Wild West swing
a great start to season
Doral has a tough act to follow
as slow march to Masters begins
Stringer/usa / Reuters
The Florida Swing has a tough act to follow.
For years, the PGA Tour didn’t really start until the stars began their slow march to the Masters by showing up at Doral, with its tropical warmth and swaying palm trees.
Miami will have to settle for warm weather and palm trees. Most of the stars are elsewhere this week.
And most of them are already off to a great start.
Attribute that to a wild, wild West Coast Swing, which featured no shortage of story lines.
- Four of the top five players in the world ranking won.
- Six tournaments were decided on the last hole, and three went to playoffs.
- Two players nearly squandered five-shot leads on the back nine.
- John Daly made news for his golf.
- A 14-year-old girl shot a 68, the lowest score ever by a female competing against men.
- No one said anything about Martha Burk.
Tiger Woods put an exclamation point on the West Coast Swing by winning the Match Play Championship for the second straight year.
Then, he crossed 12 time zones in an 18-hour flight to Dubai. Woods spent part of Tuesday hitting balls from the top of a hotel that’s taller than the Eiffel Tower, with some of those shots landing in the Arabian Gulf.
Vijay Singh, whose victory at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am was his 12th consecutive top-10 finish, also is in rare territory this week — home. The Fijian missed only one tournament on the West Coast Swing.
Ernie Els won the Sony Open in a playoff for the second straight year, then took a two-month break from the PGA Tour. He should be fresh for the Dubai Desert Classic, and he might even get another crack at ... Robert-Jan Derksen?
“Thanks for bringing that up,” Els said, reminded that even without Woods at Dubai last year, he still couldn’t handle a final-round 65 by a little-known Dutch player.
Mike Weir made a successful defense at the Nissan Open and was pleased to hear comparisons with another repeat winner at Riviera — Ben Hogan, not Corey Pavin.
The only player in the top five without a victory was Davis Love III, the runner-up at Match Play.
His only success was getting a heckler removed from the gallery at La Costa, tired of hearing “No Love” when he got ready to hit the ball.
“I should be allowed to play my shots without having someone distract me,” Love said Tuesday.
Good thing the Ryder Cup is a home game this year.
Love said he hasn’t read any criticism about the way he handled the heckler, although he noticed that one TV program nominated him for the “Just Shut Up” award.
Just his luck, he didn’t even win that.
“I finished fourth,” Love said.
Phil Mickelson isn’t in the top five, although that won’t be the case much longer.
After his worst season in 10 years on the PGA Tour, ending with an 0-5 record in the Presidents Cup, Mickelson won his first tournament of 2004 in a playoff at the Bob Hope Classic.
He has been a threat to win every time he has played — the final group in Phoenix, third at Pebble Beach, one shot out of the playoff at Torrey Pines, and the quarterfinals at Match Play.
He had only one bad round at La Costa, and even then he should have won except for one horrific swing — a 3-wood that turned birdie into bogey on the par-5 18th hole.
Still, Mickelson already has earned more money in five events this year than he won in 23 last year.
Does that make him the leading candidate for comeback player of the year?
Not after what happened at Torrey Pines.
Daly showed up at the Buick Invitational looking more like a two-time major champion than a guy who had more missed cuts than checks cashed. He was No. 299 in the world, was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, then won a PGA Tour event on U.S. soil for the first time in 10 years.
Daly doesn’t just win, either.
First, he closes with a 75, the highest final-round score by a winner in 13 years.
Then, he nearly holes a 100-foot bunker shot in the playoff and wins when Chris Riley, one of the best putters in golf, watches a 5-footer do everything but fall into the cup.
Two other comebacks fell just short.
Shigeki Maruyama made up a five-shot deficit in seven holes at Riviera, only to watch Weir make par and win on the 18th hole by nearly holing out a chip from the side of a hill.
Singh trailed by five shots with five holes left at Kapalua, and had a chance to tie Stuart Appleby until his 100-foot eagle putt stopped just short of the cup.
The Florida Swing is capable of that kind of drama.
Remember, it was only a year ago that Scott Hoch refused to continue his playoff with Jim Furyk at Doral because he couldn’t see, then beat him in a playoff the next morning.
Woods will try to become the first player to win the same tournament five straight years at Bay Hill.
The Players Championship is the next best thing to a major.
Now if the Honda Classic can only get Michelle Wie to play.