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The Swing Vote
Gary Van Sickle
November 04, 1996
An impressive win in the Tour Championship may have put Tom Lehman over the, top in the race for Player of the Year
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November 04, 1996

The Swing Vote

An impressive win in the Tour Championship may have put Tom Lehman over the, top in the race for Player of the Year

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High-performance golf is not the norm around Halloween, when many Tour pros are too tired from high-fiving their accountants to whip their games into shape for four rounds at an unforgiving track like Southern Hills. But Lehman played brilliantly, answering the perceived challenge from Woods. Yet Tigermania was hardly dampened. In the first round, Woods was paired with Faxon, who joked afterward, "I've never had that many people follow me around on a Thursday. They must've heard about my reputation."

Despite the support, this was the week Woods finally hit the wall. Still fighting a cold he had caught at the Disney, he was tired and irritable, slamming clubs into the ground and talking to himself after the smallest error or bad break. Woods opened with a 70, even par, but then the fun was over. At 3 a.m. on Friday he had to rush his 64-year-old father, Earl, to the trauma room of a local hospital. A heavy smoker who had undergone quadruple bypass surgery 10 years ago, Earl was suffering from bronchitis. He was treated for fluid in his left lung and checked for heart trouble. Later that day, Tiger shot 78, his worst round as a pro. "I didn't want to be here because there are more important things in life than golf," Woods said later. "I love my dad to death and wouldn't want anything to happen to him." Earl was scheduled to check out of the hospital on Tuesday. Tiger lagged 23 shots back after three rounds, an unaccustomed position, but finished strong with a 68 and concluded his dream debut in 24th place on the money list with almost $800,000 in only eight events.

While Woods's week wasn't one to remember, Lehman's was, even with the rain that wiped out Sunday's play and forced a rare Monday finish. "Tom came in here knowing what a win could do, and look what he's done," said Mickelson, who needed to come in second or third to avoid losing the money title. He placed 12th.

All that's left now is the player of the year voting. Who's it going to be? "What a great year Phil has had," says Davis Love III. "And he didn't putt great, either. He putted well for about six weeks and blew guys away. If you look at the numbers, Brooks might impress you more, but the way he plays doesn't necessarily blow you away. So you might lean toward Mickelson. But Brooksie had a hell of a year. Tom won a major and had a lot of high finishes."

So which one is the best player on Tour? "Freddie Couples—when he's healthy," Love says conclusively.

Fine. Looks like we're going to have to do this all over again next year.

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