Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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Winners and losers: PGA Tour, Hideki Matsuyama shine bright with West Coast swing in the books

The PGA Tour’s West Coast swing, which feels like it just started, is already over. Joaquin Niemann’s two-stroke win over Collin Morikawa and Cameron Young at Riviera Country Club put a bow on the nearly-two month run for the Tour in Hawaii, California and Arizona.

We learned a lot from the seven-tournament stretch, and now it’s time to declare some winners and some losers from this snapshot in time. This is not a commentary on anybody’s career or even their 2022 season as a whole (much can change quickly in golf) but rather how things have kicked off to start the year and where they may go from here.

Winners

PGA Tour: It’s worth shouting this from the rooftops because the PGA Tour has received some world-class marketing throughout these last two months without spending a single dollar. The reason? With Phil Mickelson touting the hostile Saudi Arabian regime and so many fun events being played in the United States, those of us commentating — even if we have quibbles with the PGA Tour — are forced to go to the mat for it. So, you have all these smart, funny, influential voices singing the Tour’s praises because of its contrast to the Super Golf League and also because it’s been pretty awesome of late. The Tour is just sitting back and enjoying galvanizing effects like Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau recommitting themselves to play the PGA Tour into the future. It’s the best $0 the Tour has ever spent.

Hideki Matsuyama: Don’t let the joy from the last two weeks of the Phoenix Open and Genesis Invitational erase what was the shot of the entire West Coast swing. Matsuyama hit the purest 3-wood of 2022 in his playoff with Russell Henley to take home his first win of 2022 at the Sony Open, the eighth victory of his career. He followed that with three more made cuts and a top 10 in Phoenix.

Tom Hoge: He moved from outside the top 100 when the West Coast swing started to inside the top 70 with a runner-up at the American Express and then inside the top 40 with a win at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He’ll almost certainly play in all the major championships in 2022, and for somebody who went nearly 290 professional starts between wins, this seven-week stretch in which he notched three top-15 finishes (one win and nearly another) has to be the thrill of a lifetime.

Netflix documentary: Between the Cameron Smith-Jon Rahm showdown in Hawaii, Matsuyama’s shot at the Sony Open, the theater from Torrey, Pines Jordan Spieth taking on the edge of a cliff at Pebble, Harry Higgs and Joel Dahmen removing their shirts at TPC Scottsdale and all the Super Golf League chatter, I’m not sure there’s been a better year in the last decade in which to film a documentary about the inner workings of the PGA Tour. I cannot wait to see what they produce.

To be determined

Patrick Cantlay, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas: The four most successful golfers who played at least 10 rounds on the West Coast swing are Cantlay, Rahm, Thomas and Cameron Smith. Of that group, only Smith walked away from the two-month stretch with a victory as Rahm, Cantlay and Thomas combined for 10 top 10s but no wins. They’re not strictly losers because those three are arguably playing golf at a higher level than anyone else on Earth, but they’re also not solely winners because, well, they didn’t actually win any events.

Losers

Pebble Beach: It was stunning to see the contrast in field strength between the Saudi International and Pebble Beach Pro-Am. A lot of golfers don’t want to play Pebble because of the amateur portion of the event and it being such a long, taxing week, but I still can’t help but believe that any association with Pebble Beach (Pebble Beach!) deserves better than what it has become over the last few years. Maybe that changes with the PGA Tour’s quid pro quo exchange with the Saudi International participants, or maybe not, but it was certainly a bummer that a course that great is one of the “down” weeks on the swing.

Super Golf League: Is it dead yet? After Mickelson’s wild statements to Alan Shipnuck, Rory McIlroy may have finished it off (at least this iteration of it) Sunday at Riviera. “Well, it would be, because who else have you got to fill the field?” asked McIlroy. “I mean, Greg Norman would have to tee it up to fill the field. Like, I mean, seriously? I mean, who else is going to do it? I don’t think they could get 48 guys.”

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