PGA Tour finishes up west coast swing

MARANA, Ariz. – Here’s all anyone needs to know about a most peculiar West Coast Swing: PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem played more rounds than Tiger Woods. Finchem played three rounds at the AT’amp;T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, which has a 54-hole cut. Woods only made it through two rounds at the single-elimination Accenture Match Play Championship. That was Woods’ first tournament in eight months because of knee surgery, the longest break of his career, and it didn’t take long for the world’s No. 1 player to see what he had been missing. He walked off the ninth green at Dove Mountain during a practice round and saw the FedEx Cup standings on a large video board. Someone suggested that Woods had better get a move on it or he wouldn’t be eligible for the first playoff event at The Barclays. Woods stopped and laughed. Even as the top seed, he hasn’t shown up at the New York playoff event, and probably won’t this year. Alas, losing in the second round only earned him 47 points. That left Woods at No. 142 in the FedEx Cup standings, right behind Colt Knost, tied with Jimmy Walker, one spot ahead of Kirk Triplett. Those are four names you don’t often see in the same sentence. But this was a West Coast Swing like few others. Four of the top five players in the world ranking hardly played the first two months of the season, starting with Woods, who was recovering from knee surgery and awaiting the birth of his second child. Sergio Garcia played only 16 holes before he was beaten in the first round of Match Play. Vijay Singh played one tournament before taking a one-month break for minor knee surgery, and then he missed the cut in back-to-back tournaments before blowing a lead to lose in the second round at Match Play. British Open and PGA champion Padraig Harrington entered four straight tournaments and played only 10 rounds. Phil Mickelson was the exception, turning around his West Coast by defending his title at Riviera. He opened with a 63, a score that was quickly forgotten because of six words that Woods posted on his Web site that afternoon. ‘I’m now ready to play again.’ The hype didn’t quite match the result. Woods tied for 17th at Match Play, the first time as a PGA Tour member that he failed to crack the top 10 in his season debut. That put him at No. 117 on the money list, his lowest position since he was a 20-year-old trying to earn his card through sponsor exemptions. Woods was 128th after the B.C. Open in 1996, then won the next week in Las Vegas and everything worked out OK for him after that. If those are the only big oddities to come out of the West Coast, the tour will survive. Before heading to the Florida Swing, here are a few items worth noting from the not-so-wild West. – In a video message to players last December, Finchem encouraged them to show support by adding an event they don’t normally play. Four players competed in every tournament for which they were eligible – Pat Perez, Alex Cejka, Brendon de Jonge and Dean Wilson. Those probably weren’t the players Finchem had in mind. For his part, Finchem showed up at every tournament on the West Coast except for Phoenix and Mexico. This is a critical year for the commissioner as he works to extend title sponsorship at some 20 tournaments that expire in 2010. Results have been mixed. Accenture and Travelers (Hartford) have renewed through 2014, but FBR (Phoenix), U.S. Bank (Milwaukee) and Ginn Resorts (Fall Series in Florida) already are out. ‘I’m losing my voice and people ask me if I’m sick,’ Finchem said. ‘It’s because I’m on the phone all the time.’ – Kenny Perry won the FBR Open at age 48, but the talk on tour is geared more toward youth. Rory McIlroy is only 19, yet he already is No. 16 in the world ranking. Anyone scoffing at such a high ranking should probably sit down with Geoff Ogilvy, who had to play some of his best golf to beat him in the quarterfinals at Match Play. Driving back to the clubhouse after the match, Ogilvy said his caddie told him, ‘If you want to be the second-best player in the world, you’ve got to be better than Rory.’ ‘That’s how good he is,’ Ogilvy said. ‘It might take a couple of years to be like that. But that’s what it’s going to be.’ McIlroy will have two more weeks – Honda and Doral – to become the youngest PGA Tour winner in history. The record belongs to Johnny McDermott when he won the 1911 U.S. Open. McIlroy wasn’t even the youngest player to make his U.S. debut out West. That honor went to 17-year-old Ryo Ishikawa of Japan, who missed the cut at Riviera. Ishikawa will play three times in Florida before going to the Masters. They will be joined at Augusta National by U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee, the 18-year-old who won the Johnnie Walker Classic on the European Tour two weeks ago. Anthony Kim must feel old. He’s 23. – The United States had only 17 players in the 64-man field at Match Play, a record low. One reason might be the timing. When the Tour Championship ended last September, there were 22 Americans in the top 64. Most of them were idle during the final three months of the year, when the best tournaments were held in Asia and Australia. If they didn’t play the Fall Series, they had only six weeks at the start of his year to make up ground. So eight Americans dropped out of the top 64 after the Tour Championship, and three moved in – Davis Love III, Dustin Johnson and Pat Perez, all of whom won tournaments. As always, winning takes care of a lot of things.