Emerging storylines to follow after PGA Tour’s West Coast swing

With its longshot winners and cantankerous weather, this year’s West Coast swing on the PGA Tour has come and gone.

What remains are questions about what this year — and the future — will look like in men’s pro golf. Before the Florida circuit and major season begins, here are some lasting snapshots from the first two months of the season.

Scottie Scheffler’s Kryptonite

By now, the stats have become as unavoidable as the body language Scheffler shows when he tosses his putter or a ball in frustration following a missed putt — both of which he did at Riviera last week.

Every time Scheffler tees it up, his ballstriking ensures he’ll be in contention, yet his putting gets in the way. At the Genesis Invitational, Scheffler ranked dead last in putting out of the players who made the cut, and he currently ranks 128th in strokes gained: putting on tour. Once again, as if to pour salt on his own wound, Scheffler also leads the entire tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green.

But what is perhaps most alarming is how much Scheffler is clearly grinding over his putting, while it is seemingly not getting any better. He’s switched putters (albeit just from one blade-style putter to another), began working with a world-class putting coach and spent ample time practicing both his alignment and stroke. Watching him on the practice greens at both Pebble and Riviera, it was clear that his putting woes were not a narrative but rather an issue Scheffler is keenly aware of and trying to solve.

And yet, the issue persists. Last year, Scheffler was able to overcome those struggles by putting together a season of historic ballstriking proportions on his way to wins at the WM Phoenix Open and the Players Championship as well as 17 top 10s and the current No. 1 world ranking. But during majors, his struggles on the greens were enhanced, especially when merely an average putting week could have likely secured a victory after a top-10 finish at the Masters and top-5 finishes at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

With this year’s majors coming up soon, the West Coast swing didn’t exactly show much promise in terms of Scheffler improving his putting. It’s safe to wonder whether the 27-year-old will reach the end of the year without a major win due to his putting when every other part of his game is ready to continue adding to his résumé.

The stars’ slump

The past two years, the Genesis Invitational has been a reminder of how much Tiger Woods is still the sport’s top needle-mover. This year, even though his playing time was cut short by illness, the excitement surrounding his opening round Thursday was palpable, with what felt like most of the crowd on-site following his group. It didn’t matter how Woods performed, people still wanted to watch.

The longevity of Woods’ magnetic pull remains, but it also exposes. While the West Coast swing had several unique storylines in its winners (hello Nick Dunlap!), Wyndham Clark was the only top-25 player in the world who won a tournament at Pebble Beach. And that was one that was cut short after 54 holes due to weather.

While those wins by Dunlap, Nick Taylor and recently Hideki Matsuyama showed the depth of the tour, it was also a reminder of the top-end talent they have either lost to LIV Golf or isn’t performing up to its usual level so far in 2024. Compare that to last year when the early winners on tour were Jon Rahm (three times), Scheffler and Max Homa, and it’s not the most star-studded scenario to open up a season.

Rahm alone wouldn’t fix everything, but much like Scheffler, he is one of those players who always rises to the top of the leaderboard over the course of four rounds and typically has an opportunity to win. His wins in the early part of last season set up his Masters victory seamlessly, giving the year in golf (at least on the PGA Tour side) a very clean storyline that featured a dominant force. Parity, in sports, is usually only good in theory.

Tournament outcomes, especially with the depth in the game right now, are perhaps more unpredictable than ever. But while the fields at the next two PGA Tour tournaments (Mexico Open and Cognizant Classic) don’t get much more exciting, both the next two signature events at Bay Hill and the Players would do well to feature a true battle and a winner from the cream of the crop in the sport.

Tiger Woods’ ramp-up plan

The ripple effect of Woods withdrawing from the Genesis Invitational due to influenza goes far beyond this week. Last year, the Genesis was the only tournament Woods played before the Masters, where he eventually withdrew after three rounds due to plantar fasciitis that required an ankle fusion procedure that kept him out of play until December.

In his post-surgery return at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, Woods already said on record that, if all goes well, his goal is to play in one tournament a month through the major season. With a short stint at the Genesis in February, March now awaits. After his only completed round at Riviera, Woods did note he’s been experiencing back spasms at home, but that those are just a product of his back being fused and not something he can predict or wholly avoid.

“Things are a little bit sore, but that’s to be expected,” Woods said. “That’s nothing that we weren’t prepared for.”

The 15-time major winner has remained steadfast in his belief that his return to golf after countless surgeries is rooted in his desire to compete and win. But in preparation for Augusta, 24 holes at Riviera simply isn’t going to cut it. Whether it’s Bay Hill or the Players — the former being where he’s won eight times and the latter being the easier walk — all signs point to Woods having to suit up for another tournament that he isn’t hosting.

The waiting game

From the instant reaction of players following the deal between the PGA Tour and Strategic Sports Group at Pebble Beach to watching Boston Red Sox owner John Henry walk around the grounds of Riviera Country Club, it’s been an interesting few weeks for the PGA Tour.

While everyone from Rory McIlroy to Jordan Spieth to Rickie Fowler seemed to differ on what an integration between the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia and LIV Golf with the PGA Tour would look like in the future, all players could agree on a certain sentiment to describe the SSG deal, its $12 billion valuation of the PGA Tour and the player equity that was announced to be part of the deal:

“We know as much as you do. We know as much as everyone else does.”

While the tour did send out a memo outlining the different categories regarding how much equity will be given out and to whom in the wake of the formation of PGA Tour Enterprises, the details for what this means for the actual golf product remain unclear. Players like Collin Morikawa and Mackenzie Hughes have expressed dissatisfaction with everything from the TV product to the way money has overtaken the game.

“I just think that it’s unfortunate where we are in the game right now, where it seems that it’s all about the money and it’s all about, how much money can I make?” Hughes said during Sunday’s CBS walk-and-talk at Riviera.

“I think we lost the spirit of the game in the process, and it was just never the reason I played on the PGA Tour … now we’re in a place where I think fans are just generally fed up with it, to be honest, and those are the people that drive our sport.”

Some players see a dire situation while others see light at the end of the tunnel, accepting that whether LIV Golf and the PGA Tour are brought back together at some point or not, the tour needed to evolve in order to improve.

“I think it was a pretty big risk to leave our business model in the same place too much longer,” Adam Scott told a group of reporters at Pebble Beach.

“I think at this point this is like a line in the sand if it wants to be for the PGA Tour and you can put everything on the table right now as far as I’m concerned, yeah, let’s have a look at the whole lot. I think everything can be discussed right now, and I think that’s exciting.”

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