With the season just two meaningful silver cups from completion (Ryder and FedEx), it’s time to reflect on yet another memorable year in golf. Call it the front nine, golf’s top stories of 2008:
1. The royal knee. The last time a single joint received this much attention, Clinton didn’t inhale. Nobody cares about the two missed majors except Mr. Nielsen. The only important thing is that Tiger Woods returns to full strength at some point next season.
Ernie Els says he needed 18 months to return to normal after he totaled his right ACL while on holiday after the 2005 British Open. Obviously, that kind of a time frame would cost Tiger another entire season of major misses, and that’s not going to happen; he would chew off the offending appendage first. But those who think Woods will be 100 percent by next year’s Masters are sorely mistaken (pun intended).
“As far as swinging a club, that’s not going to happen until next year,” Woods wrote in the latest edition of his newsletter. “I just don’t have a choice. We simply don’t know what type of swelling there would be or if there would be residual effects the next day once you start wheeling and dealing on the knee.”
Once the knee is healthy, it will be interesting to see whether Woods changes his technique; some of his unparalleled power comes at the expense of that leading left knee.
2. Dublin double. Yes, Padraig Harrington‘s back-to-back victories in the season’s final two majors take precedence over Tiger’s victory on one wheel at the U.S. Open. Why? Well, for one, Harrington played better … on tougher courses … in both finales … then Woods played at Torrey Pines.
If Tiger had posted back-nine 32s to win the season’s final two majors, golf fans would be in a monthlong dither. As it is, Harrington’s Tigeresque performances at Birkdale and Oakland Hills helped offset Woods’ absence and show what heroism looked like before Tiger terrorized the tour. With his toughness, course management skills and uncanny ability to drop big putts, Harrington is reminiscent of an Irish Payne Stewart.
3. Torrey pioneer. It has been discussed ad nauseam, but it’s still hard to believe what was witnessed at the U.S. Open. Woods winning in a playoff odyssey on one leg on the longest major venue in history was staggering. Watching him will himself through the pain on the weekend, often bowed but never broken, qualified as the most amazing theater golf has seen since the 1997 Masters.
4. Shark sighting. Deep down it was clear Greg Norman couldn’t win the British Open at 53. But for 63 holes at blustery Birkdale, he gave golf one hell of a nostalgic ride.
5. Hello Lorena / Goodbye Annika. Just when the 27-year-old Mexican blossoms into a bona fide superstar, golf’s legendary Swedish sensation decides to retire to motherhood.
6. Kim-petuous. In the midst of a great season for twentysomethings, Tiger’s Tom Watson comes of age in the form of 23-year-old prodigy Anthony Kim. Even after two wins and a Ryder Cup berth, Kim likely isn’t finished making headlines this season.
7. More to come. The patriotism will get a little out of hand among the fans in Louisville at the Sept. 19-21 Ryder Cup. Expect a return to the unseemly behavior of Brookline in 1999 … and an upset by the Americans.
8. Ken-tucky. In his quest to make the Ryder Cup squad for the competition in his home state, 47-year-old Kenny Perry racked up three victories … and reams of criticism for skipping the U.S. and British opens. By the way, there’s a reason Perry doesn’t do majors; he’s 0-for-41 with two top-five finishes.
9. Youth movement. From the Masters victory of 28-year-old South African Trevor Immelman to the Latin stylings of Camilo Villegas and Andres Romero to the transatlantic tandem of Kim and Martin Kaymer, twentysomething stars have spent all season shining.