Lessons from the West Coast Swing

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PGA Tour (75x100)MARANA, Ariz. -- Two months into the eason, Tiger Woods has played only seven rounds on the PGA TOUR.
 
The West Coast Swing usually doesn't set any trends, and it is hard to find any this year. There were nine tournaments and nine winners, the third time in the last four years that has happened. Ages of the winners ranged from 25 (Aaron Baddeley) to 50 (Fred Funk). Woods won for the 12th straight season, while Paul Goydos won for the first time in 12 years.
 
From the shores of Hawaii to the high desert of Arizona, there were some topics worth one last visit before the PGA TOUR heads across the country on the Florida Swing.
 
Tiger Time:
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods extended his PGA TOUR winning streak to seven with his Buick Invit. win. (WireImage)
Woods' three tee times at the Accenture Match Play Championship began at 12:02 p.m., noon and noon. Live television coverage those three days also began at noon.
 
What a coincidence.
 
Television can't get enough of Woods, because he hasn't been around that much. The two tournaments were the fewest he has played on the West Coast Swing since his first full season in 1997, but the bigger question is whether this trend continues. He skipped Riviera for the second time in his career, and the Mercedes-Benz Championship for the second year in a row.
 
Pebble Beach has not been part of his schedule since 2002, although that might change with the 2010 U.S. Open approaching.
 
The best guess is that Woods will play 16 or 17 times on the PGA TOUR this year. That depends on when his first child is born (expected early July) and if he starts the FedExCup finale in New York or waits until the second 'playoff' event outside Boston.
 
Whether he should play more is an endless debate. At this point in his career, Jack Nicklaus was playing 18 times on the PGA TOUR and trying to peak for the majors.
 
Singh's Song:
Despite winning the season-opener at Kapalua, questions remain whether Vijay Singh's best days are behind him.
 
He has played seven out of eight weeks on the West Coast with only one other finish in the top 10 -- he closed with a 64 to tie for seventh. Singh nearly missed the cut in Honolulu and San Diego, and he was beaten in the second round of Match Play.
 
Singh is No. 9 in the world ranking, and barring a turnaround, could be out of the top 10 for the first time in 10 years.
 
Best Back-To-Back Stops in Golf:
One complaint often heard from players is that the PGA TOUR doesn't always go to the best course in town. Lips are zipped for two weeks in February.
 
Are there better back-to-back courses on any tour than Pebble Beach and Riviera? Also worthy of consideration is St. Andrews and Wentworth in September on the European Tour.
 
Life Without Tiger:
There were seven examples of that during the West Coast Swing, and it became a hot topic when Jack Vickers closed up shop at his International tournament outside Denver because he couldn't get Woods.
 
But the Nissan Open was the best example of what the PGA TOUR would look like had Woods chosen another line of work. Riviera had 11 of the top 13 players in the world ranking, minus Woods and Henrik Stenson.
 
The Sunday leaderboard featured Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Charles Howell III, Padraig Harrington, Jim Furyk and Sergio Garcia. Mickelson bogeyed the 18th hole to slip into a playoff, which Howell won on the third extra hole.
 
The overnight rating was 3.4, which was up from 2.6 the previous year when Woods withdrew on the weekend with the flu. The course and weather was magnificent. The story lines were plentiful.
 
There would been a bigger buzz and higher ratings had Woods been part of the mix. Without him, it was still good stuff.
 
Life With Lefty:
Say this for Phil Mickelson -- he makes it hard to ignore him.
 
One week he was practically flawless in winning Pebble Beach, the next week he bogeyed the 18th hole at Riviera and lost in a playoff. Mickelson wound up playing six consecutive weeks on the West Coast with mixed success, and plenty of speculation.
 
Similar to Woods, the real measure for him will be in the majors.
 
The first test is not for another six weeks at the Masters, where the winner gets a green jacket, a silver trophy of the Augusta National clubhouse, and a lifetime exemption.
 
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