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A year in golf: Tales from the Tour

Tuesday - 12/24/2013, 1:20pm  ET

DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer

Steve Stricker made it clear that money was not important.

His plan was to defend his title at Kapalua and walk away from the PGA Tour for the rest of the year. Over the holidays leading into 2013, he reached a compromise and cut his schedule roughly in half. He contacted his sponsors, and they supported him.

Stricker didn't have great expectations starting his year of semi-retirement.

"If I could just make enough money to pay yearly expenses, I'm fine with that," he said. "If we don't have to touch anything I've put away ... I don't need to do what I'm doing just to make money. I'd rather be staying at home, doing things at home with the foundation and with my kids."

No one else was around during this conversation, but Stricker still leaned in and lowered his voice as he stated what everyone already knew.

"You know, we're pretty conservative with our money," he said.

Stricker was runner-up that week at Kapalua and made $665,000. He didn't play for six weeks, and then reached the quarterfinals of the Accenture Match Play Championship to earn $275,000. Two weeks later, he was runner-up at Doral and brought in $880,000.

That should pay the bills.

He finished the year with just over $4.4 million, the third-highest total of his career. His world ranking improved 10 spots to No. 8. And by the end of the year, he had several players contemplating a similar schedule.

Along the way, there were plenty of other moments that showed more about players than just their birdies and bogeys, and the checks they cash.

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Rory McIlroy generated a buzz no matter where he went at the start of the year. He had the hefty deal from Nike. He was No. 1 in the world. And he was struggling early with a missed cut in Abu Dhabi and a first-round departure in Match Play. Nothing caused a stir like Friday at the Honda Classic, when he abruptly shook hands with Ernie Els as they were making the turn and walked straight to the parking lot.

Information was a trickle. He was vague during a brisk walk to the car. Later, a statement from his management company said he had a sore wisdom tooth.

There was a golf tournament still going on. Michael Thompson shot 65 on that Friday to move to the top of the leaderboard. It was early afternoon and no one seemed interested. The announcement sounded more like a plea. "We have Michael Thompson in the interview room," the official said.

One voice broke the awkward silence. "Is he a dentist?" a reported asked.

No. But he did win his first PGA Tour event that week.

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Angel Cabrera is a man of few words and loud actions.

A month after losing the Masters in a playoff, he was walking off the 18th green at TPC Sawgrass following a practice round. Fans thrust programs and flags for him to sign. There was bumping and pushing, and a marshal started to bark at everyone to back up.

Cabrera stepped back about 10 feet, and then instructed only the children to come under the ropes and join him. He spent the next 15 minutes signing for them.

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It looked like the scene outside the mansion in "Young Frankenstein," missing only the pitchforks and torches.

The Pure Silk LPGA Bahamas Classic was played on a 12-hole course at The Ocean Club because of flooding. The first round didn't finish because of another storm system in the area. Players gathered in darkness outside the rules trailer to find out the plan for Friday. A computer error led players to believe -- only for a moment -- that they would keep their same tee time for the second round. Chaos ensued, filled with heated arguments among players and rules officials.

And it was at this moment the LPGA showed its true international flavor.

A group of Swedish players were off to the right, raising their voices in their native language. The Americans were in the front of the pack. The South Koreans were in the back. The Spaniards were in the middle. The Germans were over by the hedges. It was the ultimate melting pot.

And they ultimately got it all worked out.

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Among the visitors at The Players Championship was Ulises Mendez, who plays on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica. The Argentine earned his card last year when he tied for 15th in Latin America Q-school. His player badge allowed him access to the tournament, and he camped out just beneath the bleachers behind the 17th green.

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