ATLANTA -- A record 18 first-time winners this season showed why the PGA Tour is deeper than ever. Another remarkable year by Tiger Woods showed how far everyone has to go to catch him.
"He continues to astound," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said.
When the 2002 season ended at the Tour Championship on Sunday, Woods claimed his fourth straight money title, his fourth straight scoring title, and he is a lock to capture his fourth straight Player of the Year award when the votes are tallied.
Did anything really change?
"To see the discrepancy between where he is on the money list and the 30th guy - even the second guy - just shows you that with as many great players as there are, he's still that far ahead," Charles Howell III said.
"It's something to work towards. Helps me get out of bed in the morning."
Howell might want to roll over and go back to sleep.
The number of new winners, and the fact that 38 players won the 48 events on the PGA Tour schedule, only emphasized Woods' continued dominance.
Phil Mickelson finished No. 2 behind Woods for the third straight year. Not only did Lefty fail to win his first major - he's now 0-for-38 as a professional - he rarely played better than Woods in the same tournament.
Woods and Mickelson played in the same event 15 times. Mickelson finished higher than Woods only twice, including the Tour Championship (by one stroke).
The separation is even more staggering on the money list. Woods won more money in his five best tournaments than Mickelson earned in 26 tournaments.
Mickelson wasn't the only victim.
Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Sergio Garcia finished higher than Woods in only four events, while David Toms and Davis Love III were better in three of them.
The explanation is simple.
When Woods tied for seventh at the Tour Championship, it was only the fourth time since the first week of March that he finished out of the top five.
"You can't win tournaments unless you're up there a lot," Woods said. "You're not going to win every one. But you'll win."
Woods won five times, making him the first player since Tom Watson in 1977-80 to win at least that many four years in a row. He also won in Germany, the fifth straight year he won at least one overseas tournament.
Most satisfying to Woods were the majors.
He won the Masters and U.S. Open by three strokes, becoming the first player since Jack Nicklaus in 1972 to win the first two majors. He finished second in the PGA Championship behind Rich Beem, but only after finishing with four straight birdies.
The only black mark in the majors - and on his season - was that nasty little 81 in the third round of the British Open at Muirfield.
He responded the next day with a 65.
"I'm tickled to death," Woods said Sunday when asked to assess his season. "Any time you can win a major, it's a great year. And I got two of them."
The other went to Els, who captured the British Open after playing 77 holes.
The rest of the season was a mixture of young and old.
Howell was among the new blood in golf, winning his first tournament at age 23 and coming two strokes short at the Tour Championship. He finished in the top 10 on the money list, and figures to keep climbing.
Garcia, 22, won the season-opening Mercedes Championship and had big plans to become the first player to win the money title on the PGA and European tours. Instead, he failed to finish in the top 10 on either side of the Atlantic.
Jonathan Byrd (24), Luke Donald (24), and Matt Kuchar (25) also won for the first time.
Some of the newcomers were hardly rookies.
Jerry Kelly won for the first time in his 200th start at the Sony Open, and Len Mattiace won on his 235th try at the Nissan Open. Both went on to win again.
Craig Parry went 235 tournaments before he bagged his first one at Sahalee at a World Golf Championship.
Craig Perks of New Zealand became the first guy to make The Players Championship his first victory with the most amazing finish of the year - a chip-in for eagle, a long birdie putt on the island-green 17th, and a chip-in for par.
Despite another great season by Woods, it often looks as though he's not performing at his top level because every year is compared with his 2000 season, when he won nine times, including the final three majors.
"I hit the ball almost as good as I did in 2000, but I just didn't hit it as close," Woods said. "When you've got the confidence, you're rolling. You can fire at just about any flag. This year, I was more conservative.
"Nonetheless ... six worldwide wins," Woods said. "It's not bad."
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