Lessons from the West Coast Swing
MARANA, Ariz.(AP) Two months into the season, Tiger Woods has played only seven rounds on the PGA Tour.
The West Coast Swing usually doesn't set any trends, and it is hard to find any this year. There were nine tournaments and nine winners, the third time in the last four years that has happened. Ages of the winners ranged from 25 (Aaron Baddeley) to 50 (Fred Funk). Woods won for the 12th straight season, while Paul Goydos won for the first time in 12 years.
From the shores of Hawaii to the high desert of Arizona, there were some topics worth one last visit before the PGA Tour heads across the country on the Florida Swing.
Tiger Time: Woods' three tee times at the Accenture Match Play Championship began at 12:02 p.m., noon and noon. Live television coverage those three days also began at noon.
What a coincidence.
Television can't get enough of Woods, because he hasn't been around that much. The two tournaments were the fewest he has played on the West Coast Swing since his first full season in 1997, but the bigger question is whether this trend continues. He skipped Riviera for the second time in his career, and the Mercedes-Benz Championship for the second year in a row.
Pebble Beach has not been part of his schedule since 2002, although that might change with the 2010 U.S. Open approaching.
The best guess is that Woods will play 16 or 17 times on the PGA Tour this year. That depends on when his first child is born (expected early July) and if he starts the FedExCup finale in New York or waits until the second ``playoff'' event outside Boston.
Whether he should play more is an endless debate. At this point in his career, Jack Nicklaus was playing 18 times on the PGA Tour and trying to peak for the majors.
FedEx Follies: The only people talking about the FedExCup are employees in Memphis, Tenn., and Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Of course, that doesn't include the shameless plugs on TV such as, ``Oooh, that putt could cost him FedExCup points.''
``I'm tired of listening to it, you know?'' Vijay Singh said after his first round of the year. ``It's a great thing for us to think of when the time comes to think about it. It's like trying to pick a Presidents Cup team in the beginning of the year.''
Translation: Come talk to me in early August.
The tour reached an all-time low - and it's only February - at the Accenture Match Play Championship. The first introduction of Woods at a press conference was not that he was going for No. 8 in a row on the PGA Tour, but that he was No. 8 in the FedExCup standings.
Geoff Ogilvy had just lost in the final when he was told he had earned 2,835 FedExCup points.
``That's exciting,'' Ogilvy said in sarcasm so thick that the media erupted in laughter.
The promotion has been so over-the-top that the FedExCup has become a running joke among the people the tour wants to promote it. Besides, last week was a World Golf Championship, which belongs as much to the European Tour and Asian Tour as it does the PGA Tour.
No one talks about the playoffs in baseball until after the All-Star break at the earliest.
That's good advice for the tour.
Singh's Song: Despite winning the season-opener at Kapalua, questions remain whether Singh's best days are behind him.
He has played seven out of eight weeks on the West Coast with only one other finish in the top 10 - he closed with a 64 to tie for seventh. Singh nearly missed the cut in Honolulu and San Diego, and he was beaten in the second round of Match Play.
Singh is No. 9 in the world ranking, and barring a turnaround, could be out of the top 10 for the first time in 10 years.
Best Back-To-Back Stops in Golf: One complaint often heard from players is that the PGA Tour doesn't always go to the best course in town. Lips are zipped for two weeks in February.
Are there better back-to-back courses on any tour than Pebble Beach and Riviera? Also worthy of consideration is St. Andrews and Wentworth in September on the European Tour.
Life Without Tiger: There were seven examples of that during the West Coast Swing, and it became a hot topic when Jack Vickers closed up shop at his International tournament outside Denver because he couldn't get Woods.
But the Nissan Open was the best example of what the PGA Tour would look like had Woods chosen another line of work. Riviera had 11 of the top 13 players in the world ranking, minus Woods and Henrik Stenson.
The Sunday leaderboard featured Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Charles Howell III, Padraig Harrington, Jim Furyk and Sergio Garcia. Mickelson bogeyed the 18th hole to slip into a playoff, which Howell won on the third extra hole.
The overnight rating was 3.4, which was up from 2.6 the previous year when Woods withdrew on the weekend with the flu.
The course and weather was magnificent. The story lines were plentiful.
There would been a bigger buzz and higher ratings had Woods been part of the mix. Without him, it was still good stuff.
Life With Lefty: Say this for Phil Mickelson - he makes it hard to ignore him.
One week he was practically flawless in winning Pebble Beach, the next week he bogeyed the 18th hole at Riviera and lost in a playoff. Mickelson wound up playing six consecutive weeks on the West Coast with mixed success, and plenty of speculation.
Similar to Woods, the real measure for him will be in the majors.
The first test is not for another six weeks at the Masters, where the winner gets a green jacket, a silver trophy of the Augusta National clubhouse, a lifetime exemption and - this is the real payoff - 4,950 points toward the FedExCup.