ATLANTA -- The start of the PGA Tour season held great promise for Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson and anyone else who had designs on winning money, winning tournaments, winning majors and toppling Tiger Woods.
At the end of the year, not much has changed.
The Tour Championship, which starts Thursday at East Lake Golf
Club, closes the books on a year in which 17 players won for the
first time -- and Woods again won far more than anyone else.
He already has clinched the money title.
Barring four straight rounds like the British Open Saturday he
had at Muirfield (a career-high 81), he'll easily win the Vardon
Trophy for lowest scoring average.
Woods already has won five times on tour. No one else has won
more than twice.
More than just golf's version of the All-Star Game, the Tour
Championship is supposed to decide who wins all the awards.
For the fourth straight year, Woods has removed any suspense.
''With 17 first-time winners this year, and he's still able to
win as much as he has? Unbelievable,'' Charles Howell III said.
''To see the discrepancy between where he is on the money list and
the 30th guy -- even the second guy -- shows you with as many great
players as there are, he's still that far ahead.''
The second guy would be Mickelson, who was shocked to hear that
he has won more than $4 million for the third straight year.
Still, the gap grew even wider this year.
Woods won two majors, the Masters and the U.S. Open. Mickelson
still has none.
Woods has earned $2.6 million more than Mickelson going into the
Tour Championship. A year ago, the margin was just over $1 million.
Mickelson was no slouch.
He still won twice and gave himself two more chances in the
''Nothing is going to haunt me,'' Mickelson said. ''I've enjoyed
this year. It's been a transitional year because it's our first
year traveling with two children. I feel like I've played well with
some off-course challenges.''
His goal for next year is to work on his driving accuracy, and
he already has a new Titleist driver that enables him to stand
taller at address and not alter his swing to get the ball higher in
Garcia stated his goals clearly in January. He wanted to become
the first player to win the money title on both sides of the
Atlantic, and he showed how serious he was by winning the
season-opening Mercedes Championships.
That proved to be his only PGA Tour victory this year, and
Garcia didn't even finish in the top 10 on the money list.
''I'm not disappointed about it at all,'' the 22-year-old
Spaniard said. ''I think the level of golf that I played was good.
Unfortunately, I had a little bit of a slump with my putter
throughout the middle of the season where I felt like I should have
won some big tournaments.''
At least he won a PGA Tour event.
Six players who qualified for the Tour Championship by finishing
in the top 30 on the money list have one last chance. That includes
David Toms, who said a victory at East Lake would determine whether
his season was great or simply successful.
Toms is the only player in the top 10 on the money list without
a victory this year. He lost in a playoff at the Mercedes and
finished second two other times, including last week at the Buick
Challenge despite finishing 26 under.
''It hasn't been a great year when you're used to winning,''
said Toms, who has won seven times over the last six years,
including a major. ''If you're measuring by money, maybe so. But to
me, it's all about winning, especially when you've had chances.''
When it was suggested that Toms at least has put himself in
position to win, he wanted no part of it.
''You mean like being the Buffalo Bills? All anyone ever talks
about them is how they got to the Super Bowl and didn't win,'' he
said. ''I don't want to be thought of that way.''
The awards have already been decided, but that doesn't mean an
end to the excitement.
A year ago at Champions Golf Club in Houston, four players wound
up in a playoff, two trying to avoid a winless season on tour --
Mike Weir and Ernie Els. Weir wound up winning with a 5-foot birdie
putt on the first extra hole.
Weir didn't not qualify for the Tour Championship, the first
time since Billy Mayfair in 1996 that a defending champion didn't
finish in the top 30 on the money list the following year.