A guide to the West Coast swing, the best stretch on the PGA Tour schedule

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We’re going back to Cali for a fantastic 5-week run on the PGA Tour schedule. Here’s a guide for Tiger’s return, Spieth’s slump, and some of the best venues on the pro circuit.

The PGA Tour season never really ends. There may be a few weeks it goes into hibernation around the holidays, but that’s it. The “season” now wraps around two different years and just goes on and on with playing opportunities available for its members almost year-round.

There are a few categorical sections we can discern in the constant march. There are different “swings” such as the Florida swing or Hawaii swing and then there is, of course, the all-important “Playoffs” at the end, which will now come before Labor Day and avoid being swallowed whole by football. We are now entering the West Coast swing, the annual five-week stretch in California and Arizona that may just be the best cluster on the entire schedule (it is definitely the best).

There’s no major championship snapping the sports world’s attention to golf and most of the country is frozen thinking about football and basketball, but this stretch includes the Tour’s best run of venues, fields, and tradition. The West Coast swing has it all, even if you’re not fully paying attention to golf yet. It also marks the return of Tiger Woods, who annually comes back to the Tour at Torrey Pines and will do so again in 2019.

Here’s your schedule for this year.

With such a nice, delineated portion of the schedule to examine, we decided to kick around a few topics and potential discussion points for the next five weeks. It’s a great stretch for the PGA Tour, even if you’re not exactly ready to jump headfirst into the golf season.

Event you’re most excited about is ...

Brendan: Riviera. This is the best stretch on the schedule, in my opinion, and there are multiple great events. But the answer to this will always be Riviera. It is one of the rare venues on the PGA Tour rota that is worth a pilgrimage, in the same way you might go visit a famous venue in another sport, such as Wrigley Field or Lambeau Field. It’s that good. You’re dropped in a canyon in the middle of Los Angeles that boasts one of the great classic courses in the country. Also, the field continues to be absolutely loaded. Every top player from across the world wants to come to the only stop in LA and now that Tiger’s foundation is hosting it, they get the Tiger bounce too. This is the PGA Tour’s best event, even including The Players.

Kyle: Scottsdale, baby. You can have your traditionalism at Riv. That’s fine, it’s a good event. The People’s Open is and will always be exactly what I want a modern golf tournament to look like. It is loud and stupid and boorish and gauche and there’s a music festival on-site. It’s an event, not a golf tournament — and the pomp and circumstance (?) of lots of 32-year-old mutual fund wholesalers named Chad getting drunk in a desert is something I can’t pass up. I’m making my first pilgrimage this year.

Oh, and yeah, the finishes are usually great even if 15 holes of the course are rather forgettable.

Tiger returns, again, at Torrey and Riv and he will ...

Brendan: I think Tiger makes the cut at Torrey, finishes around 30th, and then misses the cut at Riviera. It’s been awhile since we saw him in competition and he didn’t exactly light it up after his Tour Championship win. I think he begins the year easing his way into it and Torrey is not exactly a perfect fit for his game anymore. Despite his saying it fits his eye, he’s never done well at Riviera, where bombers have a distinct advantage. Tiger will try to whale away and get caught up in the sycamores and eucalyptus. I so, so bad want him to show out at Riviera and light it up in LA but I don’t think it happens this year. He’s going to get some reps with an eye on Augusta.

Kyle: My expectations are honestly through-the-floor low. I’m expecting a bit of a regression from that Tour Championship mania to start this year. Surely we flew too close to the sun in 2018 with the near misses at Birkdale and Bellerive, and the win at East Lake, right? Cat’s had a long layoff, looked somewhat shaky in both The Match and Hero World Challenge. You hit on all of his struggles at Riv, and I’ll agree that aging Tiger isn’t built for Torrey’s milquetoast length anymore. I’ll go CUT-CUT to start the year, though I don’t think it’ll be anything worth extrapolating too much from. It’s golf, form fluctuates, he’ll be fine.

One player who absolutely needs to play well ...

Brendan: I don’t think anyone absolutely has to play well. It’s the first quarter of the season and what happens in February can mean little for April through July. But Jordan Spieth sure could use some positive rounds. I think he is the one player most in the crosshairs at the start of the year and his comments at the Sony Open did little to instill confidence that he’s close to figuring it out. He sounded lost and even resigned at times. He has added Torrey Pines to the schedule for the first time in a few years, and has won at Pebble Beach, where he always shows up to shake hands as the title sponsor’s golden boy. If he misses every cut until March, I still think he can show up to Augusta and win with his game in shambles and complete trash of a statistical profile. But every round and meeting with the press he has until then won’t be particularly carefree if he bombs on the West Coast swing.

Kyle: Thought exercise: I’m going to ask you to rattle off a list of 30-something PGA Tour pros that have won exactly one time on Tour in the last three seasons. Seem difficult? Impossible? Of course it is! That list contains a bunch of just, uh, guys — and also Rickie Fowler.

That’s right! One of America’s biggest golf “stars” has the same number of Tour wins as Aaron Baddeley and Ted Potter, Jr. over the last three seasons. He’s now 30. He has four career PGA Tour wins. Yes, he contends. Yes, he’s an elite-level talent. But, how long are we going to keep this up? At what point do you just become Chris Kirk with a motocross bike?

Winning at Riv or in Scottsdale won’t get the burden off Rick’s back, but what it might do is warm up a bit of confidence upstairs if he finds himself in contention at a major in 2019. Is this the year he finally breaks through at the WMPO after near misses each of the last three years?

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Rickie during another close call at the Phoenix Open.

An underrated player or story you most want to see pop ...

Brendan: Can I interest you in a Steve Marino comeback arc!? No? OK, well I am interested in this. I did a double take when I saw him in the field at the Sony and it appears Marino is in relatively good enough health and shape to play a full PGA Tour schedule here at the top of the year. He’s on the field list for the Desert Classic, Torrey Pines, Phoenix Open, and Pebble Pro-Am. That’s a damn full run for Marino, who is a bit of an off-course legend and everyman that I would love to see pop again on the PGA Tour. We need more characters!

The rookie (or sophomore) you most want to watch ...

Brendan: The obvious and correct answer here is Jose de Jesus Rodriguez, the 37-year-old Mexican with the most triumphant story of getting to the PGA Tour in the league’s history. It’s a damn inspiration and everyone should be rooting for the rookie to get a win on this West Coast swing to lock up a spot in the Masters. But outside of that obvious choice, I’ll go with Chris Thompson, the 42-year-old rookie that goes completely against the trend of the modern game. Thompson may not bubble with personality and he’s exactly the kind of rookie the Tour does NOT want to promote. They want the 22-year-old that hits it 350 yards. There are dozens of those robots coming to plug in to the latest Live Under Par ad, so for now, I’ll watch and root for Thompson to make some noise on the most competitive tour in the world.

Kyle: Sorry, yell at me, fine. I know the cool and hot thing to do is lament the effect of Drivebots on today’s game, but I will mainline all the Cam Champ you can possibly supply me. I’m all in on a freakish athlete who flies the ball miles past other long hitters on tour, especially one with a backstory as interesting as Champ’s. He’s already won once this year, and I’ll be more surprised if it doesn’t happen again this year.

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Brendan: I am very into that, too! I was just looking for some non-Champ answer. He will be awesome to watch, especially at these venues.

One thing or person that will get plenty of attention that you just do not care about ...

Brendan: I am verrrry worried that the suffocating mainstream golf media is going to choke the joy out of following Hosung Choi, if they haven’t already done so. Choi will be a treat to watch at Pebble Beach. The one story I am already sick of is putting with the pin still in the cup. That’s going to continue to get lots of love as CBS joins the broadcast fray and more and more fans tune in for the first time this year. I’m over it. It’s fine and cool and let’s move on from talking about the new rules.

Kyle: Bryson. I’m tired of Bryson. The bit is old. I’m tired of the putting with the pin in, I’m tired of the carefully-crafted pseudoscience used to develop brand power for Cobra/Puma, I’m tired of the driving-range mental breakdowns that are sure to come, I’m tired of the “Well, Christ Had Haters Too” attitude toward anyone who dare doubt his transparent grift in the name of physics. I beg you to get this man off my television, until someone finally asks his thoughts on global warming during a press conference.

Will Johnny Miller cry at the Phoenix Open?

Brendan: Yes. Despite his spicy commentary and gruff exterior, I think Johnny is an emotional softie and this is the end of a legendary run. Also, remember when he oddly got choked up talking about Keegan Bradley at the end of last year’s BMW Championship? That was one of the weirder and more unexpected turns of the 2018 season.

Kyle: No. Absolutely not. I present you this quote on why he made Phoenix his last stop, via Golf Digest:

“I was always known as the ‘Desert Fox.’ My best golf, besides that final round at Oakmont, came in the desert, especially in 1975 when I won by 14 shots in Phoenix and by nine shots in Tucson. I was playing at a level of golf those two weeks as good or better than I’ve ever seen anyone hit the ball.”

Emotion and reflection requires self-awareness, of which John has none. We’d have him no other way.

One crazy prediction or spicy take ...

Brendan: Jordan Spieth does not make a cut on the West Coast swing and someone proclaims he is completely washed. Phil Mickelson wins in Phoenix, and in keeping with tradition, does so in a playoff against Hideki Matsuyama that runs into the halftime show of the Super Bowl.

Kyle: Cam Champ wins again before we head to Florida, and a whole bunch of people throw way, way too much money on him at the Superbook before we get to Augusta.

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