News & Opinion

Tiger, tortoise star in West Coast drama

The PGA Tour completed its West Coast Swing on Sunday, with J.B. Holmes … eventually … winning … at … Riviera. So, what did we learn from the Tour’s meandering, seven-week trip through Hawaii, California and Arizona?

Quite a bit, actually:

Tiger is still must-see TV. Tiger Woods captivated viewers with his birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie start to Saturday’s rain-delayed third round of the Genesis Open at Riviera. Then he made birdie on three of his first seven holes in Sunday’s final round.

There’s nothing as riveting as a rampaging Tiger.

But he’s also 43, not 23. That showed down the stretch, when Woods admittedly got tired and played his final 11 holes in 4 over. He will win again this year, absolutely. He will not contend every week, as he once did. That’s just not realistic.

Tour officials need to address slow play (duh). Holmes clearly earned his reputation for dawdling. Sunday’s final round was painful to watch, almost enough to make you shout at the TV, “Hit the damn ball!” (Guilty as charged.)

This is not good for the PGA Tour product. Not at all. It’s long past time for Tour officials to stop pampering the players, enforce the rules and hand out penalty strokes. That’s the only viable deterrent.

But to his credit … Let’s not forget the human-interest layer to Holmes’ victory. The man had brain surgery in September 2011. He since has come back to pocket three more wins, to go with two earlier triumphs. Holmes outlasted a strong pack of contenders Sunday, including Justin Thomas, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy.

Bravo.

Matt Kuchar might want to hire a better PR firm – or just use common sense. Holmes seems like a speed demon compared to Kuchar, who took more than three months to fix his Mexico caddie mess.

Yes, Kuchar had a verbal agreement to pay $3,000 to local caddie David Ortiz. But it shouldn’t have required a vigorous, social-media backlash for Kuchar to realize that, even with the $2,000 bonus, it looked terribly cheap when he earned $1.296 million for winning the Mayakoba Golf Classic in November.

Do the math: That’s less than one-half of 1 percent. Would you tip your barber that little?

This lingering controversy overshadowed Kuchar’s victory last month at the Sony Open in Hawaii, his second victory of the 2018-19 season. You are forgiven if you forgot.

Be careful when taking relief near water. Rickie Fowler learned this lesson, harshly, during the final round of the Phoenix Open. Fowler already had taken one penalty for chipping the ball into the water. He incurred another penalty when his next ball, at rest, trickled down the greenside slope and also got wet.

Fowler showed impressive resilience by regaining his composure and making two birdies down the stretch to win. Could this finally be the year when Fowler wins a major?

Not all rules make sense. See above. Fowler did nothing to cause the ball to move. (He wasn’t anywhere near it at the time.) This is why casual fans mock golf, because of illogical rules.

At least USGA and Tour officials showed flexibility in reversing the two-stroke penalty against Denny McCarthy in the same tournament. They belatedly realized that his caddie didn’t line him up; McCarthy backed away and started over.

Phil Mickelson is not done yet. Mickelson is 48, an age at which most golfers – even the great ones – fade from prominence. But he summoned his old magic on the West Coast Swing, with a tie for second at the Desert Classic and a stirring, bogey-free, final-round 65 to win at Pebble Beach.

Watch out for Lefty.

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