News & Opinion

Tour revels in 7-week revival out West

The PGA Tour’s West Coast Swing wrapped up Sunday, with Bubba Watson’s victory at Riviera (his 10th career title). So what did we learn from the tour’s seven-week journey through Hawaii, Arizona and California? Plenty, as it turned out:

Tiger Woods is not ready for prime time. Woods showed he can compete on a friendly, forgiving course – he tied for 23rd at Torrey Pines, his personal playground in San Diego. But he unraveled at Riviera, which punished his rampant wildness off the tee and exposed his unreliable putting. 

Speaking of which: Woods never seemed to miss 6-8-foot par putts back in the day. These are different days, clearly.

Woods figures to make two or three starts before the Masters, including this week at the Honda Classic, so he’ll have a chance to sharpen his game. But only the most optimistic/delusional Tiger fans expect Woods to plant himself in contention at the majors, which are not held on friendly, forgiving tracks.

Bubba’s back. Watson won for the first time in two years, with an impressive display of power and finesse on his back-nine 33. He holed a bunker shot on No. 14 and unleashed a massive tee shot to set up another birdie on No. 17. Bubba Golf, with shots curving this way and that, is always fun to watch.

Watson extended the entertainment value to the basketball court, playing in the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game on Friday. He launched one airball and had another shot blocked. Stick to golf, Bubba.

Riviera remains endearingly old-school cool. Really, we could watch Tour pros play No. 10 – the best short par 4 on the planet – on an endless, riveting loop. And how about Patrick Cantlay’s brilliant chip shot Saturday on No. 6, floating over the middle-of-the-green bunker, from one side of the putting surface to the other, catching the slope and crawling within inches of the hole?

That was the best shot on the West Coast Swing covering less than 400 yards (yep, D.J., we remember Kapalua).

Phil Mickelson is not done yet. Mickelson, who turns 48 in June, keeps showing up on Sunday leaderboards. In consecutive weeks, he tied for fifth in Scottsdale, tied for second at Pebble Beach and tied for sixth at Riviera.

Even if he still hasn’t won in nearly five years – since the 2013 British Open – Mickelson wouldn’t be a bad pick at the Masters. Not at all. 

The underdog lives. One unexpected lesson from the West Coast Swing: An unheralded left-hander with a stiff swing, little personality and No. 246 world ranking can conquer Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day in the final round of the AT&T Pro-Am. Take a bow, Ted Potter Jr. 

Not quite the Prince of Pebble. For all the chatter about Johnson’s history on the storied seaside links, he’s not a good closer at Pebble Beach. In his two long-ago victories there (2009 and ’10), one final round was washed out by rain and he shot 74 in the other. He also imploded with a final-round 82 in the 2010 U.S. Open. This year, he shot 72 on Sunday and never pushed Potter.

Don’t sleep on J-Day. Seven weeks ago, it was easy to dismiss Day as a factor in the crowded race to challenge Johnson for supremacy. Day promptly won at Torrey Pines and tied for second at Pebble Beach. 

He’s 30 and in his prime. Day is not done yet. 

The West Coast Swing is absolutely not dead. Forget fears of the wraparound schedule rendering these tournaments irrelevant. With classic venues, deep fields and star-studded leaderboards, the West Coast offered a strong start to 2018.

Onward to Florida.

Ron Kroichick has covered golf for the San Francisco Chronicle since 2005. He also is a regular contributor to NCGA Golf, the Northern California Golf Association’s magazine. E-mail: r.kroichick@comcast.net; Twitter: @ronkroichick