Fresh faces and new beginnings were everywhere in 2003. Beyoncé dropped her first solo album, and her single “Crazy in Love,” with her then-boyfriend Jay-Z, shot to No. 1 in the country. You could purchase the song for just 99 cents in the newly launched iTunes Music Store. LeBron James jumped straight from high school into the pros when he was drafted No. 1 overall by his hometown Cavaliers, while fellow future Hall of Famers Carmelo Anthony went third, Chris Bosh fourth and Dwyane Wade fifth. (Pistons fans are still mumbling over Darko Miličić at No. 2.) More Hall of Fame talents emerged in golf, with Adam Scott earning his first PGA Tour win at the Deutsche Bank Championship and Lorena Ochoa winning the LPGA’s Rookie of the Year award.
But 2003 also had its share of false dawns (and future memes): President George Bush will never live down unfurling the “Mission Accomplished” banner and declaring that the U.S. and its allies had prevailed in the Iraq war that would last another eight years. In golf, the field had somehow overcome Tiger Woods in the majors, leaving media and fans to ponder whether Shaun Micheel, Ben Curtis, Mike Weir and Jim Furyk had ushered in a strange new world order. (Spoiler alert: They did not.)
Woods also had his first legitimate competitor for headlines in 2003, as Annika Sorenstam dominated the news for weeks with her participation in the PGA Tour’s Colonial event. In addition to winning six times on the LPGA, Sorenstam became the first woman to play in a PGA Tour event since Babe Zaharias in 1945.
Frosted-tipped golf fans watched it all on their fancy new DVRs, where they kept the first seasons of Chappelle’s Show and The O.C. So dust off those Titleist 680 blades and pleated khakis and relive one of the wildest seasons in recent golf history.
In a glittering career that included 90 wins worldwide and 10 major victories, a missed cut remains Annika Sorenstam’s defining moment. When she accepted a sponsor’s invitation to play in the Bank of America Colonial in May 2003, Sorenstam set off a media frenzy no one could have expected, especially not the self-described shy Swede who once deliberately finished second in a junior golf event so she wouldn’t have to give a victory speech.
Major news outlets across the globe picked up the story, especially when Vijay Singh said he wouldn’t play if he was drawn with her. Defending Colonial champion Nick Price called it a publicity stunt. Sorenstam just said it was what was next. She was 32 and had so thoroughly dominated the women’s game that testing herself at the highest level of competition was simply the next mountain to climb.
“It was a time of my life where I was No. 1 for a while, and I was looking for ways to get better because I knew inside I could get better,” Sorenstam later said.
“I wanted a little extra spark to get me there.”
Sorenstam shot 71–74 to miss the cut at Colonial, but from the first tee, when she split the fairway, she proved this was no freak sideshow: She could compete. And that’s all she really wanted. She returned to the LPGA and picked up right where she left off, winning two more majors at the LPGA Championship and Women’s British Open.
The impact of her performance and grace under unheard-of pressure is still felt today. A 16-year-old Anna Nordqvist was watching back in Sweden; she had just picked up the game and was inspired to bigger things. She is now a three-time major winner. Same story for 16-year-old Brittany Lincicome, who went on to win a pair of majors.
Golf Digest’s Ron Sirak summed it up perfectly: “She entered [the Colonial] as a reluctant superstar and left it as a one-word celebrity.”
Michelle Wie (left) put a charge into the golf world by nearly winning a major as a sweet-swinging 13-year-old at the 2003 Kraft Nabisco Championship. Meanwhile, Bob Hope (center), whose decades-long championing of the game on television and U.S. military tours earned him a place in the World Golf Hall of Fame, passed at 100. But fellow golf-crazed stars Adam Sandler (right, front) and Jack Nicholson were more than happy to take up Hope’s mantle on the celebrity pro-am circuit.
(Photo credits) Left: Photo by Eddie Sanderson/Getty Images. Middle: Photo by Steve Grayson/WireImage. Right: Photo by Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images
Entering the 2003 PGA Tour season, the question wasn’t whether Tiger Woods would continue steamrolling his way into history, but who, if anyone, could stop him. Going into his seventh year, he had already amassed a mind-boggling 34 victories, including eight majors. One more major win would have put him ahead of Tom Watson, looking up only at Walter Hagen and Jack Nicklaus. In all of the imagined roadblocks, absolutely no one would have volunteered Mike Weir, Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel.
To his credit, Weir was on fire going into the Masters; the diminutive Canadian had already won the Bob Hope Classic and LA Open. But Woods came to Augusta looking to be the first ever to win three consecutive green jackets, and Weir barely registered on the hype radar. No one saw it coming, but Woods stumbled out of the gate and made the cut on the number. Despite a Saturday rally that pulled him to four back, Woods doubled the third on Sunday and fell out of contention. That left the door open for Weir, who topped Len Mattiace in a playoff and kicked off a summer of stumbles for Woods.
Of 2003’s major champions, Jim Furyk endures. Going into the U.S. Open, he was already a seven-time winner on Tour and a predicted major winner. The future Hall of Famer came good at Olympia Fields near Chicago, starting Sunday with a three-shot lead and finishing with it. Woods never got going, and a Saturday 75 meant he was 0 for 2 in his major quest. Then things got weird.
Ben Curtis was No. 396 in the world when he teed off at Royal St. George’s for the Open Championship. Woods’ opening tee ball is gone forever. He blasted his first shot of the tournament into shin-high heather and lost it, leading to a triple bogey. But he kept grinding and was two off the lead going into Sunday, prompting most pundits to predict he would grab the title. Another unexpected bogey binge, including two of his last four, meant a three-shot lead with four to play for Thomas Bjørn. Then the steady Dane somehow stumbled as well, and Curtis became one of the Open’s most unlikely champions.
The bogeys continued at Oak Hill for the PGA Championship. While Woods had at least fought his way into contention in the previous three majors, this time it all came apart. He never broke par in any round, and his tie for 39th was, to that point, his worst showing as a professional in a major. Meanwhile, 33-year-old Micheel entered PGA Championship lore with one of the great 7-irons ever struck on No. 18, earning his first—and only—PGA Tour win.
“People say I have had a terrible year,” Woods said later in 2003. “I still don’t understand why people look at it that way.” The man had a point:
He still won five of the 18 events he played, capturing the money title and his fifth-consecutive PGA Tour Player of the Year award.