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Still Absent, Still the Best

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The Washington Post's Len Shapiro discusses the contenders for the 90th PGA Championship.Audio by Len Shapiro/The Washington PostEdited by Anna Uhls/washingtonpost.com

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By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, August 6, 2008; 1:44 AM

They're calling the 90th PGA Championship this week "glory's last shot," but unless British Open winner Padraig Harrington or Masters champion Trevor Immelman happen to prevail in the final major championship of the season, virtually all the golfing glory this year simply has to go to one man who can't even tee it up starting tomorrow morning at Oakland Hills in the Detroit suburbs.

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That would be Tiger Woods, just now beginning the first baby steps on his very long road of rehabbing his surgically repaired left knee. Never mind if someone else wins the PGA Tour money title or the season-ending FedEx Cup. Barring a two-time major champion, or Kenny Perry winning this week and a couple more tournaments over the next month, Woods simply must be considered Player of the Year on the PGA Tour, even if it was only about a half-year.

Woods's stirring playoff victory over Rocco Mediate six weeks ago at Torrey Pines was his fourth triumph of the season. At the moment, that's still more than anyone else on the tour, with Perry his closest pursuer as the current hottest player in the game with three victories in his last seven tournaments.

Even if Perry, who has never won in 39 major championship appearances, happens to prevail this week on a brute of a 7,500-yard golf course known simply as "The Monster," no way should he be honored with one of the tour's most coveted awards. For one, he didn't even qualify to play in The Masters. For another, he decided to forego both the U.S. Open and the British Open for reasons that may well have made sense to him, but hardly enamored him to some of his fellow pros, and many fans of the game.

Perry passed on Torrey Pines ostensibly to stay fit and fresh for a final run at making the American Ryder Cup team. That's certainly understandable, considering the event is being played in Louisville in his native state of Kentucky. Still, a top five finish at Torrey Pines, let alone a win there, surely would have guaranteed him a spot on Captain Paul Azinger's team.

By the time Royal Birkdale rolled around three weeks ago, Perry already had sewed up his place on the U.S. squad. But he played in a regular PGA Tour event in Milwaukee that week, saying he had previously committed to the tournament and had no intention of reneging.

Most of his fellow professionals defended Perry's right to pick and choose wherever he wanted to play. They cited their status as "independent contractors," easily the most over-used bromide in their sport, as all the justification he needed to make that decision. So what if it seemed so wrong on so many levels for the hottest player on the planet at the time to miss the oldest and arguably most prestigious tournament in the whole wide world.

Perry has taken the criticism with an aw-shucks grin on his face, telling the media last week at the World Golf Championship event in Akron that he was almost flattered -- not to mention somewhat flabbergasted -- by all the attention because no one had ever given a hoot or a holler about his schedule in his previous quarter century as a professional golfer.

It was a golly-gee, good-old-boy answer from a very good old boy, and a truly decent fellow, not to mention a terrifically talented golfer. And if he somehow happens to lead the American team to a victory over Europe next month at Valhalla, in front of thousands of his fellow Kentuckians, perhaps the flap over his spurning of the two majors will simply fade away.

That being said, even if he wins another tournament or two down the stretch, even including the PGA this week, no way does a guy who didn't even play in three of the four majors deserve to be called Player of the Year.

That title has to go to Woods, who essentially played nearly a full year on one knee, winning four times and even finishing second in the Masters two days before his first knee surgery of the season. Then he came back two months later with little practice and went 91 holes with no anterior cruciate ligament and two stress fractures in his left tibia and still somehow managed to win the U.S. Open in a tournament that may well be remembered as the grandest Open of them all.

Will Perry win the PGA Championship this week, allowing him to celebrate his 48th birthday Sunday hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy early that evening on the 18th green?


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