September 7, 2009

Role Reversal

Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods are ­favored to win the tour's top year-end awards--just not the awards you might think

Despite a final-round 63 at the Deutsche Bank, Woods finished five strokes back of winner Steve Stricker and fell to second in the ­FedEx Cup standings.

Despite a final-round 63 at the Deutsche Bank, Woods finished five strokes back of winner Steve Stricker and fell to second in the ­FedEx Cup standings.

What does it say about the 2009 season that the two-time Comeback Player of the Year has an opportunity to win Player of the Year, and the nine-time Player of the Year is the favorite for Comeback Player of the Year?

It says that Deutsche Bank Championship winner Steve Sticker and Tiger Woods have reversed roles with two tournaments remaining in the playoffs. Stricker, who birdied the final hole at TPC Boston for his third win of the year, has taken the lead in the FedEx Cup points standings. If he retains that lead over the final two weeks of the season he has a good chance of being named the tour's player of the year, especially if he manages to win one of the remaining two playoff events. Woods, coming off ACL surgery to win five times in 2009, is the top candidate for the comeback award, though he can still win top player honors, too.

Stricker, the comeback award winner in 2006 and 2007, made another return this year—although not from injury or slump. After devastating losses at the Bob Hope Classic, where he shot 77 Sunday with the lead, and the Northern Trust Open, where he bogeyed the 72nd hole to lose by a stroke to Phil Mickelson, Stricker has won three times in his last nine starts. "Deer season is right around the corner," he said. "Seriously, you want to play well at this time of the year. There's a lot on the line."

The race for the Rookie of the Year award, the PGA Tour's third individual honor, is not a done deal either. And it's not a battle between the international "it" kids of spring: Rory McIlroy, Ryo Ishikawa or Danny Lee. As non-tour members, none of them is eligible. The favorite is Webb Simpson, one of just two rookies to qualify for the BMW Championship. In addition to Woods, Stricker and Simpson, here is a look at the candidates for the three awards, which will be voted on by tour members after the Fall Series.

‘, you want to play well at this time of year. There's a lot on the line.' Steve Stricker

Player of the Year

Woods has won the Jack Nicklaus Trophy nine times in the past 12 years, losing only to Mark O'Meara (1998), Vijay Singh (2004) and Padraig Harrington (2008). With five wins—the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Memorial, his own ATT National, the Buick Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational—Woods had three more victories than anyone else going into the playoffs. But after the first two playoff events this race is up for grabs, with Stricker's victories at the Crowne Plaza Invitational and the John Deere Classic added to his early postseason success. It remains to be seen how much Stricker will be rewarded for his playoff run—he still has to finish the deal at Cog Hill and East Lake, but sentimentally, he would be a favorite among the players. Masters champion Angel Cabrera (T-4 at Deutsche Bank) is a long-shot contender, but he would have to win the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship to be considered for the award.

Comeback Player of the Year

Based on single-event performances, Tom Watson (British Open) and David Duval (U.S. Open) would get consideration, but Watson returned to the Champions Tour after his playoff loss to Stewart Cink at Turnberry, and Duval has disappeared since his T-2 at Bethpage Black. Retief Goosen has made a comeback, but only from a driving and putting slump. Dinged-up and burned-out David Toms was 131st on the 2008 money list—his first time outside the top 50 in 11 years—was 15th on the money list after the Deutsche Bank with seven top-10 finishes. PGA champion Y.E. Yang was more of a come-from-nowhere, ranking 460th in the world when he won the Honda Classic. They are all compelling stories, but coming back from major reconstructive knee surgery to win five times is the reason why Woods said at the PGA he didn't have to win a major to make this a successful year. He's a shoo-in for this one.

Rookie of the Year

Simpson, the wholesome Wake Forest grad, finished T-7 at Q school and followed that with top-10s in his first two events of 2009. He didn't have another until the Barclays, where he led after the second round and finished with a pair of 72s for an eighth-place finish. He's 51st on the ­FedEx points standings. Marc Leishman, the long-hitting Australian joined Simpson as the only rookies to advance into the third event of the playoffs. Leishman followed his brilliant 62 in the second round of the Deutsche Bank with a 72 in round three, and was outside the projected top 70 until he made an eight-foot eagle putt at the last hole to finish off a 69—273. His T-15 finish moved him to 67th on the standings. Unlike the other two awards, the rookie honoree likely will be determined during the Fall Series, where a victory by a first-year player could do more for their chances than a 67th-place finish on the ­FedEx Cup list.