Posted by: Mike Cornelius | December 5, 2010

Furyk And Fowler, Deserving Winners of PGA Tour’s Awards

The PGA Tour’s qualifying school finals grind on in Orlando, as golf’s have-nots fight desperately for a place on the Tour. Meanwhile the haves have been busy passing out season-end awards. Yesterday it was announced that in voting by the players, Jim Furyk was selected as Player of the Year and Rickie Fowler was chosen as 2010’s top rookie. Both golfers had some competition for their awards; but in the end, the right guys won.

After seventeen years and thirteen previous wins on the Tour, Furyk broke a 2 ½ year winless slump by recording three victories this year. The first was in March at the Transitions Championship, played at the notoriously difficult Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Golf Club in Florida. The second came a month later when he defeated Englishman Brian Davis in a playoff at the Verizon Heritage, played at the venerable Harbour Town links on Hilton Head Island. In that playoff, Furyk was the beneficiary when Davis called a penalty on himself after his club illegally grazed a piece of grass during his backswing while hitting out of a hazard by the 18th green. Furyk’s third win came at the end of the Tour’s four tournament playoff series in September. He won the Tour Championship by one stroke over Luke Donald when he saved par from a greenside bunker on the tournament’s final hole. The normally placid guy from the Pittsburgh suburbs exulted when that winning putt fell into the hole; and he wept when talking during the trophy presentation about the role his club pro father played in developing his game.

By winning the Tour Championship Furyk also laid claim to the 2010 FedEx Cup, the championship trophy given to the golfer accumulating the most points based on his finishes in all tournaments throughout the season. Furyk was the only golfer to win three times this year. That fact plus his FedEx Cup win made him the clear favorite for Player of the Year.

While the voting is done by secret ballot and the Tour doesn’t release specific results, it’s a safe bet that Furyk’s closest competition came from Matt Kuchar. The 32-year old burst onto the golf scene back in 1998 when, in the field on the basis of being the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, he contended at The Masters. Just 19 years old at the time, Kuchar also played well in June of that year at the U.S. Open. While most golfers with “low amateur” at back-to-back majors on their playing resume would immediately turn pro, Kuchar went back to college and even spent a year working in the business world before joining the professional ranks in 2000. But after recording his first professional victory in 2002, his career was largely undistinguished until this time last year. That’s when Kuchar finally won for the second time on the PGA Tour, at the Turning Stone Resort Championship. He used that victory as a springboard into an outstanding 2010 season. He led the Tour in top ten finishes with 11, led the money list and won the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average. He also recorded his third career victory at The Barclay’s, the first of the four FedEx Cup playoff events. In the end Kuchar finished second in the FedEx Cup standings to Furyk.

It’s certainly possible that if their FedEx Cup positions had been reversed, Kuchar might have bested Furyk for Player of the Year. But in the end as in every sport the goal is to win. Furyk’s winning three tournaments plus the Cup gave him a clear edge over Kuchar’s remarkably consistent season. And while the award is ostensibly for a player’s performance this year, Furyk also had the advantage of a greater overall “body of work” as they say at the Oscars. Sixteen career victories demand recognition far more than three.

Rookie of the Year Fowler is still looking for his first career win, but everyone feels certain that it and many more will be coming soon. Fowler turned pro following the 2009 Walker Cup matches where he posted a perfect 4-0-0 record. He nearly won enough money in a handful of late season events last fall to avoid having to go to Q-School. After easily earning his 2010 Tour card at Q-School, he recorded seven top ten finishes this year, including a pair of seconds at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and The Memorial.

Fowler was a somewhat controversial captain’s pick to this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team. But he proved his mettle in the final day’s singles matches. Playing Edoardo Molinari, Fowler fell behind early and was 4 down after 12 holes. But he halved the next two and then put together a string of four consecutive birdies over the finishing holes to tie the match and earn a half-point for the U.S. squad.

While only 5’ 9” and 150 pounds, the diminutive Fowler is still impossible to miss on the golf course, thanks to his fondness for matching outfits of shirt, pants, and shoes in fluorescent hues. The final round color of choice is always bright orange, in honor of his alma mater Oklahoma State University.

At 21, Fowler is the youngest Rookie of the Year since 20-year old Tiger Woods in 1996. His closest competitor for the award was most likely another 21 year old, Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy. McIlroy did record his first PGA Tour victory in May, a 4-shot victory at the Wells Fargo Championship highlighted by a torrid 10-under par 62 in the final round. But while technically a rookie since this was his first year as a PGA Tour member, McIlroy came into 2010 already an established international star, ranked 9th in the world. Fowler on the other hand started the year ranked 249th. By season’s end, his play between the ropes had moved him all the way up to 25th in the world. It’s no wonder his fellow pros saw fit to acknowledge that performance. Or maybe they voted for him because there’s no separate award for looking good in fluorescent orange

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