After Further Review: Tales from the desert


Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. In this edition of After Further Review, our writers weigh in on the happenings in the desert in La Quinta, Calif., at the Humana Challenge and in Abu Dhabi at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

While much attention will be paid to the footwork of Rory McIlroy and its costly consequences, my takeaway from this week's event in Abu Dhabi is the Ulsterman's consistent performance from tee to green.

Following a season that was more down than up, McIlroy began the new year in the desert with questions still lingering about the state of his game. He was largely able to silence them this week, though, with a T-2 performance in which he made just one bogey and one double in addition to Saturday's two-shot penalty that ultimately kept him from the trophy.

One event a year does not make, but this week McIlroy effectively built upon the momentum he garnered with a late-season win in Australia last month. If he is able to limit his mistakes this year as he did this week in Abu Dhabi, he's likely to return to the winner's circle on the PGA Tour sooner rather than later. - Will Gray

Even Phil Mickelson’s losses are our gain. He may not be the best player of his generation, but he’s the most entertaining, precisely because he courts risk and reward more fearlessly than any other player in the game today. Yeah, he blew it Sunday risking that right-handed play from under a bush at the 13th hole at Abu Dhabi. The double hit, leading to a triple bogey, was a dumb play, but that’s the risk Mickelson’s willing to take to pull off the magnificent.

If he weren’t, we never would have marveled over that derring-do, final-round shot he threaded through the narrow gap in the trees at the 13th hole at Augusta National when he won the Masters in 2010. Mickelson's gambles may not always be worth the risks, but they’re worth the price of admission. We’re fascinated because he can fail as spectacularly as he can succeed. Nobody can make you shake your head the way Mickelson does, in wins or losses. – Randall Mell

Patrick Reed won two NCAA titles at Augusta State, but he was always overlooked as one of the best players in college golf. Even though, in 2010, he beat Oklahoma State's Peter Uihlein in singles on his way to the title. Even though, in 2011, he topped Georgia's Harris English en route to the win, extending his NCAA match-play record to 6-0. The other players collected hardware. Reed, meanwhile, racked up high finishes and polished his game. Now, of course, he has joined English as a two-time PGA Tour winner, an impressive feat considering his 46 career starts. Overlooked? Not anymore. – Ryan Lavner

It seems stories of the old Bob Hope Classic’s demise were greatly exaggerated. There was a time, not that long ago, when one of the PGA Tour’s oldest stops seemed destined for extinction, an imperfect storm brought on by a poor golf course rotation and a parade of disengaged title sponsors. But in 2012 Humana stepped in with a mission to raise awareness of health and wellness in the United States, and enlisted the help of former President Bill Clinton and his foundation. The result has been a revitalized event with an ever-improving field and a purpose. Hope would be proud. – Rex Hoggard

 Joey Sindelar once told me that he loved starting his year at the old Bob Hope, because it would give him a guaranteed four rounds (now three) to thaw out from his Horseheads, N.Y., home in less brutal conditions. That message remains. A winning score of 28 under, a cut line at 9 under - some may call it too easy. Or even worse, they’ll use this tourney as Exhibit A in their case against Golf As We Know It, claiming players are too strong, equipment is too dialed in and courses are too obsolete. That would be too nearsighted a view, though. There's nothing wrong with an early-year birdiefest to help eliminate those cobwebs. It doesn't have to endure as commentary on the state of the game. - Jason Sobel

Lost in the focus the past two days over Patrick Reed in the California desert and Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson in the Abu Dhabi desert was the most remarkable performance of the weekend. Zach Johnson wrapped up an incredible stretch of golf with a best-in-field 10-under 62 on Sunday. That gave him a T-3 finish to go along with his wins in the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge and Hyundai Tournament of Champions and a T-8 in the Sony Open in Hawaii. Johnson won’t play again until the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship at the end of February. Here’s hoping he comes back just as hot as he is now. – Al Tays