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Kevin Currie, Golf Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Thanksgiving holiday is upon us, and in the spirit of the holiday, let's look at some of the things that the golf world is thankful for.
Tiger Woods - There isn't much explanation needed, but another six-win season for the world No. 1 helped keep fan interest and television ratings up. Woods turned professional in August of 1996 and has been the main reason TV ratings have spiked and tournament purses have gone through the roof.
Television partners - Without CBS, NBC and Golf Channel, following golf would be difficult to say the least. Despite tough economic times, all three of the PGA Tour's television partners have stood as strong allies at every PGA Tour event.
Sponsors and good golf cities - Despite losing a couple of sponsors in 2009, the PGA Tour managed to secure a new tour stop - the Greenbrier Classic - and saw San Diego work to keep its tournament at Torrey Pines after losing Buick as the event's sponsor. For 2010, the San Diego event will be known as the Century Club of San Diego Invitational.
Top-notch players - Of the top-20 players in the latest world rankings, 15 of them play most of their golf on the PGA Tour. This helps the TV partners, and in turn the cities in which they play.
Charitable endeavors - The non-golf fan might see a bunch of guys in slacks and golf shirts and assume they're stuck up, snobby and in it for themselves. That belies the fact that the PGA Tour donates millions of dollars to charity at each event and along the way, has players visit with fans in a variety of ways. Many of the truly heart-warning stories each year come from players visiting sick children at the St. Jude Hospital in Memphis, home of the St. Jude Classic.
Major championships - In a year that could best be described as the 'what-if' season of majors, the four biggest stops on the PGA Tour schedule produced three first-time major champions and one second-time winner. Angel Cabrera claimed his second major at the Masters by fending off the likes of Kenny Perry, who was looking to become the oldest first-time major champion in history, and Chad Campbell, who was also searching for his first major championship crown. Lucas Glover took down Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and the back-from-the-dead David Duval to win the U.S. Open. Stewart Cink bested Tom Watson in a playoff at the British Open, before Y.E. Yang beat Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship. Instead of seeing Perry-Mickelson-Watson-Woods win the big four, we got Cabrera-Glover-Cink-Yang, which is nothing to sneeze at. Those four did something most people can only dream of, winning a major championship, and will forever be introduced with that fact at the top of their list of accomplishments.
Fresh faces - Three first-time major champions helped spread the wealth around the PGA Tour. In spite of a strong class of rookies, no first-year player won a PGA Tour event in 2009. That streak will likely end in 2010 as Michael Sim, a three-time winner on the Nationwide Tour in '09, and Rory McIlroy, who finished second on the European Tour's Race to Dubai, become full-time PGA Tour members in 2010.
Dubai - The most populous state in the United Arab Emirates hosted two European Tour stops, including the Dubai World Championship, which was the final event on the tour's new Race to Dubai. Even though the prize money was reduced during the season, the final event was thrilling with Lee Westwood not only winning the tournament, but also finishing atop the Race to Dubai standings ahead of 20-year-old Rory McIlroy.
Youth - With tour stalwarts such as Colin Montgomerie, Thomas Levet and Miguel Angel Jimenez either struggling with their games or aging, the European Tour boasts four players in their 20s in the top 20 of the world rankings. They are (from youngest to oldest) 20-year-old McIlroy, 24-year-old Martin Kaymer as well as a pair of 29-year-olds, Ross Fisher and Sergio Garcia.
Seve Ballesteros - The Spaniard continues to recover from brain cancer, but his battle has been an inspiration not only to the tour as a whole, but to his fellow Spaniards on the Tour, three of whom were victorious this season.
Lorena Ochoa and Jiyai Shin - This unlikely duo forged a season-long battle for top honors on tour. Shin won three events, Rookie of the Year honors and topped the money list. Ochoa also won three tournaments and thanks to a birdie on the 18th hole of the season's final event, claimed Player of the Year honors for the fourth straight year.
Michelle Wie - After years in the spotlight, the 20-year-old Wie finally earned her long-awaited first LPGA Tour title. Here's hoping many more will follow.
Michael Whan - The newly-installed tour commissioner will need to re-build the schedule that dwindled to 24 tournaments for the 2010 season. The ShopRite event at the Jersey shore returns to the schedule after a three-year absence. Reintroducing tournaments like this will go a long way towards rebuilding the image of the LPGA Tour, which took a hit during Carolyn Bivens term as commissioner.
Golf Channel - After years of bouncing from network to network, Golf Channel will be the exclusive cable television home for the LPGA starting in 2010. It should be interesting to see how the network balances covering five tours - PGA, Europe, LPGA, Champions and Nationwide - on a regular basis.
Changing of the guard - As the 'old guard' of the Champions Tour begins to fade into the twilight of their careers, there will be plenty of fresh faces to re-invigorate the tour in 2010. Among the old sliding towards the end of their active playing days are the tour's all-time wins leader, 64-year-old Hale Irwin, and the tour's former Iron Man, 62-year-old Dana Quigley, who once started 278 consecutive events for which he was eligible. The next wave of players heading to the Senior circuit includes the likes of Paul Azinger, Mark Calcavecchia, Fred Couples, Kenny Perry and Corey Pavin.
Mainstays - The top-five players in the season-long Charles Schwab Cup points list - Loren Roberts, John Cook, Fred Funk, Bernhard Langer and Jay Haas - accounted for 12 victories and over $9.22 million in earnings in 2009. With a solid crop of newcomers joining the tour, each will have their work cut out to maintain their spot as one of the top players on the Champions Tour.
OCHOA BARELY TOPS SHIN FOR PLAYER OF THE YEAR HONORS
Rarely do you see races for Player of the Year or the money title come down to the last hole, but that is exactly what happened in Monday's final round of the rain-plagued LPGA Tour Championship.
Shin led Ochoa in the Player of the Year race by eight points entering the final event. Cristie Kerr was also in the race, 29 points behind Shin, but needed to win the Tour Championship to be Player of the Year. That didn't happen.
On the 16th hole of the Tour Championship, Ochoa was in second place and Shin shared fifth place. If things ended there, Shin would have won the Player of the Year award. Both players then made bogey on the 17th hole. Despite the dropped shot, Ochoa was now leading the Player of the Year race because Shin fell into a share of eighth, while Ochoa was now tied for second.
Ochoa, who had won the previous three Player of the Year titles, rolled in a clutch birdie putt on the 18th hole to end alone in second place. After she signed her scorecard, Ochoa watched Shin hit two shots that would determine who was Player of the Year.
Shin's second shot to the par-four closing hole stopped short of the green. If she chipped in for birdie, Shin would have ended Ochoa's run as Player of the Year. Shin, already a six-time winner on the LPGA Tour, pitched her birdie effort within inches of the hole and tapped in for par. Ochoa, thanks to her closing birdie, won the Player of the Year race by a single point, 160-159.
- Paul Goydos sure picked the wrong player when awkwardly trying to defend the current era of players in a recent interview. He said there are 10 Lee Trevino's on the PGA Tour today, which was meant as a compliment to current players but ends up as a slap at Trevino, who won six majors and 29 titles in all and could be the most under-appreciated golfer of all time. Outside of Tiger Woods, no regular on the PGA or European Tours has won more than three majors (Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els) and only Woods, Mickelson and Singh have surpassed Trevino's career win total.
- Sweden's Anna Nordqvist had quite a season. At the beginning of the year, she was not fully exempt on the LPGA Tour. But during the season, Nordqvist played well enough to compete on her first Solheim Cup team and won two big LPGA Tour events - the McDonald's LPGA Championship and the LPGA Tour Championship.
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