CBS got lucky this year with their coverage of the PGA Tour’s West Coast Swing.
First came the struggles of Kyle Stanley at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. Stanley entered the final round with a five-shot lead, struggled the whole way around on Sunday, made a triple bogey eight on the 72nd hole and lost to Brandt Snedeker in a playoff.
The very next week, the reverse scenario transpired at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Spencer Levin had a six-shot lead heading into the final round, shot 75 and the aforementioned comeback kid, Kyle Stanley, shot a stellar 65 on Sunday to collect his first PGA Tour victory. Stanley wins the all-time redemption award for golfers, as well as the undying respect of golf fans everywhere.
The AT&T National Pro-Am from famed Pebble Beach was the next stop. The featured partnership of Tony Romo and Tiger Woods didn’t fail to impress, and Romo even qualified for the final round on Sunday. Best of all, there was a Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson grouping in the final round.
Phil and Tiger were close to the lead and were in the next to last group. It was like déjà vu’ all over again, as Yogi would say.
We all saw what happened: Phil was striping fairways with his driver, knocking down pins with his irons and he made about three miles of putts to beat Tiger by 11 shots and win the tournament. The television viewing audience in 2012 was 76 percent larger than for the 2011 AT&T final round.
The tour then moved its traveling road show to La La Land and beautiful Riviera Country Club. Riviera is the home of bronzed famous Hollywood stars, with a statue to three-time L.A. Open winner Ben Hogan.
A resurgent Phil Mickelson was not quite as sharp as the previous week but still good enough to tie for the 54 lead with youngster Keegan Bradley.
Bradley and Mickelson both could only manage even par 71s in the final round, and both had to birdie the tough 18th hole to get into a playoff with clubhouse leader Bill Haas. The drama on the 72nd hole was priceless.
All three players were able to scratch out pars on the 18th, the first hole of the playoff, and then move to the short, treacherous 10th hole. Only 315 yards on the score card, but a hole fraught with danger and double bogeys lurking to frustrate golfers.
All three of the players were left with difficult chip shots onto the green. Haas, who had pulled his tee shot left of the green, was forced to play safe and leave his second shot some 45 feet from the hole but on the green. Even though Mickelson and Bradley were within 40 yards of the green, neither was able to keep their second shots on the putting surface. Haas calmly drained his long putt and put the pressure squarely on the other two competitors. Phil and Keegan both missed their birdie tries, giving the trophy to Haas.
Even though Mickelson didn’t win, his runner-up finish moved him back into the top 10 in the Official World Golf Rankings.
Four thrilling weeks of PGA Tour golf gave us the best West Coast Swing in many years. This is just a preview of what the 2012 golf season holds.
Rejuvenated veterans, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, along with European stars Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, give us a cast of capable golfers who can contend every week. Throw in youngsters, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Bill Haas, Webb Simpson, as well as Keegan Bradley, and you have a very tasty combination of youth, talent and experience.
Even though Phil is taking the week off for spring break with his family this week, the WGC-Accenture will pit the top players in a no-holds barred match play event. In three weeks, the WGC-Cadillac will again bring all of the top players to Doral for a tuneup for the Masters, which will begin the first week of April.
Can Tiger continue to progress and capture a fourth WGC Match Play trophy?
Can Luke Donald go deep into the week and validate his No. 1 ranking?
Can Rory McIlroy be a factor and collect his first WGC title?
Can Lee Westwood make it past the first round?
Tune in starting Wednesday and see who goes home early and who will go home with a new WGC Wedgwood trophy.