Time to rise to prize

In unusual 2010, Player of Year is up for grabs

September 16, 2010|By Jeff Shain

This much we know: Tiger Woods isn't going to be the PGA Tour's Player of the Year.

In a departure from the routine, Woods' day help won't have to clear a spot this winter for another Jack Nicklaus Trophy to go with the 10 already occupying space as doorstops or whatever.

Then again, that's what happens when your hardware collection has been stagnant all year.

Which brings us to what we don't know: Who might take home that Nicklaus statuette.

Matt Kuchar? Dustin Johnson? Steve Stricker? Phil Mickelson?

In the two decades since the PGA Tour gave members an end-of-year ballot, perhaps no field has been as jumbled as the one that heads to next week's Tour Championship. If anything, it has become more populous since the playoff stretch began.

"It's an exciting time," Stricker said. "You want to play well. There's a little bit bigger tournament feel every week."

Six players have won twice in 2010: Johnson, Stricker, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Justin Rose and Hunter Mahan. But none can boast of any majors; Els and Mahan won World Golf Championship stops, and Johnson took last week's FedEx Cup semifinal.

Now add Kuchar, winner at The Barclays and the FedEx points leader, and Mickelson, the Masters champion.

If any of those eight captures the FedEx finale, it almost certainly puts him over the top.

The real dilemma is what happens if someone else prevails at East Lake.

Winners of majors usually get the edge, as when Padraig Harrington trumped FedEx champ Vijay Singh two years ago. But Mickelson is the only PGA Tour member to win a Grand Slam event in 2010.

Mickelson and Johnson, in fact, are the only members to find themselves in back-nine Sunday contention in two majors. Johnson's major Sundays were marked more by chaos than success — an 82 at Pebble Beach, a dubious penalty at the PGA — so who knows how that plays in the minds of his peers.

Mickelson had the heartwarming Masters embrace with his cancer-survivor wife, but lately he is known better for coming up empty in 11 chances to unseat Woods atop the world rankings. Until last week, he hadn't produced a top-10 finish since the U.S. Open.

Kuchar has 11 top 10s this year, including last week's BMW Championship. He also holds the tour's lowest adjusted scoring average — but stood winless until The Barclays, when he beat Martin Laird in a playoff.

Stricker, meanwhile, stands atop the points-based POY system the PGA of America uses. He won at Riviera and John Deere, ranks second to Kuchar in adjusted scoring and is fourth in earnings.

Stricker's 52 points are just two ahead of Kuchar and Mickelson. Els is another two points back. That's how close it is.

PGA Tour ballots won't go out until early November, but the final campaign pitch takes place next week.

jshain@tribune.com

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