The Tournament of Champions got a new name, a new sponsor and a new venue at Kapalua, Maui, in Hawaii.
Then a new and younger breed of golf-is-cool entertainers and jocks started falling all over themselves trying to wangle invitations to Pebble Beach. And if you really had juice, somebody asked you over to Cypress Point for an early week practice round.
Soon Torrey Pines got itself fixed on the USGAs calendar for a U.S. Open and suddenly the Buick Invitational was a semi-must play. Rivieras greens got better and players began to appreciate more and more the seminal work designer George Thomas had done all those years ago on one of our countrys finest courses.
Meanwhile the PGA Tour insisted on match play once a year. Its WGC partners signed on. Accenture staked them to a big pile of money. And all but a very, very few could pass up the world ranking points available.
By dawn of the new millennium, the West Coast Swing was no longer struggling. In fact, certain prominent players were quietly talking about needing time off from all these occidental events as golfs focus turned to the run-up to The Players Championship in late March and the annual rite of spring two weeks later at Augusta National.
Competitive hangovers were cited as a the reason why the Ford Championship at Doral and the Honda Classic up the road in Palm Beach Gardens werent necessarily as prized on the calendar as they used to be. This year oil money and global branding imperatives lured Tiger Woods and Ernie Els away from the early Florida Swing.
Then a funny and wonderful thing happened. Dorals Blue Monster produced a memorable tournament with a re-fanged 18th hole that terrified its field. Better yet, it got an unforgettable ending in which Craig Parry eagled the 18th on the first hole of a sudden death playoff, after which loser Scott Verplank could only shake his head and smile.
It was the kind of finish that pushes golf into the forefront of the mainstream sports medias daily bonfire. It was good for Ford, great for Parry and even better for the Florida Swing.
One week later Davis Love III was waiting in the clubhouse with a one-shot lead when a quiet 38-year-old rookie named Todd Hamilton birdied the last two holes to edge Love by a stroke and win his first event on the PGA Tour after a 17-year wait.
The Florida Swing had itself another terrific story: Hamilton had begun Sundays round with a four-shot lead, only to squander all of it before righting the ship at the end of the day. Tom Fazios Sunrise course at Mirasol, vilified by players early in the week, earned grudging respect before the last ClubGlove was packed and all the wheels were up for the three-hour drive to Orlando and this weeks Bay Hill Invitational.
This season is getting good, people. Four of the top five ranked players in the world already have won and the fifth--Love--is playing as well as anybody at the moment. John Daly, for better or worse, is back on golfs radar screen.
Honda tournament director Cliff Danley called the Parry-Hamilton parlay a huge boost for the Florida swing. It showed, he said, you didnt need Woods and Els in your field to have a compelling tournament.
He was right, of course. The Florida swing got just what it needed. Pardon the mixed metaphor: It got a couple of home runs.
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