Seems like just yesterday we were celebrating the start of another season. Year 2 of the FedEx Cup era, which is notable only because we have been spared hourly points updates. The 13th season of the Tiger Woods era, which got off to a chilly start when the world No. 1 dropped a blog bomb, opining that the Grand Slam is “easily within reason.”
One minute we’re gazing at idyllic Hawaiian landscapes, wondering when we were going to see Woods; the next thing you know the rank-and-file are on a red-eye to Florida, wondering whether he’ll ever go away.
As Left Coast junkets go, the first nine PGA tournaments of ’08 had a little something for everyone – triumph (Woods at Buick and WGC-Match), surprise (Steve Lowery at Pebble Beach and Daniel Chopra in Maui), sadness (the death of colorful caddie Steve Duplantis) and relief (Michelle Wie’s name didn’t appear on a single men’s tee sheet).
Before we blaze into Florida with Georgia – and azaleas – on our mind, let’s put a wrap on the West Coast:
• Woods’ birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle-par finish to edge J.B. Holmes in the first round at the WGC-Accenture Match Play likely gets the “SportsCenter” nod for round of the swing. But consider the less-viewed-yet-equally-impressive round Tim Wilkinson put together on Saturday at the Sony in Hawaii. The New Zealander’s third-round 62 featured eight birdies and not a single miscue.
• Last year, Brandt Snedeker used the West Coast to emerge from a talented rookie class on his way to Rookie of the Year honors. Dustin Johnson seemed to distance himself this time with three top-15 finishes (Sony, T-10; Bob Hope, T-12; Pebble Beach, T-7). Expect to see the South Carolina native on leaderboards for the rest of the year.
• A new abbreviation supplanted “DQ” as the most chilling sight a pro can see on a leaderboard. “MDF” – made cut: did not finish – was a hot topic on practice ranges from Waialae to Riviera. The Tour scrambled for a solution, instituting a secondary cut on Saturdays, but we haven’t heard the last of this issue. For players, MDF brought to mind another infamous notation: NFL – “No Fun League.”
• A pair of after-hours snapshots stand out as quintessential West Coast moments. The first occurred at the Beer Hunter Sports Pub & Grill, a legendary Palm Springs, Calif., watering hole for caddies. Imagine the chagrin when Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey eased in during the Bob Hope. You can tell a lot about a person by the way he unwinds, and “Two Gloves” is good people.
The second occurred a week later during the Buick Invitational at the Brigantine, a Del Mar, Calif., pub. While waiting for a table, we ran into a few caddies who were having an impromptu eulogy for Duplantis, the longtime Tour caddie who died a few nights earlier less than a mile south on Highway 101.
• Maybe it’s an “El Nino” year after all, considering the weekly forecasts at the Bob Hope, which was ravaged in consecutive years by high winds and cold temperatures, and Pebble Beach. “Crosby Weather” and another wind tunnel Sunday at the Classic Club were replaced by chamber-of-commerce perfection at both stops.
• Of all the reasons to dislike The Gallery as the site of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship – a list that includes a six-mile, out-and-out routing and perhaps the worst viewing areas on Tour – we finally found some motivation to look forward to Tucson. Lil’ Abner’s Steakhouse, an out-of-the-way Bar-B-Que joint that features no menus and a grill adjacent to the front door, almost makes it worth braving all those jumping cactus. Almost.
• Although he made just two cameos on the West Coast, Woods’ performance was, well, unmatched. He was untouchable in a U.S. Open warm-up at Torrey Pines and showed why he thinks a Grand Slam is “easily within reason,” at the Match Play. For the week, Woods made 93 of 102 putts from 10 feet and in. That’s 91 percent of the kind of rollers that give your off-the-shelf Tour pro nightmares.
The Tour shouldn’t start testing for steroids in July. The circuit should come up with a way to test for ice. It seems to be the most important substance pumping through Woods’ veins these days.