Tiger's season defined by his win at TPC Sawgrass

Chris Condon/PGA TOUR
Tiger Woods won THE PLAYERS Championship for just the second time in 16 starts.
September 27, 2013
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM

The fact that Tiger Woods was voted the PGA TOUR's Player of the Year on Friday without winning a major is not unprecedented. Three of the 11 times Tiger has won the award, he's done so without benefit of a major.

He's not the only one who can pull off that feat. Recent winners Jim Furyk and Luke Donald also claimed Player of the Year honors despite lacking major credentials.

Certainly it helps to win a major. But the PGA TOUR members who vote on the award obviously haven't made it a requirement.

Of course, if you haven't won a major, you've got to bring something else to the table. Hard to ignore Tiger's five wins this season -- more than twice as many as anybody else on TOUR. An award that's reflective of an entire season was rightfully given to the player who won in four different months.

But it wasn't just about quantity. Tiger's 2013 season came with a singular moment, a statement, a signature achievement he could point to that separates this year from all those other five-win seasons he has produced (10, to be exact).

Winning THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass was that moment.

Consider Tiger's four other wins this year. They came on courses he has mastered -- Torrey Pines, Doral, Bay Hill and Firestone. His career record on those courses: 28 wins in 55 starts. Get the calculator out. That's more than a 50 percent success rate.

You get the feeling that Tiger could be blindfolded, have one hand tied behind his back and just a driver, wedge and putter in his bag and still be in contention on Sunday if he's playing one of those courses.

"There are certain golf courses that I've done well at over the course of my career," Woods said Friday. "No matter how I was playing coming in, whether it was good or bad, I always felt like I was going to have a good week -- Torrey being one, Doral, Augusta and Firestone and Bay Hill.

"Those venues I've got quite a few victories at. I've had a mixed bag of games going into those venues, but for some reason, I've played well."

TPC Sawgrass, however, has never given him that warm, fuzzy feeling.

Sure, he won the 1994 U.S. Amateur there in match-play format. In 2001, he won THE PLAYERS for the first time, that coming during the hottest stretch of his career. Back then, there was no course Tiger couldn't conquer.

But for most of his legendary career, Tiger has been unable to solve Pete Dye's diabolical riddle.

In the ensuing years since that 2001 win, Tiger produced just one top-10 finish in his next 10 PLAYERS starts. In fact, he had more WDs (two) than victories. Wearing the red shirt on Sunday was no help -- just one time between 2002-12 did he produced a score under par in the final round.

Up until this year, Tiger's success rate at TPC Sawgrass was less than 7 percent (1 of 15).

That's what made this year's PLAYERS win so sweet. He not only did it against the strongest field in golf but at a course that has frustrated him like no other.

Asked on Friday which of his five wins was the most significant this year, Tiger didn't hesitate with his response.

Definitely THE PLAYERS.

"I basically haven't had a lot of success there," he said. "To put it together this year and to win there against that quality of a field is a great feeling."

So, no, Tiger didn't win a major this year. He didn't creep closer to Jack Nicklaus' record. He only added to his major drought, which now stands at 18 straight without a win going into Augusta next year.

That's what we tend to focus on because that's what Tiger tends to focus on. Majors have defined his career. Nothing has changed in that regard.

It will remain his biggest question mark until it's no longer a question.

But in 2013, Tiger did what he almost always does -- win more tournaments than anybody else.

Only this time, he did what he almost never does.

Win at TPC Sawgrass.