The 2007 PGA Tour season will begin in a little over a month, and The FedEx Cup will be in full swing. Before that, it's time to officially put the 2006 season to rest. As usual, there were a lot of great memories mixed in with some bad ones. New golfers emerged onto the scene, while some of the big guns limped their way throughout the season.
Tiger added two more major championships to his trophy case, and Phil added one more as well. A young Aussie stepped up in a big way to win a major championship of his own, and the Europeans once again had their way with the United States in the Ryder Cup. All these memories and more made 2006 a great season. I've picked out some of the most memorable storylines from the past year, and I hope you enjoy!
The Year of the Tiger
Tiger Woods won two major championships this year, giving him a total of 12 for his career. Woods also finished the PGA Tour season out with six consecutive wins, and that streak will pick up in January. Tiger won the player of the year and money title once again and would have won the Vardon Trophy if he would have played enough rounds. He was as dominant or more dominant than he was in 2000.
Tiger started the year by defending his Buick Invitational and Ford Championship at Doral titles, before coming very close to winning a fifth green jacket at The Masters. Shortly thereafter, Tiger's father passed away which was a sad loss for the entire golf world. Tiger wasn't the same at The U.S. Open, missing the cut by several shots. He bounced back after that, however, and hasn't looked back since.
Tiger put on a wonderful iron display at The British Open in July, and he outlasted a few of the PGA Tour's brightest stars en route to winning The PGA Championship at Medinah. All in all, Woods won eight PGA Tour events in 2006 and won almost $10 million in prize money. It's safe to say this season was the year of the Tiger! I have a good feeling he will win a tournament or two next year as well.
A Colombian Emergence
Every season, new golfers make waves on the PGA Tour. Early this season, it was all about Camilo Villegas, the young Colombian sensation. Villegas didn't win an event like fellow rookies J.B. Holmes, Trevor Immelman, or Troy Matteson, but he took the golf world by storm nonetheless. Villegas played his way onto the PGA Tour via the Nationwide Tour and won't be heading back anytime soon.
Throughout the Florida Swing in March, Villegas' name was a fixture at the top of leaderboards. He finished in a tie for second at Doral and a tie for third at The Players Championship. The young Colombian fizzled out a little bit later in the season, but he still finished 38th on the season-ending money list. Villegas is a great young golfer, and he has been very marketable as well with his flashy sense of style. There is no doubt he will be a cornerstone of the PGA Tour for years to come.
For many years, Greg Norman's name was attached to Australian golf. Norman's best playing days are behind him, but that hasn't stopped his fellow countrymen from tearing through the PGA Tour over the past year. Right now, there are 10 Australian golfers ranked inside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Rankings. The golfers from down under won a total of eight PGA Tour events in 2006, including a World Golf Championship event, The U.S. Open, and The Tour Championship.
Geoff Ogilvy won the Accenture Match Play Championship early in the season, and he won The U.S. Open at Winged Foot in June. He became the first Australian golfer to win a major since Steve Elkington won the 1995 PGA Championship. Ogilvy had a career year and is now ranked inside the top ten in the world. Adam Scott didn't win until the last event of the season, but it was a big one. Scott won The Tour Championship and finished third on the money list.
Other Australian golfers that tasted victory in 2006 include Stuart Appleby (twice), Rod Pampling, Aaron Baddeley, and John Senden. The Aussies are a great group of golfers and should be very tough to beat in the future. This past year was definitely no fluke because these guys have serious game!
Phil Mickelson finished off the 2005 season by winning The PGA Championship at Baltusrol. Lefty started 2006 by winning his second green jacket at The Masters. The talk of a possible "Mickelslam" surfaced going into The U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Mickelson was one par away from winning this third consecutive major championship, and then all hell broke loose.
Lefty decided to stay agressive and hit driver off the 72nd hole, but he pushed his tee shot badly. He decided to hit another agressive shot for his second and paid for that as well. After it was all said and done, Mickelson carded a double bogey and lost The U.S. Open to Geoff Ogilvy by one shot. It's very apparent that Lefty hasn't been the same since, as he limped through the rest of his season. The final hour or so of the 2006 U.S. Open was a rollercoaster ride that I will never forget, and it's obvious Phil Mickelson won't forget it anytime soon either.
European Ryder Cup Domination
United States golf fans, including myself, thought Tom Lehman had the recipe for success going into The 2006 Ryder Cup. The Europeans weren't buying it, however, and they put another record-tying beatdown on the Americans to retain the Ryder Cup. Tiger wasn't his best, and Phil should have stayed at home. The Europeans made the big shots and putts when it counted the most, and they deserved the win once again.
The camaraderie of the United States team seemed to be at an all-time high, but it didn't really matter. Not only did the Europeans get along with each other better, they also proved they have just as much talent in the singles department as they do in the team aspect of things. The golfers from across the pond won all five sessions in convincing fashion. This event was definitely the low point for me as a golf fan in 2006. Not even Charles Howell III's ongoing inconsistency topped this.
South African Struggles
Ernie Els and Retief Goosen have been fixtures in the top five for the past couple years, but 2006 wasn't as pretty for the South Africans. Fellow countrymen Rory Sabbatini and Trevor Immelman won PGA Tour events, but Els and Goosen were shutout in the win department. In fact, Els hasn't won a PGA Tour event since 2004, and Goosen's last victory was the 2005 International.
Els was awful at the beginning of the season before fighting back late in the year and earning a spot in The Tour Championship. But it wasn't the same Big Easy we are accustomed to watching every week. Els finished third at The British Open, but he was outside the top 15 in the other major championships. Hopefully his strong finish will lead to great things in 2006, but for now, Els has some work to do before returning to the top five in the world rankings.
Goosen is still ranked fifth in the world, but he definitely didn't play like it for most of 2006. After starting off the year with great consistency, things turned for the worse as the year went along. The easy-going South African seemed more impatient than ever before, even hiring a swing coach for the first time late in the season. Other than Goosen's second-place finish at The Tour Championship, he had zero top-ten finishes after April. Hopefully his strong finish at East Lake will springboard him into 2007, but that remains to be seen. Things in the golf world are definitely better when Els and Goosen are playing to their potential.
Lord Byron Passes Away
Last but most certainly not least was the passing of Byron Nelson. Words can't really describe how much Nelson has meant to the game of golf, and things will remain that way forever. Lord Byron was as classy as they come, and he was a definite legend in the sport. There is no doubt he will be missed, and this article wouldn't have been the same without a mention of one of the best ever.
The Final Say
I know I left out a lot of great things about the 2006 PGA Tour season, but I had to stop somewhere. I could write all day about the good, the bad, and the ugly of this past year on the PGA Tour. It was a long season, but these things I listed stick out to me more than any of the others. Most of them are great memories, but a couple are bad. That's the beauty of the sport.
There is no telling how The FedEx Cup will work out in 2007, but I hope it brings the game to another level. The 2006 season will be tough to beat, but it won't hurt my feelings any if things continue to get more and more exciting as the years pass by. Hopefully this time next year I'll be talking about how great the 2007 season turned out instead of talking about how things could have been better. We will all have to wait and see how things go. Until then, there is always hope.
I'm closing the book on 2006, and it's probably time for you to do the same. What was your favorite memory from this past season? Also, what was your least favorite memory from the past year? If you have anything to add, feel free to comment below or discuss it in the forum. Thanks for reading this week's Thrash Talk and also for making things so fun for me in 2006.