The Best (and Worst) of the West Coast Swing
February 23, 2014
Best player: Jimmy WalkerWalker's win at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am gave him three wins in the 2013-2014 season before anyone else had two. He struggled down the stretch at Pebble, but his win at the Sony Open the previous month proved he could also close in strong fashion. Walker shot a final-round 63 there to pull away from the field and show his season-opening win at the Frys.com Open wasn't a fluke. That being said. . .
Biggest surprise: Jimmy WalkerWalker was still the biggest surprise of the early season. By far. Before his three wins in eight starts, Walker had a total of zero victories in 187 starts on the PGA Tour. Hey, better late than never.
Most impressive week: Jason Day (WGC-Accenture Match Play)The 26-year-old finally earned an elusive second PGA Tour title and he made it a big one. Day didn't have an off day in the desert, defeating all six opponents he faced during a long week. He moved to No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking and to the top of a lot of people's Masters picks. Of course, the guy he beat in the final had a decent week as well. . .
Best breakout performance/Best Harry Houdini Impression: Victor Dubuisson (WGC-Accenture Match Play)The Frenchman refused to lose in the final, winning 17 and 18 to send the match to extra holes and then pulling off two of the most remarkable par escapesyou'll ever see to keep things going. The magic finally ran out on the 23rd hole when Day's birdie ended things. Still, the 23-year-old won a lot of new fans. We hope to see more of his act in the future.
Biggest breakthrough by a guy who already broke through: Bubba Watson (Northern Trust Open)It's tough to say a former Masters champion really needed a win, but for Watson, this was the case. The long-hitting lefty hadn't won since his dramatic victory at Augusta National in 2012 and he was coming off a bogey on the final hole of regulation at the Waste Management Phoenix Open to lose by one. But this time, Watson slammed the door on the tournament with a 64-64 weekend at Riviera to win by two. Speaking of repetitive low scores. . .
Biggest Birdie Binge: Patrick Reed (Humana Challenge)Sometimes, simple nicknames are the best. Reed became known as "Mr. 63" during the Humana Challenge for his three consecutive rounds of 63 to start the tournament. Not surprisingly, that's never been done on the PGA Tour before. Also not surprising? Reed won the event.
Biggest disappointment: Tiger WoodsThe only Tiger sighting thus far in the PGA Tour season came at Torrey Pines, where he finished T-80 and failed to make the Sunday cut at a tournament for the first time. His performance, especially a Saturday 79, was stunning coming at a course where he's won eight times as a pro. He was also one of the big three names (Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott were the others) to skip the WGC-Accenture Match Play. Apparently, he's waiting for the Florida Swing to heat up.
Most seamless equipment transition: Harris EnglishLike Rory McIlroy, English is one of just three current players under 25 to have multiple PGA Tour titles. Unlike McIlroy, changing equipmenthasn't seemed to slow him down. In fact, his win over McIlroy in the WGC-Match Play ensured his fourth top 10 in six tries with his new Callaway clubs.
Best player when given ample driving range space: Zach JohnsonJohnson won 2014's opener in Hawaii in his first start after topping host Tiger Woods at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge. In other words, he's been cleaning up at limited-field events. Johnson only beat a combined 46 people in those two tournaments, but moved to a career-high No. 7 in the Official World Golf Ranking. OK, so he's done pretty good in full-field events as well, with a T-8 at the Sony Open and a T-3 at the Humana Challenge.
Best feel-good story: Kevin Stadler (Waste Management Phoenix Open)It's always nice to see a player break through for a first PGA Tour win, especially when he's been waiting so long. But Stadler's victory in his 239th career start also means that he and his dad Craig, will become the first father-son comboto play in the same Masters this April. Pretty neat.
Worst meltdowns: Gary WoodlandThe 54-hole leader seemed in control after a birdie on No. 13 during Sunday's final round at Torrey Pines. But he bogeyed No. 14 and then snap-hooked his tee shot out of play on No. 17, which led to a double bogey. A disappointing par on the par-5 18th dropped him to T-10 and gave him a closing 74 -- three shots worse than anyone else in the top 10. But Woodland wasn't done. Less than a month later, he was 3 up on Graeme McDowell with three holes to play in the opening round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play before G-Mac won four consecutive holes. Ouch.
Best player without a win: Jordan SpiethSpieth seems to be in the hunt on a weekly basis, but a few lackluster Saturdayshave cost him from earning a second PGA Tour title. Still, his three top fives early in 2014 indicate the 20-year-old star isn't about to have a sophomore slump.
Best performance under pressure: Dustin Johnson (Pebble Beach AT&T National Pro-Am)It's hard enough to play well with a future father-in-law, but when it's one of the greatest athletes ever? A guy known as The Great One? Yeah, that's a lot of pressure. But DJ handled it well, finishing runner-up at the event and helping Wayne Gretzky make the cut in the pro-am. Wayne also has been put at ease over the financial security of his daughter and bride-to-be, Paulina. Johnson has already earned nearly $3 million in just five events, as much as he made in all of 2013.
Most photogenic moment: Holly Sonders (Humana Challenge)The Golf Channel host and Golf Digest cover girl was a star attraction when she competed in the pro-amportion of the Humana Challenge -- and not because of her accuracy off the tee.
Least photogenic moment: Stewart Cink (Sony Open)(Insert spray-tan jokehere.)