Preview and Predictions for the PGA Tour's 2014 West Coast Swing
The Hyundai Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open are in the books, and it's time for the PGA Tour to hit the continental United States for the West Coast swing.
Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach and Riviera are three of the most iconic courses on tour and have hosted PGA Tour events since the days of Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson do not disrupt their winter vacations and venture to the land of pineapple and palm trees. They wait until the tour hits the mainland before they normally make their season debuts.
The West Coast swing is comprised of the Humana Challenge, Farmers Insurance Open, Waste Management Phoenix Open, AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and the Northern Trust Open.
It starts in Palm Springs, moves over to San Diego, heads east to Phoenix and then back to the Monterey Peninsula before finishing at the historic Riviera in Los Angeles.
With very few exceptions, all of the big names make an appearance or two during these five tournaments, and the golf season seems to begin in earnest.
Humana Challenge in Partnership with the Clinton Foundation
This event features sports and Hollywood celebrities playing alongside the professionals for the first three rounds in the pro-am portion of the tournament.
Golf fans can watch their favorite celebrity hack just like them.
Bob Hope's name was associated with this tournament for over 46 years, and now former President Bill Clinton has taken on a leading role.
Keegan Bradley, Bill Haas, Brandt Snedeker and Zach Johnson are the highest-ranked players in the field at the Humana Challenge.
Rookies Chesson Hadley and Hudson Swafford are also off to good starts this year and could be a factor on Sunday.
With two wins and a T-8 in his last three starts, Johnson has to be the favorite.
If history holds true to form, a ball-striker will win the Humana Challenge.
In addition to the players already named, look for Webb Simpson, Charles Howell III, Rickie Fowler, Ben Martin and Boo Weekley to be at the top of the leaderboard on Sunday.
Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines
Torrey Pines is one of the most revered golf courses in the nation and requires the best efforts from the players.
Tiger Woods has won here seven times, is the defending champion and won the 2008 U.S. Open on this same golf course.
This will be his first start of 2014. Will there be any rust on his game?
Picking a favorite will be difficult. The Farmers Insurance Open will host the strongest field of the year by far.
Mickelson will be in the field and will have his first start in 2014 under his belt in Abu Dhabi.
Any time he in in the field, Woods has to be the favorite at Torrey Pines.
Torrey Pines is a long golf course and usually requires length off the tee. It also demands accurate iron play for its difficult greens.
Last year Snedeker finished runner-up to Woods. Jimmy Walker, Nick Watney, Fowler, and Haas all finished inside the top 10 in 2013.
If Woods fails to get his eighth win at Torrey Pines, the winner may very well come from this list.
Waste Management Phoenix Open
Scoring is always low at the TPC of Scottsdale, Mickelson finished at 28-under par for the four rounds in his win last year.
The Waste Management Phoenix Open boasts itself as "the Greatest Show on Grass" and draws in excess of 500,000 fans for the week.
The par-three No. 16 is converted into a stadium and a raucous atmosphere awaits each shot. Players are routinely booed for missing the green or a birdie putt.
The player who wins here must embrace the unusual rowdy crowd and be aggressive enough to make a ton of birdies.
Showmen-like "Golf Boys," Bubba Watson, Ben Crane, Fowler and Hunter Mahan have performed well here in the past.
Watson can make a ton of birdies and likes to show off. He could be tough to beat.
Fowler is another young player who likes a crowd and is not afraid to go low.
He just started working with Butch Harmon to fix his swing and improve his final-round performance.
This could be the week his hard work starts to pay off.
AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am
What's not to like on the Monterey Peninsula? Three fabulous golf courses, Spyglass Hill, Monterey Peninsula Country Club and Pebble Beach, are featured as the tournament venues.
The Pro-Am portion of this event draws A-list celebrity golfers from around the world. Winning the amateur title here is at the top of every golfer's bucket list.
Woods and Mickelson have both previously won here and would like to add another AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am title to their resumes.
After successive runners-up to Woods at Torrey Pines and Mickelson at Phoenix, Snedeker finally broke through for a win in the 2013 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Dustin Johnson has won here twice and could be due to win again.
Small greens require a deft short game.
A long soft golf course favors Woods, Mickelson, Bradley and Dustin Johnson.
Firm and fast conditions will allow players such as Webb Simpson, Zach Johnson, Jason Dufner and Rickie Fowler to move to the top of the leaderboard.
Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club
The Northern Trust Open has been held in the Los Angeles area since 1926. Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer both won this event three times. Sam Snead won here twice.
Riviera Country Club is the playground for the rich and famous and brings Hollywood glam to the PGA Tour.
Ball strikers like Mahan, Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker have to be favored.
Bill Haas, Charl Schwartzel and Webb Simpson all finished in the top 10 here in 2013.
Give the edge to Haas. He won here in 2012. He is long enough and has just enough short game to finish high here again.
Riviera is extremely tight with small greens. It requires a shot-maker's mentality from tee to green, and players need an above-average short game to be among the leaders.
Patience is also rewarded at Riviera. Par has value. The winning score is usually between eight- and 12-under par for the four rounds.
Because of his superior chipping around the greens, Mickelson won consecutive Northern Trust Opens in 2008 and 2009 and was runner-up in 2012, losing in a playoff to Haas.
It always comes down to putting on the difficult and sometimes bumpy Poa annua greens.
There will be much shaking of heads and gnashing of teeth after multiple missed three-footers at Riviera.