Player of the year race heats up for PGA Tour`s finale

Atlanta: With Tiger Woods no longer the dominant force he once was, the race for the 2011 PGA Tour`s Player of the Year award is intriguingly wide open.

Six players have won twice on the US circuit this season -- Steve Stricker, Bubba Watson, Nick Watney, Mark Wilson, Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson -- while world number one Luke Donald has been Mr. Consistency.

The days of Woods racking up multiple titles, and probably two majors along the way, are a fading memory and speculation about who might win this year`s award has sparked wide debate among the players.

"Player of the Year is much more interesting now than it was for about the last 10 years," Geoff Ogilvy told reporters on the eve of this week`s season-ending Tour Championship. "There`s actually a discussion."

Asked where he would place the greatest significance in casting his own vote on the players` ballot, Ogilvy replied: "Consistency to me is always very impressive because it`s hard to do that.

"It`s not easy to win any week, but it`s probably easier to win one tournament than it is to be consistent. That blows me away. People who play well every week are incredible.

"But we don`t play golf to be consistent, we play golf to win big tournaments, so I guess the successful guy is the guy who wins big tournaments. There`s no obvious Player of the Year this year."

Donald, who has been the most consistent player in the game over the last 12 months but has to yet to win a major, agreed.

"It is a little bit open," the Englishman said while preparing for Thursday`s opening round at East Lake. "There might be a few guys who have more of a shout than others, but I think a win this week would sway a lot of people`s minds.

"No one has really dominated as much as they have when Tiger was winning. A few guys have won two events this year, but there`s no clear-cut winner."

Tiger Monopoly

Woods, a 14-times major champion, has been voted Player of the Year 10 times in the last 14 years with Mark O`Meara (1998), Vijay Singh (2004), Padraig Harrington (2008) and Jim Furyk (2010) breaking up his monopoly.

However, Woods has been a shadow of his once-dominant self after losing form and fitness following the breakup of his marriage and no other player has managed to take over as a serial winner in a single season.

There have been four different major champion this year -- Charl Schwartzel (Masters), Rory McIlroy (U.S. Open), Darren Clarke (British Open) and Bradley (PGA Championship).

For Matt Kuchar, the 2011 vote should probably go to Donald who won the prestigious WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and has recorded a season-best 12 top-10s in 17 starts.

"Right now, I`d have to pick Luke Donald," said the American world number eight. "Keegan Bradley, having won the PGA and having won another tournament as well, has thrown his hat in that conversation.

"But Luke Donald, being so consistent and taking over the number one spot in the world and retaining it, is proving that he`s been the best player in the world. He plays steady every week and always seems to have a chance."

Donald`s consistency has also impressed Ogilvy.

"Clearly the best player in the world right now is Luke Donald -- by so far it`s silly," the slim Australian said. "He`s creating quite a big gap in the world rankings. He really is the legitimate number one player in the world.

"Does he ever finish out of the top three or four? Every single week, he`s there. Last week, he went over par in the first round and he still finds a way to finish fourth. To me he`s the best player."

The Player of the Year announcement will be made in early December.

Bureau Report

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