Writer: Lucas Garza
Although the PGA TOUR has implemented the wrap around season within the last few years, the real golf season to many doesn’t begin until the first tournament in January. The first tournaments are always in Hawaii, then the TOUR heads to the West coast of the United States.
In a small field with the game’s biggest names, Dustin Johnson returned to his winning ways by crushing the field to an 8 shot victory at the Tournament of Champions. This tournament in Maui only includes the winners from the tournaments since last year’s invitational. In the next week in Hawaii, the leaderboard was much less star studded, but there was plenty of drama. On Sunday, the cameramen that work for the GOLF Channel went on strike, so there were only limited views from the course that the at-home viewers to see. Patton Kizzire and James Hahn ended up going into a six hole playoff, that was eventually won by Kizzire. This was Kizzire’s second win of the season, with his first coming at Mayakoba in November of last year.
The TOUR headed to California the next week to the Careerbuilder Challenge. This tournament took place over three different courses, with the fourth/final round played at PGA West’s Stadium Course. Adam Hadwin, who shot a 59 in last year’s Careerbuilder Challenge and Texas A&M alum Martin Pillar, made strides to try to win, but both finished T3, two shots back of Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm. Landry was the best player on the Web.com Tour last season, and Jon Rahm has made his mark over the past two years. In the playoff, Landry’s putting let him down twice, and Rahm won after four holes.
Tiger Woods made his official return to the PGA TOUR the next week at the Farmers Insurance Open, which took place at Torrey Pines, where Tiger has won eight times. Woods barely made the cut on friday, but played a couple shots better on the weekend to sneak into a top 25 finish. Jason Day, Alex Noren, and Ryan Palmer found themselves tied for the lead after the end of 72 holes. After Palmer was eliminated after the first playoff hole, Day and Noren played four more holes in the dark, and were still tied. They came back on Monday morning, with no gallery to watch them. Noren decided to not lay up on his second shot early in the morning, and it cost him as he saw his ball fall into the water at the South Course’s 18th hole. Day made an easy birdie to win the tournament.
Phoenix hosted the TOUR’s next stop at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Hideki Matsuyama, who had won the previous two years, had to withdraw due to injury, leaving the field wide open. Gary Woodland and Chez Reavie would find themselves in another playoff on TOUR, but this one was finished after one hole. Woodland would win after Reavie made bogey on the 18th hole of TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course. The attendance record continued to top itself year after year due to the tournament’s wild atmosphere.
The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am was the next stop. The tournament was played over four days on three courses on the Monterey Peninsula. Although the views are gorgeous and the course is historic, the AT&T Pro-Am has been unable to produce exciting golf to watch over the past several years. This year, Ted Potter Jr. took a multiple shot lead over Dustin Johnson early on Sunday, and nobody ever came close to catching him. Jason Day, Chez Reavie, Dustin Johnson, and Phil Mickelson all finished three strokes back in a T2.
The final tournament of the West Coast Swing was at the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club, one of the most historic and beautiful courses on TOUR. Tiger Woods had his PGA TOUR debut at Riviera in 1992 when he was just 16 and made his first appearance at the tournament since 2006. Woods birdied the 10th in the second round and found himself right on the cut line, but he ended up going +4 on the last 8 holes to miss the cut. Bubba Watson found himself near the top of the leaderboard after two rounds, and then played in NBA Celebrity All-Star Game later that night. Watson returned Saturday to take the lead and found himself on top of the leaderboard for the majority of the day on Sunday. On the 14th hole, Watson holed his bunker shot for a birdie, taking a 2 shot lead in the process. The course’s dramatic 18th hole would not have any drama as Watson would win by 2 shots over Kevin Na and Tony Finau.
Phil Mickelson finished the West Coast Swing in very good form and will play next at the WGC-Mexico Championship, where he contended last year. It would not be surprising to see Phil get his first win since the 2013 Open Championship in two weeks. Tiger will play this week at the Honda Classic, which is good news for his health, proving that he can play back-to-back weeks while traveling across the country. It is now time for the Florida Swing, where players look to improve the FedEx Cup Ranking heading into the middle of the season.