- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Irrespective of what transpires at the PGA Championship, 2003 will go down as the most surreal season in the history of professional golf.

From Martha Burk to Ben Curtis, Franz Kafka couldn’t have penned a stranger script than the game has given us the last seven months. With only one more major left on the docket, perhaps it’s time to marvel at the inconceivable sequence of events that has carried us to autumn’s stoop without a single predictable step.

We should have known it was going to be a Weir year when a Canadian lefty won the Masters in a playoff without a par on a program without commercials after a week defined by postponements and a protest that never materialized.

But that was only the major consummation of a season colored queer long before the tour arrived at Augusta National. The game had gone bizarre well before April. While Tiger sat sidelined convalescing from knee surgery and Hootie sat stewing amid Burk’s barbs, Ernie Els was busy winning four of his first seven starts and establishing 72-hole scoring records on both the PGA and European tours.

Just when rivalry talk started to blossom, however, Els decided to celebrate his sensational start by beating on a heavy bag in his basement at Wentworth. Some folks choose Dom Perignon; Els apparently prefers pugilism. One self-inflicted wrist injury later, the Big Easy has found the going hard ever since.

After the tour left Hootie and Co. clinging to its male-only policy, it moved on to Texas, where the boys behind the scenes at the Colonial had no problem finding a tee time for golf’s top female.

Enter Annika Sorenstam, who smiled a lot and missed every putt in sight and the cut but made America’s hearts a little warmer and the Colonial’s pockets a little fuller. This was just the first chapter in a season that would see girls play with boys, boys try to play with girls (see Nationwide scrubs Brian Kontak and John Riegger) and old men beat boys (see Craig Stadler).

Then came a U.S. Open that supposedly took place in the Chicago suburbs but actually was held on the outskirts of Gary, Ind., on a soft, helpless layout called Olympia Fields. At 53, Tom Watson made a leader board appearance on Thursday thanks to a magical 65, his ailing longtime caddie, Bruce Edwards, at his side.

The rest of the week was a complete anticlimax. The course never behaved like a U.S. Open track. Our national championship felt more like a Western Open. And rumor has it that career also-ran Jim Furyk won his first major that week before returning home to Florida to have his swing oiled and his circuitry checked.

Before the theater of the absurd headed across the Atlantic for the British Open, a few more outlandish events occurred stateside.

A teenager named Michelle Wie, likely to own a fleet of vehicles before she’s old enough to drive them, became the youngest-ever winner of the U.S. Women’s Public Links Championship and then nearly became an assault victim at the U.S. Women’s Open.

A chunky never-was named Hilary Lunke, who can’t carry the ball farther than 205 yards off the tee, won that Open on the longest course in the history of the event.

And a sartorially challenged 42-year-old rank-and-filer named Kenny Perry, who entered the season with four career tour victories in 17 seasons, won the Greater Milwaukee Open for his third victory in four starts.

Then came the turkey Sandwich, where the quirkiest course on the British Open rota left some guy named Ben (not Crenshaw) Curtis (not Strange) holding the claret jug. Frankly, Curtis should have been the Open’s Len Mattiace/Stephen Leaney. But the quartet of higher profile players chasing him choked even more than the rookie, who made four bogeys in his last six holes and still won.

Curtis had never finished in the top 10 of a PGA Tour event and had played just two rounds of links golf before showing up at St. George’s. Quite simply, most cadavers were drawing shorter odds.

Curtis’ victory means the last four majors have been claimed by first-timers. The last time that happened was in 1996-97, when Steve Jones, Tom Lehman, Mark Brooks and Tiger formed the quartet. Even though Woods has now gone five majors without a win, another surprise of sorts, we can’t mention Curtis in the same sentence with Woods without cackling.

A return to the States brought no return to normalcy, as Stadler became the first Champions Tour player to win a regular PGA Tour event (B.C. Open) one week before 49-year-old Peter Jacobsen broke a seven-year slump at the Greater Hartford Open. That’s the same event in which Suzy Whaley (75-78), a middle-aged female club pro, proved she was a considerably better golfer than former world No.1 David Duval, who opened with an 83 and closed with a WD (Whaley Dominated, Whiskey Double, Where’s David, etc).

That leaves Stadler, Jacobsen and Watson, who won last week’s Senior British Open, as the three hottest players on the planet. That looks like a who’s who in golf from 1984, which was the last time those three won events in the same season.

Finally, even Monday night’s Battle at the Bridges followed suit for the season. Tiger was pedestrian. Els looked more like a 2-handicapper than the world’s No.2 player. Phil Mickelson won something in prime time. And Sergio Garcia actually holed a putt, even if it was in the dark.

Given the season thus far, the only safe bet heading into next month’s PGA Championship is to expect the unexpected. We’ll take the threesome of chaos, insanity and incredulity.

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