The Year So Far Best Player Biggest Surprise

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PGA Tour (75x100)MIAMI -- Say this much about the first two months of the PGA Tour season: At least the weather was nice.
 
The West Coast swing usually sets the tone for the rest of the season, or at least builds excitement as golf heads toward The Players Championship and the Masters. This one had about as much buzz as the United States against Britain for the bronze medal in curling.
 
Four of eight tournaments were decided by three shots or more, and the Match Play Championship in effect ended with six holes remaining. Nine players won nine tournaments, which is not unusual and certainly not a bad thing, but there were no back-nine duels among the top players.
 
Then again, the top five players competed against each other only once.
 
Tiger Woods has played only nine rounds on the PGA Tour this year. Ernie Els did not show up until Riviera, and didn't stick around more than one day at La Costa. Seven of the nine winners were ranked outside the top 25 when the season began, the exceptions being Woods and David Toms.
 
Maybe the Florida swing couldn't get here fast enough.

Woods is the defending champion in the Ford Championship at Doral, where a year ago he rallied in a scintillating Sunday showdown against Phil Mickelson. Nine of the top 10 players in the world ranking are at the Blue Monster, and Ford didn't even have to pay them this year.
 
Woods already has won, in a playoff at the Buick Invitational. But even that conjures memories of a West Coast swing that fell flat. He won in somber fashion, after Jose Maria Olazabal missed a 4-foot par putt. Woods' last four wins worldwide have been in playoff, a trend that might age him.
 
Before moving forward, here are a few trends that emerged from two months on the West Coast:
 
Best Player
 
The guy atop the money list is Rory Sabbatini, with a victory and two second-place finishes. He also has made the most significant climb in the world ranking, starting the year at No. 71 and moving up to No. 18.
 
But the best player was Chad Campbell.
 
Sabbatini had a chance to win only one tournament, which he did at Riviera. Campbell was tied for the lead going into the final round of the Sony Open before Toms beat him by five, he won the Bob Hope Classic, and he advanced to the quarterfinals of Match Play by beating Woods.
 
Biggest Surprise

Jack Nicklaus was the last player to win a PGA Tour event during his tenure as Ryder Cup captain. Tom Lehman played as if he wants to be the next.
 
Lehman hasn't seriously threatened to win, but he had backdoor top 10s at Pebble Beach and Riviera, and advanced to the semifinals of the Accenture Match Play Championship. He is 10th in the Ryder Cup standings heading into the Florida Swing.
 
Biggest Swing
 
Any week in the Ryder Cup standings.
 
One reason Lehman as a playing-captain might be forgotten by the end of March is the new system that awards quadruple points this year, plus a 75-point bonus for winning. And those are just regular PGA Tour events.
 
J.B. Holmes, the 23-year-old rookie, won in Phoenix and was 10th in the standings. Arron Oberholser won his first PGA Tour event at Pebble Beach and moved up to sixth. Chris DiMarco was third at the start of the year, and could be out of the top 10 by the end of the week.
 
It might not be until after the British Open that Lehman has any idea how his team is shaping up, and whether he needs to worry about his putting or shirt sizes.
 
Slow Start
 
It seems ludicrous to raise questions about Phil Mickelson when he has finished in the top 10 at four of his first five tournaments. But Mickelson usually makes his mark on the West Coast swing, and this was only fourth time in his 14 full seasons on the PGA Tour that he didn't have a trophy upon arriving in Florida.
 
Vijay Singh now has gone 13 consecutive starts on the PGA Tour, his longest drought since 2002.
 
Big Promise
 
After winning Q-school straight out of college, J.B. Holmes pounded the TPC of Scottsdale into submission to win the FBR Open by seven shots. The kid is long, no doubt, but his age (23) and pedigree (played on the Walker Cup team last year) make his potential tantalizing.
 
Worst Finish
 
Mike Weir must be having some serious self-doubts.
 
The Canadian who showed such grit in winning the Masters has wilted twice in the last three weeks. Tied for the lead at Pebble Beach, all he needed was a mediocre game to put heat on Oberholser, but Weir couldn't find the green with a wedge and stumbled to a 78. He had a 4-up lead with four holes to play on Geoff Ogilvy and appeared a lock to get into the quarterfinals until he missed three putts inside 12 feet to close the match, and lost in 21 holes.
 
Best Finish
 
Stuart Appleby made clutch putts on two of the last three holes to get into a playoff against Singh at Kapalua, then beat him with an exquisite bunker shot from behind the 18th green that nearly went in.
 
If not many remember that sequence, maybe they weren't watching.
 
And if they weren't watching, maybe it was because Woods, Mickelson and Retief Goosen didn't show up, and Els wasn't eligible for the winners-only event.
 
They all played together for the first time last week at La Costa, and they are together again at the Blue Monster, along with Singh. Perhaps that's what it takes for people to pay attention to the PGA Tour.
 
People used to say the tour didn't start until Doral.
 
This year, that might be the case.
 
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