- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2002

With the four majors behind us and the golf season cruising toward its conclusion, it's time to take a look at the game's most compelling stories of the year. Here's a look at our picks for golf's top topics of the season call it our back nine for 2002:
1. Brutish Open
Tiger's Grand Slam bid ended in spectacular fashion in the high winds, 30-degree wind chill and horizontal rains of Saturday at Muirfield. Woods entered third-round play just two strokes behind eventual champion and co-leader Ernie Els but posted the worst round of his career (81) in the merciless conditions and concluded the round 11 strokes in arrears of Els.
Considering the magnitude of the Slam-crippling occasion, Woods handled his disappointment beautifully, mocking himself after a birdie late in the round and matter-of-factly discussing his most humiliating day as a pro with the media. Both his ghastly round and his comportment afterward humanized Woods, who had spent most of his career convincing us he was a bloodless immortal.
2. Hazeltine's shocking Sunday
For the third consecutive year, the PGA Championship provided the most dramatic theater of the Slam season. The finale produced the most unexpected script in recent major history, mocking conventional wisdom at every turn.
Third-round leader Justin Leonard, who entered the event with the reputation as an unflappable grinder, did his best Greg Norman imitation, drowning himself quicker than the Shark at the 1996 Masters. Notoriously queasy-stomached Rich Beem charged instead of choking, becoming the most obscure major champion since Paul Lawrie won at Carnoustie (1999). And a stunned Tiger Woods was blindsided by Beem's resolve, staggering to consecutive back-nine bogeys before sprinting home for his first runner-up finish in a major.
3. Senior moment
In easily the best head-to-head duel of the season at any level, Don Pooley needed five playoff holes to edge Tom Watson in the Senior U.S. Open at Caves Valley (Baltimore). Belying his reputation as one of the game's poorest putters, Watson birdied six of the final 10 holes to force the playoff with Pooley. Both men then played the extra holes under par, Pooley halving the fourth playoff hole with a clutch six-footer for birdie and then pouring in almost the same putt from 10 feet for the clinching birdie. The victory snapped a 15-year drought for Pooley on the PGA and Senior PGA Tours, and the show gave the ailing senior circuit a rare reason for celebration.
4. Battle at the Belfry
Though next month's event hasn't received much publicity to date, the year-late Ryder Cup can't help but become one of golf's biggest stories of the season. Between the impact of September 11, which forced the postponement of the event, and the absence of Payne Stewart, next month's matches outside of Birmingham, England, should provide one of the most emotionally charged weeks of the season.
5. New York state of mind
The people's open at Bethpage State Park on Long Island was memorable for myriad reasons. The Black Course, the first muni layout in Open history, proved to be the toughest test of the major season. The New York fans, notorious for their boisterous blather, showed up in record numbers and gave Sergio Garcia an offensive earful for his re-gripping routine and whiny ways. And Woods, clearly the people's choice, enjoyed the climax of his season by collecting the second leg of the Grand Slam.
6. So long, Slammin' Sam
On May 23, just four days shy of his 90th birthday, Sam Snead passed away, leaving us with only memories of the sweetest swing ever contrived. Snead won more PGA Tour events (81) than any man in history and is tied for seventh on the Grand Slam list with seven majors. He regularly stunned us with his wit. And right through his last appearance as an honorary starter at this year's Masters, he always stunned us with his longevity. His legacy defies description.
7. Inkster over Annika
More than two decades after winning the first of her three U.S. Women's Amateur Championships at Prairie Dunes, 42-year-old Juli Inkster capped her Hall-of-Fame career by returning to the Kansas layout and outlasting favorite Annika Sorenstam at the U.S. Women's Open in July. In one of the most impressive short-game displays of the season, Inkster posted a closing 66, matching the lowest score in the tournament's history, to win her seventh major by two strokes over Sorenstam.
8. Duval the Duffer
On the heels of his major breakout at Lytham & St. Annes, 30-year-old David Duval completely lost his game. Duval ended last year ranked third in the world after his British Open victory, but has spent all of this season spiraling into oblivion. Plagued by his suddenly erratic driver, Duval missed the cut in the season's first two majors, has recorded just one top-10 finish this season (T4 at Memorial) and has plummeted to 11th in the world rankings.
9. Augusta National angst
The PC police attacked Augusta National for not having a woman on its membership roster. When Tiger Woods shares the indifference of 99 percent of the population on the subject, misguided members of the media blast him for not taking a stand against the club. Apparently, the 26-year-old Woods is supposed to be more than just the world's best golfer; he's supposed to be the champion of every minority cause even incredibly trivial ones.

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