The year in professional golf began the same way it ended, with an idle Tiger Woods out of public view and everyone wondering when he would tee it up again.
The circumstances, of course, are as different as an ace and a quadruple-bogey.
At the start of 2009, Woods was still rehabilitating from the reconstructive knee surgery that had ended his 2008 season in June. As this year draws to a close, the world's top-ranked golfer is said to be experiencing emotional pain, in the wake of revelations of marital infidelity he had to acknowledge and that have, at least temporarily, separated him from his wife and two young children.
With wife Elin reportedly taking the kids to her native Sweden for the holidays, Tiger is in self-imposed seclusion as he ponders his immediate future. Though there have been published reports his private yacht took off for the Bahamas this past week, he has not been seen in public since the suspicious Thanksgiving night fender-bender in front of his Florida home that sent him to the hospital, igniting a media firestorm that would uncover a burgeoning sex scandal.
What we do know is that Woods has taken a leave of absence from the PGA Tour to try to get his private life back on track.
With that backdrop of uncertainty, we take a look back at the events and the storylines that distinguished the year in professional golf:
The return: Eight months after Tiger had miraculously won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines on one good leg, and one week after Phil Mickelson had repeated as tournament champion at Riviera Country Club, Woods returned to the tour — and the glare of the media spotlight — by entering the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship in the Arizona desert.
A record media contingent and sizeable gallery congregated at the driving range at 6 a.m. on a Tuesday to watch him hit balls, but the circus quickly dissipated after he was defeated by Tim Clark in the second round. Order, however, was restored to the universe in his third event, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, when he came from five shots back in the final round to win with a fist-pump-inducing birdie on the 72nd hole.
The Masters: At 48, Kenny Perry was the sentimental favorite on Sunday at Augusta as he attempted to become the oldest champion of any major championship. Arriving at the 17th tee with a two-stroke lead, Perry bogeyed the last two holes and lost a three-man playoff to Angel Cabrera on the second extra hole. The golf gods smiled on Cabrera, who somehow stayed alive by making a miraculous par on the first extra hole despite finding the trees twice.
U.S. Open: Another storybook finish was ruined at Bethpage Black when Mickelson challenged for the title upon his return to competition after taking time off to lend emotional support to his wife, Amy, and mother, Mary, both of whom had been diagnosed with breast cancer in a six-week period. With the raucous galleries urging him on, Lefty led with four holes to play — but finished second to Lucas Glover.
British Open: The theme probably sounds redundant, but Tom Watson also had a great chance to make history at 59 in the Open at Turnberry in Scotland. If Watson had been able to get up-and-down for par from behind the green on the 72nd hole, it would have been one for the ages — one of the greatest feats in golf history. Unfortunately, he missed an 8-foot par putt, resulting in what turned into a disappointing and anticlimactic four-hole playoff won by Stewart Cink. It still was "one for the AGED."
PGA Championship: In what was the upset of the year, if not the decade, relative unknown Y.E. Yang of South Korea came from behind in the final round at Hazeltine Golf Club to overtake Woods and become the first Asian-born professional to win one of the four majors in men's golf. Yang also became the first to take down Tiger in the final round of a major in which Woods led after 54 holes — and the first to wipe out a 54-hole Tiger lead since Ed Fiori in the 1996 Quad Cities Open, Tiger's third event as a pro.
FedEx Cup: Why were Commissioner Tim Finchem and other tour honchos beaming after the playoff-ending Tour Championship in September? Because Woods and Mickelson, the world's two most prominent and highest ranked players, posed side by side with their gleaming trophies after Mickelson won the Tour Championship and Woods finished second to lock up the FedEx Cup and $10 million bonus. The FedEx Cup system is still inherently flawed, but who noticed this year?
The soap opera: Because of the recent scandal involving the world's top player, few seemed to notice Tiger again won the money title, scoring title, FedEx Cup, PGA Tour Player of the Year and Athlete of the Decade honors. Instead, the headlines were about major sponsors dropping him and women coming forward to confess or brag about their intimacies. And once again, as the year ends, Tiger has considerable healing to do and no one knows when he'll return.