News & Opinion

Woods and Koepka go head-to-head for 2019 honors

Hawk & Rude square off over golf’s biggest story of year: Tiger Woods’ 5th green jacket or Brooks Koepka’s major moments?

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Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Jeff Rude are co-hosts of a weekly podcast, Hawk & Rude, in which they discuss and debate the hottest issues in golf. They also share their takes in this weekly installment.

What was golf’s biggest story in 2019?

Hawk’s take: No actual history was made on the evening of April 14. Tiger Woods didn’t break any all-time records or win a major by the widest margin ever. His fifth Masters victory, however, was by far the most relevant and newsworthy occurrence in a year that had the usual assortment of memorable moments. It was a triumph for mankind, a transcendent performance that resonated with everyone – not just golf fans – and served as a potent reminder that greatness never dies.

It might go away for a while, but it never disappears altogether.

Woods’ 15th major title had vast implications on a number of levels. It revived his once-stellar career, which obviously went dormant for a lengthy stretch, and delivered the deep, redemptive overtones that always play well to the public. Everyone loves a comeback. Woods made his triumphant return as a changed man. Humbled. Scorned. Physically compromised. A decade’s worth of setbacks made him exponentially more likeable. Golf’s most prolific winning machine was truly human.

He had taken life on the chin and still had the grit to conquer. Woods might never surpass Jack Nicklaus’ mark of 18 majors, but there are times when the numbers really don’t matter. This wasn’t just the biggest story in golf. It was bigger than anything that happened in sports all year.

Rude’s take: If you have an ounce of sentimentality or put a premium on emotion, drama and Q rating, then Tiger Woods is the choice. His 2019 put the historic bookends of his 15th major in April and a record-tying 82nd PGA Tour victory near Halloween around no other contentions.

But my story of the year favors a Woods-Jack Nicklaus-type body of work spanning about 100 days rather than two weeks of splash. Brooks Koepka went 2-1-2-4 in the majors and won his fourth major in 23 months. (And won three times and led the season in top 5s.) You want history? Only three others (the two aforementioned kings and Jordan Spieth) have ever finished in the top 4 in all four big ones during the same calendar year.

In every major, Koepka was there hanging around, like the houseguest who wouldn’t leave. On every major Sunday, you could count on Koepka making his presence felt up top. You won’t find anyone else who would trade his 2019 results for that.

That extended major achievement may not make you feel all warm and fuzzy like that spring day in Georgia did. But I’ll take a big pile of golden substance over a couple of pounds of it, or anything else, including that flawed Tour Player of the Year award. I’m guessing I’m in the minority with this take, but then Koepka is used to being disrespected. In that regard, he’s in Rodney Dangerfield’s league.