PHILADELPHIA - For as long as golfers retreat to the 19th hole to talk about the mysteries of the game over beer and pretzels, 1996 will be remembered as the Year of the Tiger.
And with good reason. With his third consecutive U.S. Amateur Championship, then two quick victories on the PGA tour, Woods gives every indication that he is the future of golf. But 1996 was much more than only Tiger.
For a review, let's reflect on a few of the "bests" of 1996.
Best golf memory. You can take all the neck-and-neck finishes from all the tours around the world this year, add 'em up, multiply by three, and they still can't match the excitement of Woods' victory over Steve Scott in the U.S. Amateur in Portland, Ore., in August. Woods was 5 down with 18 to play before coming back to capture his unprecedented third consecutive Amateur title.
Not only did it establish the young Southern Californian as the greatest amateur since Bobby Jones, it was a coming-out party that probably won't end until Woods retires from the Senior Tour.
Next-best golf memory. Next-best for everybody except Greg Norman, that is.
We allude, of course, to the 1996 Masters, in which the Great White Shark fired a first-round 63, followed that with a 69 and a 71, and by Sunday was able to stride confidently to the first tee with a six-stroke lead that seemed insurmountable.
But over the next four hours, the golf world witnessed perhaps the most excruciating collapse in the history of the game. Norman, no stranger to heartbreak on the golf course, soared to a humiliating 78, while Nick Faldo cruised to a near-perfect 67, winning by 5 strokes.
"Other" best rookie of the year. While Woods deservedly snatched most of the golf headlines this year, an Australian by the name of Karrie Webb quietly lit up the women's tour.
Webb, 21, became the first woman to win $1 million in a year, finishing second-first-second in her first three tournaments and stealing the spotlight from long-ball hitter Laura Davies and LPGA darling Annika Sorenstam.
Best player of the year. He doesn't have Woods' raw ability, or Norman's flash, but Tom Lehman proved he has the kind of grit and determination to win the big one (British Open, PGA Championship) and PGA Tour player of the year honors.
At 37, Lehman has climbed out of a golfing grave. A mini-tour vet who was nearly forced to become a college golf coach, Lehman somehow gathered himself up and by sheer force of will became the player he could be.
Best nostalgic moment. For golfers of a certain age, the highlight of the year may have been Tom Watson's convincing victory at the Memorial Tournament in June.
Perhaps the last truly dominant player in the game (29 wins, seven majors, six player-of-the-year awards), Watson hadn't won since the '87 Nabisco Championships of Golf. His ball-striking ability hadn't deserted him, but his putter had.
But on a rainy weekend last summer, the 47-year-old Watson managed to overcome his yips long enough to give another generation a glimpse of what he was like in the '70s. If watching Watson's momentary return to glory didn't tug at your heartstrings, nothing will.
Best showing by a local. It looked for a while as if Jay Sigel might never get his second win on the Senior tour.
But thanks to a season-ending 9-under-par showing at the Senior Tour Championship in Myrtle Beach, S.C., last month, the Berwyn resident capped his season with his second win and broke the $1 million mark, finishing sixth on the money list.
He celebrated by coming home and going to work at his insurance agency.
Best showing by a local amateur. After battling mononucleosis for much of the summer, Huntingdon Valley's O. Gordon Brewer nabbed his second U.S. Senior Amateur Championship in Williamstown, Mass., in September.
Brewer, 59, a member of Huntingdon Valley, Pine Valley and the USGA's Executive Committee, celebrated by rushing home to return to work as vice president of finance at Alco Standard.
Next-best showing by a local amateur. Berwyn's Buddy Marucci, who took Woods to the wire in last year's Amateur, proved his presence on the final day of competition was no fluke.
This year, Marucci, one of the oldest competitors at 44, came back from 2 down on the backside but bogeyed the 18th hole to lose in the quarterfinals to Steve Scott.
Best new course. No question, Hartefeld National, the public championship layout in Avondale. If you don't believe us, ask Golf Digest, which recently named Hartefeld one of its top 10 new upscale daily fee courses in the country.
It's pricey - $75 for green fees and carts - but it's worth it if you want to impress a loved one or client. The downside to Hartefeld, other than the price, is that it's in the middle of nowhere. The upside is that premier designer Tom Fazio has given this area a much-needed top-drawer public golf course.
Best of the rest. Overbrook Golf Club assistant pro Gene Fieger nabbed the DeBaufre Trophy for low stroke average in the Philadelphia PGA Section. J.R. Delich, an unaffiliated pro from Newtown Square, was named senior player of the year. ... Fieger's boss, Overbrook head pro Stu Ingraham, was one of only two club pros to make the cut at the PGA Championship in Louisville, Ky. ... The Golf Association of Philadelphia toasted the year with a centennial celebration that included the publication of a book - "A Centennial Tribute to Golf in Philadelphia," by Jim Finnegan - that is a remarkably comprehensive and historic look at the sport as it unfolded here.
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