Industry News

Forecast after West Coast calls for sunshine and drama

By Adam Schupak

To the saying, "The West Coast is the best coast," you'll get no argument from me when it comes to PGA Tour golf swings. The five-week stretch that began in La Quinta, Calif., and concluded in Pacific Palisades builds to a crescendo with a string of architectural gems such as Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach and Riviera Country Club. With the Florida Swing playing a man down now that Doral is out of the rota, it's probably a 3-and-2 victory closed out on the par-3 16th in front of 20,000 rabid fans at TPC Scottsdale. What did we learn on the West Coast before the Tour packed up the big tent for the Sunshine State? Quite a lot, as it turns out: 

New No. 1: Well, Dustin Johnson has been playing like the best golfer on the planet since June, but he made it official with a dominant performance at the Genesis Open, lapping the field by five strokes. He becomes the 20th No. 1-ranked player in the 31-year history of the Official World Golf Ranking. Even more impressive may be the list of golfers whom he joined who have won a PGA Tour event in each of his first 10 seasons. That elite company had been restricted to guys named Arnold, Jack and Tiger. When Johnson leads the field in strokes gained off the tee and third in putting, it's not a fair fight.

Matsuyama heats up: Last summer, Hideki Matsuyama seemed out of sorts, missing cuts at The Memorial and U.S. and British Opens, but he's firing on all cylinders again and riding a Tigeresque heater. Already one of the game’s premier ball-strikers, Matsuyama has displayed improved putting, which makes him an early Masters favorite who is poised for a breakout year.

Spieth does more than putt: Jordan Spieth is such a wizard with the short stick that the rest of his game often is overlooked. But the numbers this season don't lie, suggesting the swing changes that he struggled to perfect last year are taking hold. Spieth ranks second in strokes gained: approach-the-green (1.64 vs. .145 in '16) and first in greens in regulation (80.56 percent vs. 63.52), birdie average (5.75 vs. 4.26) and scoring average (68.78 vs. 69.52). At Pebble, he looked ready for the back nine at Augusta National on Sunday to begin. 

Rahm-bo, First Blood: If you've been paying attention, then Jon Rahm's maiden victory at the Farmers Insurance Open should have come as no surprise. The Spaniard by way of Arizona State already had racked up a bunch of impressive finishes last summer. What was so impressive was the cold-blooded way in which he did it: a back-nine 30 with a pair of eagles to leapfrog the competition. No first-time participant has won the Masters since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, but Rahm could have a legitimate shot this April. 

What's wrong with Bubba and Tiger?: There was a school of thought that missing the Ryder Cup team and serving as a vice captain would motivate Bubba Watson to reach new heights. So far, that hasn't been the case. He missed the cut in Phoenix and withdrew this week in L.A. without citing a reason for doing so. It's been a full calendar year since his last victory, and his recent form doesn't suggest that he's close to picking up victory No. 10.  

As for Tiger Woods, his withdrawal from the Genesis Open and this week's Honda Classic due to back spasms have crushed any optimism for a comeback. For now. It's another wait-and-see game, but it feels as if we've seen this movie before.

On to the start of the Florida Swing, where PGA National has been known to expose any weakness in one's game. Expect some Sunday drama – something lacking the last two weeks – and plenty of mentions of The Bear Trap.

Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: golfsdrivingforce@gmail.com; Twitter: @adamschupak.