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Woods vs. Mickelson for Player of the Year

September 28th, 2013 · 8 Comments

There are, or should be, two Player of the Year Awards.

The standard award goes to the PGA Tour Player of the Year. Notice the modifier. This year, Tiger Woods won it again on the strength of his five win season, which included victories at his usual haunts – Torrey Pines, Doral, Bay Hill, and Firestone, and a W at The Players, which was arguably his most impressive win because he has struggled on TPC Sawgrass (he was 1 win in 15 starts prior to 2013).

So, Woods is the PGA Tour’s POY, but would he be simply the Player of the Year if the award was based on a player’s complete season, and if it gave due credit to wins and close finishes in the majors? I think not.

If you asked Woods whose season he would rather have had, his or Phil Mickelson’s, it would take him a quarter second to utter Phil’s name. The reason: a major title, and a strong second in another, which counts among those sensible analysts who believe that second it better than 32t, which is where Tiger finished at the U.S. Open, the one that Phil lost by two shots to Justin Rose.

On the PGA Tour, Woods won five times and was second once in 16 starts, and finished in the top 10 eight times. In his lone appearance overseas (other than the British Open) he missed the cut at Abu Dhabi.

Mickelson won twice on the PGA Tour, including a major, and won his only other start overseas at the Scottish Open, which preceded his win at the Open. This gave him wins in consecutive weeks, something that Tiger did not accomplish. Mickelson registered six top threes (not counting the Scottish Open) to Woods’ six.

Tiger vs. Phil in the Majors
Woods – Mickelson
M—-4t —- 54t

Again, the big point in Woods’ favor was that he won five times on THE PGA TOUR. Still, but he would take Mickelson’s year in a heartbeat because 1) he would have ended his five year drought in the majors, 2) pulled to within three majors of Nicklaus, 3) passed Nicklaus in career British Open titles with four, 4) added a second in the U.S. Open to his resume, 4) come to within a U.S. Open title of winning a fourth Career Grand Slam, and 5) been able to tell the writers “I told you so,” something he relishes more than just about anything else.

So, who really is the Player of the Year? If you put Woods on truth serum, his answer would be Phil Mickelson!

Tags: PGA Tour


8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 BD // Sep 28, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    I think the members of the PGA Tour who voted Woods his 11th POY award got it quite right. Their job was to select the guy who, in their judgment, had the best overall year on Tour. They couldn’t very well give it to someone who did not have as good an overall year as Tiger just on the theory that Tiger was, in one respect, disappointed with his 2013 campaign. It’s “POY,” not “PWMTSHPGS” (player who most thoroughly satisfied his personal goals for the season”).

    I agree Tiger would have traded at least three of his regular Tour wins for Phil’s Claret Jug. But that’s not unlike a baseball player who would have traded his MVP award for a World Series ring: Preferring the latter award doesn’t ipso facto make him undeserving of the former.

    Tiger’s POY probably would have been more controversial if majorless Luke Donald hadn’t won it a couple years ago. As it stands, however, we now have the award going to a non-major winner twice in the last three years. Clearly, to the players themselves, majors aren’t everything. It’s possible to win a major without being a “great” golfer (e.g., Jack Fleck). It’s possible to go 0-for-4 in the majors and still do enough the rest of the year to outshine the winners of the four majors. Of course, if you don’t win a major, it helps your POY case a great deal to win more than twice as many etournaments as any of the major winners (Phil’s Scottish Open win doesn’t really count here because that’s not a PGA Tour event).

    It also helps if one of the majorless contender’s five wins came in the PLAYERS Championship, which actually IS a major in the sort of informal, old-fashioned sense of the word (i.e., before the rota of four majors was formally codified).

    Tiger clearly has a monkey on his back in terms of getting another major win under his belt, but OTHER than that, 2013 was a pretty remarkable year for him. Five wins is a lot. That’s truly a Tiger-esque haul of wins for one season. And let’s not forget he also recaptured No. 1 in the world in 2013. The main focus has always been on the majors, but Tiger’s overall record as a professional was clearly enhanced by his performance this year far more than it was diminished by the absence of a major.

    Just having won an 11th POY award is sort of mind-boggling. To put that in perspective, Jack won 5 of these. It’s not easy to be the clear-cut MVP or player of the year in any sport. Barry Bonds was a 7-time MVP, but nobody else in all of baseball history has more than three. Tiger has 11 POY’s in only 17 professional seasons. It’s hard to imagine anyone will ever top that.

  • 2 Phil // Sep 29, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Hi BD, As I mentioned, this is a PGA Tour award, and evidently the voters see it that way as well. If it was an award for the player’s season that the players would most like to have had, then I think Phil is the winner. IMO Scott is not in the running because he used the anchored putter. Tiger’s POY is not an apples to apples comparison with Nicklaus. Jack’s total suffered for three reasons. 1) He was not eligible for the award under the old 5 year waiting rule, so he did not win in 1963 and 1966 even though he won 2 majors in each year. 2) He should have won it in 1980 because he won 2 majors, which should trump anything else. 3) He was competing for the award against the likes of Trevino, Watson and company, who had some monster seasons. Meanwhile, in the Woods Era, O’Meara (when Woods was overhauling his swing) and Harrington (when Tiger was idle) were the only two players to have multiple major winning seasons.

  • 3 BD // Sep 30, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    I wasn’t aware of the 5-year rule under the old version of POY, but even if we could give Jack the awards for ’63, ’66, and ’80, Tiger would still have 37.5% more POYs than Nicklaus earned in his entire career. To put that percentage in perspective, Nicklaus currently has 28.6% more majors than Tiger.

    As for other players in Jack’s era having monster years, that’s kind of the point. Nicklaus was very often in his career NOT the best golfer in the world. He was certainly the best over that entire time, but he wasn’t THE guy all the time. Very rarely, if ever, has Tiger not been regarded as the best player in the world when he was not injured or in the process of re-inventing his swing. Vijay is really about the only guy who caught up to Tiger at Tiger’s peak.

    No one award or achievement is a perfect gauge of a player’s merit, but Tiger’s 11 POYs go a long way in showing why so many people consider him GOAT.

  • 4 Phil // Sep 30, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    Back in Nicklaus’ day, there was not a world tour like there is today, so PGA POY and World POY were essentially one in the same. But now you can argue that whoever wins PGA POY may not be deserving of World POY, which if such award existed, would be superior to PGA POY. In 2013, Mickelson would likely be the winner. Plus, in Nicklaus’ day, there were superstars like Watson (see 1977) and others who put together monster years than enabled them to edge Nicklaus in any given season. Outside of O’Meara (a flukish double major winner) and Harrington (who won his two in a season while Woods was idle), no one else has put together a double major winning season in the Woods Era other than Woods. And, Nicklaus was the best player in the world in most of those years when he didn’t win a major, and/or POY. What kept him from winning were the vagaries of golf – sometimes the best doesn’t win due to luck. If the same rules were in effect and Tiger faced similar competition at the top (not those 100 ‘great’ players that never contend in majors), then he and Jack might be tied at about 7 each. In sum, POY is a manufactured stat full of quirks – it is nothing like the real, hard numbers which show Nicklaus leading where it counts, in the majors record book, by margins of 18-14 and 19-6 (seconds).

  • 5 BD // Oct 2, 2013 at 6:49 am

    I completely disagree with your argument concerning the idea of a “World POY.” Jack’s PGA POYs were essentially “U.S. POYs” because, as you say, there wasn’t nearly as much direct international competition back then. Today, winning POYs, majors, and even prestigious non-majors means defeating fields comprised of not just the best American players but the best players in the world.

    Not coincidentally, the events Tiger plays in are the events that draw the strongest, deepest fields of international players. Phil plays in those events, too, along with some others. That was certainly the case in 2013. But in the final analysis, Tiger had, by far, the more dominant season as compared to Phil (or any other golfer, for that matter).

    Keep in mind that Phil’s two other wins this year were in events that Tiger didn’t even play in (which is somewhat typical of his career, actually): the Phoenix Open and the Scottish Open. I believe there were only a total of four Americans in Scotland. It was not a strong field by today’s standards.

    As for your argument about Jack being frequently overshadowed by players who won multiple majors, again, this goes to prove exactly what I have been saying: Jack wasn’t always THE guy during much of his prime. The POYs (imperfect an award as that may be) illustrate this fact rather starkly.

    Of course, we continue to disagree on the larger question of competition. For reasons that I can’t quite fathom, you seem to believe that because a relatively small group of players were winning a disproportionately large number of majors from 1960 through the early 80′s, this means that those guys were objectively better golfers, as a group, then the top golfers of today. It’s difficult to refute that assertion other than to point out that it’s a complete non sequitur. All it really tells us is that (a) Nicklaus had a small group of peers who were roughly his equal (e.g., Palmer, Trevino, Player, Watson); and (b) All of those guys, as a group, were miles ahead of the rest of the field. It doesn’t prove that Nicklaus and company were objectively better than the best players of today. If anything, it suggests the opposite: There are fewer guys winning multiple majors now because it’s vastly harder for the best players to break out of the pack due to the much higher level of competition. The competition is deeper and stronger for a number of well-understood reasons, e.g., greater worldwide participation, greater financial incentives, better conditioning, better instruction, better equipment, and faster, more convenient transportation.

    As for your comment about how there are “100 ‘great’ players” today who never contend in majors that’s exactly right; in a competitive environment with say 100 great players, only a fraction of them will ever contend in a major in a given 2- or 3-year stretch. That’s because even though there may be ten times the number of young hotshots trying to win fame and fortune playing golf on the world stage as compared to 50 years ago, there are still only four majors a year! In this era, grabbing just two of those trophies in an otherwise strong career is an extraordinary achievement. FOURTEEN??!! That’s crazy. And 79 wins in 17 years against these fields is so far off the charts, it’s actually funny.

  • 6 BD // Oct 2, 2013 at 7:13 am

    Just a quick afterthought: These days students of the game can observe and examine the progress of the top players’ careers in real time. Everyone knew Phil Mickelson was a great player before he won a major. In fact, BECAUSE we already knew he was a great player, waiting for him to come through with his first major became something of an obsession in the golf universe. By the same token, one cannot simply dismiss out of hand the merits of a guy like Ian Poulter simply because he hasn’t won a major and often fails to “contend.” Bobby Jones was historically one of the top 3-4 golfers ever, but there’s no question in my mind that if a resurrected Jones actually teed it up against Ian Poulter, the man in pink would wipe the floor with Bobby’s face.

  • 7 Phil // Oct 2, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    The reason Jack may not have appeared to be the best player in any given year was because his competitors had the heart to close out majors. If Mickelson and Els had equally strong mental games, they would have taken a few majors and POYs from Woods.
    Poulter better than Jones? If he played with Jones’ equipment in that era, he might not have broken 80.

    Here’s another slant on how to compare seasons – using the WGR points.
    Let’s make this as objective as possible. Woods “earned” 80 WGR points for winning The Players, 76 points for winning the Bridgestone, and 76 for winning at Doral. That these events award 76% to 80% as many points as the majors is, of course, a complete farce. And everyone knows that Woods would have traded all three (and those 232 points) for Phil’s British Open title (or any of the other three majors).

    In 2013, Woods gained 442.45 WGR points to Mickelson’s 346.85. If we merely double the points in the majors, giving the winner a much more sensible 200 points, then Mickelson would have gained 500.30 points for the year to Woods’ 494.55. While this is a slim margin, when you through in the BO trump card, Mickelson is easily the POY on the world stage, which is the most prestigious of all.

  • 8 BD // Oct 2, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    The problem with putting so much weight on a single major win is that the award is for “player of the year,” not “player of one week.” They already have an award for the player who wins the BO; it’s called the Claret Jug. The purpose of the POY is to recognize the guy who had the greatest all-around season.

    As for the Poulter-Jones throwdown, the rules are (my rules): you get to play whatever equipment you want. It’s 36 holes. Round 1 is 1920s era greens and course length. Round 2 is modern course setup. You can mark and lift on the green (no stymies).

    Regarding your comment about “heart,” it obviously takes more than heart to win. It takes skill. But in any case, if Jack’s rivals were as good or better than him at various times in his career, whether because of heart or skill or some combination, then it just proves what I’m saying: He wasn’t as dominant in his era as Tiger has been during the Tiger Woods era.

    That gets us back to the issue of the overall rise in the level of competion during the last 50 years. You don’t really seem to dispute this trend, but you seem to believe that it somehow doesn’t apply to the top players. Furthermore, you have suggested that the top players of the 60s and 70s were better than the top players today because several of the old players wound up with more majors by the end of their careers than the current players have earned thus far in their careers. I’m trying to understand on what objective, logically sound basis one can conclude that the top 5 or 10 players of yesteryear were intrinsically better golfers than the top 10 of today. It seems pretty clear that being top 10 out say a million competitive golfers around the world requires more talent, skill, and heart than being top 10 out of say 100,000 mainly American golfers.

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