The year 2019 was more than the very good year of song. It was a quintessential vintage year — with the growing Rory McIlroy-Brooks Koepka rivalry (Koepka: what rivalry?), Patrick Reed’s sand incident, the burst of young talent, and on and on. But it the end, it was the Year of the Tiger — again.
No golfer has ever got so much out of so little as Tiger Woods did in 2019. With just two wins, he rocked the entire golf world to its foundation. But what two wins. In a so-so year with its share of pain, Woods won the Masters, at age 43 — his fifth overall, his first in 14 years, his first major in 11 years, since the 2008 U.S. Open, and his 15th major overall.
“The rest of the tournaments I didn’t really play as well as I wanted to,” Woods said. He tied for 21st in the U.S. Open and missed cuts in the PGA Championship and the Open Championship. “But at the end of the day,” he added, “I’m the one with the green jacket.”
The second win, late in October, came in the inaugural Zozo Championship, the first PGA Tour event in Japan. It made the history books. It was Woods’ 82nd tour win, tying Sam Snead’s record for most wins. He’d thought his medical problems had put that out of reach. “Lo and behold,” he said, “here we are tied.”
Elsewhere in this vintage year: The seeming McIlroy-Koepka rivalry perked up. For the first time in 28 years the Player of the Year awards were split. McIlroy won the PGA Tour’s (in a player vote) and Koepka won the PGA of America award (in a point system). Koepka also was voted the Golf Writers Association of America Player of the Year. McIlroy capped an outstanding year with wins in The Players Championship, the RBC Canadian Open and the Tour Championship with its $15 million payout. Koepka’s year was topped by great play in the majors. He won the PGA Championship (relocated to May), tied for second in the Masters, was solo second in the U.S. Open and tied for fourth in the Open Championship.
Said McIlroy: “Why do we play 25 times a year if only four weeks are important?” Said Koepka: “Look, I love Rory … but it’s just hard to believe there’s a rivalry in golf. I just don’t see it.” It would take an international incident to overshadow Woods’ year, and that’s what the Patrick Reed Incident became. In the unofficial Hero World Challenge, a Tiger Woods benefit in the Bahamas in December, the TV camera showed Reed in a sandy waste area (not a bunker), drawing his wedge back twice, which brushed sand from behind his ball. He said it
wasn’t intentional. He received a two-stroke penalty for improving his lie.
The incident triggered an immense media and fan storm, with accusations of cheating. The next week he was heckled by fans at the Presidents Cup in Australia. And youth served itself. Korea’s Sungjae Im, 21, with seven top-10s in 35 starts, won the tour’s Rookie of the Year award (now named for Arnold Palmer). Matt Wolff, 20, won the 3M Open in just his fourth professional start, edging Collin Morikawa, 22, who won the Barracuda Championship a few weeks later. And Viktor Hovland, 22, who set the amateur scoring record at the U.S. Open, won his tour card through the Korn Ferry Tour Finals. And one, Akshay Bhatia, turned pro and played four tour events on sponsor’s exemptions, and missed all four cuts. He was 17.