The best (and worst) of the PGA Tour's West Coast Swing
Hunter Mahan's win over Rory McIlroy in the final of the WGC-Accenture Match Play capped the PGA Tour's West Coast Swing and an exciting first eight weeks to the 2012 season. Here's a look back at what has transpired thus far:
Phil Mickelson at Pebble: After a rough start to his 20th PGA Tour season, Mickelson got into contention at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, setting up a final-round pairing with Tiger Woods. What happened was downright shocking as Mickelson played one of the best rounds of his storied career to top his rival by 11 shots and win his 40th PGA Tour title. His flawless 64 -- the low round of the day by three shots -- made many believe the 41-year old is poised to have a big year in the major championships.
Photo: Harry How/Getty Images
Johnson Wagner: Wagner entered 2012 with two tour wins, but little was expected of him. Now he's an early candidate for Player of the Year after taking the tour's Player of the Month Award for January. J-Wags started with three consecutive top 10s, including a win at the Sony Open and a runner-up at the Humana Challenge. Oh yeah, he's also a runaway winner for having the tour's most ridiculous mustache.
Northern Trust Open: This one had it all. Big names, clutch shots/putts, and a historic venue. Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley both birdied Riviera's brutal par-4 18th hole to tie clubhouse leader Bill Haas. After the three all parred that same hole to start a sudden-death playoff, they headed to the course's famed 10th hole. With a terrible angle after a wayward drive on the short par 4, Haas safely pitched onto the center of the green, 45 feet away. He then drained the unlikely birdie putt and when Mickelson and Bradley couldn't match, the 2011 FedEx Cup champion had another thrilling playoff win and his fourth tour title.
Hunter Mahan: It's rare for the winner of the annual WGC-Accenture Match Play to be clearly the best player all week, but that's exactly what the 29-year-old American was. Mahan made a tournament-high 35 birdies, won 20 more holes than his opponents and only had to go to the 18th hole once in his six matches. Oh yeah, he only topped arguably the game's best player in Rory McIlroy in the final. Perhaps Mahan is on track to become the next great American golfer. At the very least, this performance, coupled with a 4-1 record at the Presidents Cup, are a good indication he's moved on from his his heartbreaking match-play experience at the 2010 Ryder Cup.
John Huh: South Korea's Sang-Moon Bae has also been impressive, but Huh gets the nod for his win at the Mayakoba Classic when he topped Robert Allenby in an eight-hole playoff. The 21-year old won in just his fifth start on the PGA Tour and also has a T-6 (Farmers Insurance Open) and a T-12 (Waste Management Phoenix Open) to his credit. A New York native, Huh's win also means that American-born players have won all nine tournaments thus far.
Spencer Levin: Sure, Kyle Stanley triple-bogeyed the 72nd hole at Torrey Pines before losing in a playoff, but his biggest crime was hitting one wedge shot with a little too much backspin. Levin's loss appeared to be must more attributed to nerves getting the best of him. Looking for a maiden win on the PGA Tour, he took a six-shot lead into the final round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. An early birdie increased the margin to seven, but he would play the last 15 holes on an easy TPC Scottsdale in five-over par -- including a disastrous double bogey on the par-5 15th -- to finish in third place. But with every cloud...
Kyle Stanley: Levin's letdown opened the door for Stanley to atone for his own choke the week before. Playing ahead of Levin, Stanley scorched TPC Scottsdale for a 65 to win by one shot. The Clemson product is also currently No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings.
Brandt Snedeker: Sneds got off-season hip surgery, but it hasn't slowed him from getting off to the best start of his professional career. He has three top 10s in five events, including a win at the Farmers Insurance Open. Just to be safe, though, might be smart to hold off using that surfboard he got along with the trophy...
Luke Donald: Last year's PGA Tour Player of the Year sits at T-159 in the current FedEx Cup standings. Sure, it's only been two tournaments, but when you're the No. 1 player in the world, expectations are raised. Donald shot a final-round 78 at Riviera to finish T-56 and then got crushed by Ernie Els in the first round of the Match Play as the defending champ. And speaking of great expectations...
The jury is still out
Tiger Woods: His putting has looked abysmal at times, but again, it's early. Woods has only played six rounds on the PGA Tour thus far this year, but those first three nearly produced his first win on tour in two and a half years. And as bad as he played in the final round at Pebble, if not for a couple sloppy putts on the final four holes after he was out of the tournament, he would have still finished in the top five. While that's not a usual measure of success for the 14-time major champion, it's certainly an improvement from what we've seen the past two years.
-- Alex Myers