Just in time to hear the sound of golf clubs getting tossed into the corner of the garage, the PGA Tour season is winding down and the star players are picking their spots very carefully . . . (where are the fat guarantees? . . . or how do you spell Lancome?).
Anyway, tournament golf is sort of relegated to the players fighting for position on the money list, which is certainly a noble pursuit, not to mention a potentially rewarding one.
But as for the Big Rewards, they're already handed out. There have been some big winners, as surely as there have been some really big disappointments.
And since we know now that it's all over except for the final accounting, let's check the form chart.
1) Mark O'Meara: Difficult to argue with a guy who goes 18 years without winning a major and then wins two in three months. In addition to banking $1.7 million in only 17 tournaments, he has seven top-10 finishes and his scoring average of 69.45 is the fourth best on tour.
2) David Duval: All right, so he tied for second at the Masters, but it took a birdie-birdie finish by O'Meara to beat him. Duval won twice, passed $2 million in prize money, had nine top 10s in 19 tournaments and his scoring average of 69.15 is second to only one player (see No. 3).
3) Tiger Woods: He was major-less and hasn't won a major since, oh, way back to last year's Masters. What a drought, all right. Woods won once, finished second twice, third twice, has 12 top 10s in 18 tournaments, won $1.7 million and has the best scoring average at 69.06.
4) Fred Couples: At 38, he had his best year since he won the Masters in 1992. Couples won twice, took home $1.6 million and missed only one cut all year.
5) Vijay Singh: He made his year--and possibly his career--by winning the PGA Championship at Sahalee . . . and promptly won again the next week at the Sprint International. Along the way, Singh has made $1.77 million--a career high-- and thus becomes the richest single-season workaholic touring pro.
1) Ernie Els: Yes, he had a bad back, but he also had a bad year. Els did win at Bay Hill, but he's still No. 32 on the money list and might miss the Tour Championship. He hasn't finished higher than 19th since May.
2) Nick Faldo: It has been a total lost year. Except for his tie for 18th at the Players Championship in March, he hasn't finished in the top 25 in a full-field event all year. With a scoring average of 72.35 and $150,703 in prize money, he was desperate enough to dump David Leadbetter as his teacher.
3) John Daly: Missed nine cuts in 23 events, had only two top 10s and his best finish in a major was a tie for 33rd at the Masters (missed the cut at the British Open and the PGA). He leads the PGA Tour in driving distance and attempted comebacks.
4) Paul Stankowski: He followed up his breakthrough year with a broken year--nine missed cuts and one top 10. In one 12-tournament stretch, he had seven missed cuts and one withdrawal. In the last seven months, he has been under par in six tournaments.
5) Jeff Maggert: Six top 10s and $818,164 in prize money, but he's been wildly inconsistent for a player who has made a career of consistency.
So far, Daly has lost about 20 pounds in his conditioning program and still is committed to play in the Dunhill Cup with O'Meara and Woods, Oct. 8-11, at St. Andrews, Scotland.
Daly, who is working with trainer Louie Chow, also is hitting golf balls with Chipper Cecil at Mission Hills Country Club. After his first session with Chow, Daly was so sore he barely could walk. By the way, Daly attends 5 a.m. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings several times a week.
YES, SE RI
What price success? Apparently, it's fairly high in the case of Se Ri Pak, the LPGA rookie sensation from South Korea, who has agreed to an endorsement deal with Titleist for golf balls, shoes and gloves that was originally believed to be worth $500,000--which is about the right figure for a star PGA Tour player--but Pak's deal actually is close to $200,000.
DOTTIE IS A HIT
Dottie Pepper, who upset the Europeans at the 1996 Solheim Cup with her enthusiasm, did it again last week when she picked partner Julie Inkster's ball out of the cup during a four-ball match and began chanting to get the crowd enthused.
If the fans at Muirfield Village liked it, Pepper's European counterparts did not. In fact, someone on the European team printed Pepper's name on a punching bag in the locker room and players took turns slugging it.
Pepper, by the way, was 4-0 in the U.S. victory.
Golf has had its share of weather delays because of lightning or rain or wind, but how about getting scrubbed because of a typhoon? That's what happened last week in Tanagura, Japan, when Typhoon Stella washed out the first round of a U.S.-Japan intercollegiate tournament.
If that wasn't bad enough, then consider that NCAA champion Nevada Las Vegas finished seventh in college golf's first typhoon-shortened 36-hole event (UCLA was sixth). The Japanese team Pohokufukusi won.
Proving it's a lot easier to hole out on the last hole of the British Open than play the pros every week, we present you Justin Rose. The 18-year-old amateur sensation at Royal Birkdale turned pro, then missed the cut in his first six events on the European PGA Tour.
Rose has one more event--the German Masters--to earn about $83,000, which would put him in the top 116 on the money list and secure a tour card. If he fails, he must try at qualifying school in Spain in November.
HINT: IT'S BASEBALL
Hugh Baiocchi isn't much of a baseball fan. On his way to winning the Senior PGA Tour's Comfort Classic, he checked out the scoreboard, saw a mention of Sammy Sosa's home run and was puzzled.
Said Baiocchi: "I saw 'Sosa 61' I thought, 'Who the devil is Sosa? He must have come out of the pack.' "
BIRDIES, BOGEYS, PARS
Daly, Peter Jacobsen, Casey Martin and Billy Andrade are among those who will compete in the $500,000 EMC Skills Challenge on Nov. 9 at the Ojai Valley Inn. Details: (800) 932-8337.
Greg Norman, who hasn't played since the Masters and then underwent shoulder surgery, will make his comeback Nov. 11-15 in the Franklin Templeton Shark Shootout at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks. The event benefits the National Childhood Cancer Foundation. Details: (805) 379-2664.
The VNA Foundation Corporate Challenge will be Oct. 12 at North Ranch Country Club in Thousand Oaks. The event benefits the foundation's charitable home care program fund. Details: (818) 242-9108.
The sixth Lynn Smith Memorial tournament will be held Oct. 19 at Brookside Golf Club in Pasadena. The event benefits the Huntington Memorial Hospital. Details: (626) 304-4678.
John Mahaffey has entered the Pacific Bell Senior Classic, Oct. 30-Nov. 1 at Wilshire Country Club. Gil Morgan, Lee Trevino, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Ray Floyd and Johnny Miller have entered.
Jeff Freeman of Tamarisk Country Club won the Southern California PGA Section Championship at Mission Hills. Steve Sear of the Jim McLean Golf School at PGA West finished second.
The Cadillac Invitational will be played Monday at Pelican Hill Golf Course in Newport Beach. The event benefits the National Kidney Foundation. Details: (949) 723-4110.