Tales of the Old West Done in a Golf Wrapping


So after two months of thrashing around in the Western United States, the PGA Tour heads east. Eight tournaments is a satisfactory time to tell who has done well and who hasn't. Davis Love III, Mark Calcavecchia and Brad Faxon did quite well. David Duval, Lee Janzen, Mark O'Meara and Notah Begay have been disappointing. You can throw in Tiger Woods if you are judging him by the stratospheric standards of a nine-event winner.
A word of caution: many of the sites where the western tournaments have been played aren't at their optimum condition. Rough isn't at its full growth yet. Putting surfaces have been spotty. If it were possible to play these tournaments in April or May, you would see much improved golf courses. But the Tour and television decree the order of play, and the decree is that the West starts the schedule. So tournament directors make the best of it and hold their parties, knowing that their courses aren't yet at their best.
And some of the players traditionally don't play well on the West Coast grasses. One stroke a round makes a big difference, two strokes a round means making or missing the cut, and some players lose that many trying to adjust to poa annua or inferior bent instead of Bermuda. That does make a difference, people.
Tee times are generally earlier in the west. Again, television. TV wants the events off the air in time for local news at 6 p.m. in the east. That's just 3 p.m. in the west, the best time of the day for good golf. But in order to get everyone around, golfers play in threesomes throughout the tournament instead of twosomes the final two days. Fields are cut down to 144 players - there are 156 for much of the eastern swing.
Included in the statistics were the Accenture Match Play, a World Golf Championship event held this year is Australia, and the Mercedes Championships, which hosts only 30 players. So some players have been eligible for only six events while others have been eligible for eight.
But Love and Faxon have been big surprises, Love because he hasn't won since early in 1998. And Tiger Woods has been a mild eye-opener, if only because he didn't win out west. He played five times and the worst he did was twice finish tied for 13th. But he is held to a higher standard by virtue of his nine wins last year, and he was raised in Southern California, so the conditions ought to be right down his wheelhouse.
Two statistics stand out in Woods' West Coast performance: his putting average is No. 140, and his par-3 performance is 135th. That normally is an indication that the irons are not struck very crisply. He is third in par-5s and fourth in par-4s, both a very good number, but a 3.06 stroke average on the par-3s isn't going to win any tournaments.
Tiger ranks 157th in sand-save percentage, but that is a product of his putting. He says that's because of a frustrating number of lipouts, but unfortunately those are logged in the stats book as just another miss. Last year they were going dead-center and this year they are catching the edge. That says Tiger is off, by how much we'll concede him the benefit of a doubt. The par-3 thing, though, is definitely something gone awry.
That, though, is commentary on the Tour's No. 16-ranked player, not a bad place to be after the first two months. Obviously his problems are not overly serious. But they definitely aren't up to the standards of a player who wins nine times.
Love is something else. He won at Pebble Beach, lost a playoff at San Diego, and finished just one shot out of a playoff at Los Angeles. Undoubtedly the problems of Woods have had a beneficial effect on him, as it has a number of players. But at age 37, he is playing some of the best golf of his career. He leads the Tour both in scoring average and in total money.
Faxon still has problems with the driver, standing 160th in driving accuracy, but he has hit the greens often enough to make a charge at the hole. He's 31st in that category and No. 28 in putting. Put together, they add up to No. 2 on the money list.
Begay looked like he was on his way up-up-up last year, but this year he is 190th in driving distance and 195th in putting. Maybe it's time he thought about going lefty or righty, one or the other, on the rollers. Janzen is 180th in driving accuracy and is currently in the middle of a slump. In 1998 he was No. 20 on the money, but the last two years he has finished 48th and 62nd.
O'Meara is 136th in driving distance and 190th in accuracy, simply leaving him too far back in the rough. And that, when a usually fine putter is 102nd in putting, makes one think long and hard about the television racket.
And Duval? Well, just one number needs to be mentioned here - 122. That's where he stands in putting. He has missed the cut in two of four tournaments and finished 59th in a third. He, more than anyone, will probably say, 'Bye bye, West, and good riddance.'