Thoughts on the West Coast Swing, Featuring views from the 2006 FBR Open

Photos By Jeff Janas; Text and Captions by Jeffrey A. Rendall


SCOTTSDALE, AZ – The ‘swing’ is over, and Sabbatini won it.


This week marks the beginning of what many consider the 'official' PGA Tour season, when the pros arrive in Florida for the onset of the next ‘swing,’ the Southern swing – which will carry us through the end of May (with stops in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee and North Carolina along the way). 


The fact that many people feel this way – that the first two months don’t really count -- shows a certain kind of eastern arrogance, however, and take it from someone who grew up in California, the stereotype affixed to the West Coast ‘swing’ of the Tour season every year is neither accurate, nor fair.


We’re nine tournaments into the 2006 season, and some interesting storylines have already begun to develop – and these are due to the action that took place along the shores of the Pacific, in the Arizona desert and in the Hawaii islands.


Here are a few of the better ones:


First, Tiger’s showing up again.  The world’s number one player always seems to be the first thing you talk about when it comes to the PGA Tour, and Woods has already notched his first victory of the season, defending the title he won last year at the Buick Invitational.  He’s also been talked about for his misses – withdrawing in LA (for the first time ever due to illness or injury), and exiting before the weekend at the World Match Play.  But one thing’s for sure – he’s still mentally in the game, and that guarantees he’ll be around this season, to root for or against, take your pick.


Next, Phil’s not (showing up).  There’s a statistic that the last two times Mickelson failed to win on the west coast portion of the Tour season, he didn’t win again the rest of the year.  And while he’s had some decent showings early on, he’s yet to really contend for a tournament.  Some have theorized that with his second major win and increasing interests in things non-golf, the ‘fire’ isn’t there to push Tiger for top player honors (ceremonial or otherwise).  The next month will tell whether he’ll heat up.


Ernie, Vijay and Retief – Rounding out the ‘big five,’ one wonders if any of these guys will do something spectacular this year.  Vijay’s steady and playing reasonably well, though he’s clearly not where he was two years ago.  Ernie’s back from a knee injury and nearly edged out Tiger at Dubai, yet the questions linger about his ‘inner demons’ and tendencies to underachieve.  Goosen remains sort of a mystery on Tour – maybe it’s because he’s so quiet – but it’s still unclear just how far his considerable talents can take him.


One way or another, this will be an interesting year – here are some more interesting storylines, combined with the photographic talents of Jeff Janas:

Stewart Cink has dropped a bit too often in 2006. If he hopes to make the US Ryder Cup Team in September, he'll definitely have to step it up a bit.

Bubba Watson was all the rage for big drives in Hawaii, but it was equally long hitting JB Holmes who made the biggest splash of the season. The quiet and unassuming Kentuckian blew the field away at the FBR Open -- and here, all eyes are on his putting stroke.

It's only speculation, but Vijay Singh's extensive travel during the early part of 2006 certainly must have contributed to his lackluster results. He's 'only' won $1,150,000 so far, and hasn't made much noise while doing it.

David Toms shot 19-under to win the Sony Open in Hawaii. Now no one's asking him about his heart condition anymore.

Justin Leonard looks cool in his Nike apparel, but he's yet to transfer the great fit to his golf game in 2006.

Kirk Triplett quietly made headlines with his win at Tucson. But since the tournament runs opposite the World Match Play, you might not have even heard about it.

Rory Sabbatini may have put it in the water on this hole at the FBR, but with his win in LA and his overall consistent play, he won the bonus money on the West Coast Swing, and is currently #1 on the PGA Tour money list.

Ben Curtis drew attention with his Super Bowl XL golf attire -- but he's still searching for the form that won him the British Open a few years back.

Phil Mickelson smiles after making a putt. With four top 10's in five starts in 2006, he's been smiling a lot -- but hasn't really threatened to win a tournament yet.

Jonathan Byrd has shown fine form in the early 2006 season, including a tie for 3rd at the AT & T.

Nobody can say that professional golf doesn't have a following in the western part of the US -- with well over 500,000 fans attending the FBR Open, even on Super Bowl weekend -- you get the idea that golf is serious business out there.


The West Coast Swing, featuring the 2006 FBR Open

TPC Scottsdale in Scottsdale, Arizona.


Purse:  $5.2 million

Winner’s share:  $936,000

2006 Winner:  J.B. Holmes

Score:  263

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