Toasts of the West Coast


So what did we learn from the West Coast swing that Sunday concluded near Tucson where, ho-hum, Tiger Woods captured the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship?
For starters, we re-learned something we already knew. No, not that Woods is the best player on the planet. We re-learned that the West Coast swing is a misnomer.
Only three of the nine PGA TOUR events played in the U.S. so far this year are actually located on the West Coast. They are the Buick Invitational, the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and the Northern Trust Open. The latter, by the way, played at Riviera Country Club, does not actually offer ocean views of the Pacific from the fairways.
Of the other six, the Mercedes-Benz Championship and the Sony Open are on the Pacific but not the West Coast. They take place in Hawaii.
The Bob Hope Chrysler Classic is staged in the Palm Springs area; the FBR Open lives in Phoenix; the Match Play is down the road in Tucson and the Mayakoba Open is hosted in Mexico.
Maybe officials could change the name to the Pacific Rim Swing With A Couple Of Desert Venues Thrown In. But that still wouldnt cover Mexico.
Anyway, back to the premise of this column:
We learned at Mercedes that Steve Strickers surprising ascent in the world rankings was not a fluke. The TOURs Comeback Player of the Years two years running dueled Daniel Chopra down the stretch at Kapalua only to lose in a playoff. By the time the guys got to Tucson for the Match Play, Stricker had shot all the way up to No. 3 in the world. And who did Stricker beat in the first round there? Daniel Chopra.
At the Sony Open we learned how good K.J. Choi really has become. He saws everything left to right off the tee. But he rarely misses a fairway he needs to hit. We should have known, when Choi won Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods official events last year, that his was a game on the come.
At the Hope we learned how difficult it is to play on the lead. A much-improved Justin Leonard began the final round four shots clear of D.J. Trahan. His swing didnt hold up under the gun and Trahan lapped him on Sunday. Same went for Vijay Singh at Pebble Beach. Early Sunday the tournament looked to be his. Then he started missing greens and eventual winner Steve Lowery started stringing birdies.
Dont worry about Leonard, though. Already this year he has four top-10s and is beginning to look like a lock for Paul Azingers Ryder Cup team in September.
At the FBR we learned again that long-hitting J.B. Holmes likes the TPC Scottsdale. Holmes posted his second win there by birdieing the difficult 18th to force a playoff with Phil Mickelson. On the first extra hole, which also took place on No. 18, Holmes birdied it again for the win.
Mickelson, who had made an 11 on the 14th hole at Pebble Beach on Saturday to ingloriously miss the cut, was undaunted. We re-learned that when he showed up at Riviera and emerged victorious there for the first time in his career. Dont look now but Woods, still oh-for-Riviera, might be jealous.
And, oops, speaking of Woods: We almost forgot his tour de force, multi-stroke win at Torrey Pines in the Buick Invitational. He has now won four straight times there and will be even more of an overwhelming favorite (than he already was) when the worlds best players return to Torrey Pines South course for the U.S. Open in June.
Finally, not to forget Brian Gay. The 36-year-old journeyman, who also happens to be one of the best putters in the game, got the monkey off his back in his 293rd PGA TOUR start with his victory at Mayakoba. Dont be surprised if you see him in the TOUR Championship at the end of the year.
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - WGC-Accenture Match Play