ford Championship, eagled the hole, also holing a 6-iron shot. Playing partner Billy Andrade was away and should've been the first to play, but Toledo hit first because Andrade was waiting on a ruling.

\nMost ingenious attempt to start The Wave: Woody Austin, paired with Phil Mickelson in a Presidents Cup foursomes match in 2007, tried to play a shot out of a greenside lake at Royal Montreal's 14th hole. Austin failed to get the ball out of the water, lost his balance and disappeared face-first into the lake. Mickelson dubbed him Aquaman, and the next day Austin donned a snorkel and mask as he approached that green.

\nLeast dynamic duo: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, paired together by captain Hal Sutton during the '06 Ryder Cup, lost both of their first-round matches and foretold the coming American disaster at Oakland Hills.

\nClick here for Golf's All-Decade Team

\nWorst reign: What didn't former LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens do wrong during her brief tour of duty? She alienated media (a failed attempt to control the rights of photos and stories published about the tour); sponsors (hardball tactics, lack of negotiations and markedly higher fees); tour staff (defections began shortly after she took office); and players (a mandate requiring players to pass English fluency tests was canceled but not before outraging foreign players and assorted civil rights groups). Worse, the tour withered under her control — from 34 tournaments in '08 (down from 38 in '01) to only 24 next year.

\nBravest farewells: PGA Tour player Jeff Julian and long-time tour caddie Bruce Edwards passed away after lengthy battles against ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease.

\nWorst birdies: Alert birders noticed background sounds of non-indigenous birds during three late-summer golf telecasts in 2000. CBS admitted it used taped bird sounds to augment the telecasts' atmosphere and promised to stop.

\nMost honest victory reaction: Tiger Woods cried into caddie Steve Williams' shoulder after winning the 2006 British Open at Hoylake, his first victory after the death of his father, Earl Woods.

\nBest payback: Woods beat Stephen Ames in the 2006 World Match Play Championship's first round, 9 and 8.

\nBest non-explanation: Woods, asked if he was aware of pre-tournament comments made by Ames that were critical of his game, smiled and repeated, "Nine and eight."

\nWorst meltdown: John Daly. Pick one, any one. (See here, here, here, here, here, here and here.)

\nBiggest controversy: The ongoing debate about golf equipment, especially the ultra-long new balls and high-tech drivers. The USGA hasn't done anything about the ball yet, but it has invoked limits on head size, moment of inertia and trampoline effect. Starting next year, U-grooves are banned for professional golf but not for recreational golf. Not only will the grooves ruling impact pros' shots from the rough, it may also be the start of a new day — separate equipment rules for professionals and amateurs.

\nBest junior moment: Tie, 12-year-old Morgan Pressel qualified for the 2001 U.S. Women's Open (where she shot two 77s and missed the cut), and 13-year-old Michelle Wie became the youngest golfer to win a USGA adult event with her 2003 Women's Amateur Public Links championship. That same summer, she also became the youngest player to make the cut at a U.S. Women's Open.

\nBest Golf Channel putdown: Arnold Palmer, co-founder and part owner of Golf Channel, was asked to do a post-round interview with the network after he finished playing in the '01 Marconi Classic at Laurel Valley, his home course. "The Golf Channel?" Palmer said. "I don't watch that crap." Then he laughed.

\nBiggest feud: Hootie Johnson and Augusta National versus Martha Burk in a battle about the club's lack of women members. Burk got all the headlines and Nightline interviews for months but lost the fight when Johnson made the Masters telecast sponsor-free, eliminating the weak spots where Burk hoped to apply pressure. When Burk could muster fewer than a hundred demonstrators in Augusta for the '03 tournament after months of tough talk, it was a virtual white flag.

You May Like