The PGA Tour is finishing up the West Coast Swing, as it started in early January in Hawaii, moved to Arizona, then Palm Springs, south to San Diego, north to Monterey, and now south again to just outside LA... as in bordering Brentwood, Malibu and Santa Monica L.A. So off to La-La Land we go! (Disclosure: I know of no UCLA football recruits that we will steal whilst there).
The course is old-style, but a couple of redesigns have lengthened it to 7300 yards and a par 71 layout (this is about average length-wise for current courses, and par 71 means one par 5 is playing as a par 4 to make it more difficult to Tour players). It's a great track, and is known as "Hogan's Alley" for Ben Hogan, who did very well here in the 1940's. The course has withstood the test of time with good bunkering, good trees and doglegs, and just enough distance to frustrate the pros. The tournament is a regular in the Tour rotation and has gone by many names, but now is sponsored by a financial institution (imagine that).
It will be a very strong field with most of the world's Top 30 in attendance. Rory McIlroy will be a notable absence, but he's still dealing with a lawsuit, erstwhile fiance's, and getting paid cold cash up front to play in Europe and the Middle East. We'll see Rory soon enough. For now, that gives our former Bulldogs a chance to clean up. Kinda like last year, when Bubba scorched the course on the weekend with bogey-free 64s and won going away.
And we have a pretty full contingent of former Bulldogs in this week's field. Matter of fact, a season high of 8 (count 'em EIGHT!!) will be plying their trade on the lush grounds of the Riviera Country Club. The only "regular" missing is Chris Kirk. I've listed the active players and their FedEx Cup rankings in parentheses:
Erik Compton (101): Has missed last two cuts, took last week off. He's not eligible for the World Golf Championships but is in the Masters (thanks to a 2nd at 2014 US Open). He could use a made cut and a top 40 this week.
Harris English (16): He's as solid as they come, and he's had a pretty good 2015 so far, with two Top 3's and nothing lower than 40th since Thanksgiving. He's actually seen as one of the top 10-15 favorites this week. Not qualified for the Masters yet, so a win here or a high finish helps him get into Augusta in early April.
Brian Harman (88). He's made all four cuts so far this year, but he could use a bit more of a splash this week. He's had one bad round each tourney, so if he can stay better than par all four rounds, he'll make some cash and move up the rankings. A lefty who is steady enough to matriculate this course.
Russell Henley (32): Entered 3 tourneys, made 3 cuts. As streaky as anybody, he has fire and plenty of game. His world ranking is 56th so he's not eligible for the World Golf Championship events, but he's proven he can win on tough tracks. After taking last week off, I think he's due.
Kevin Kisner (89): Kevin has missed his last 3 cuts, and a "MDF" and a "WD" before that means he hasn't cashed many checks of late. He needs to turn that ship around and quick, or he will fall behind as the Tour season gets underway in earnest and the big players begin showing up every week.
Hudson Swafford (53): But his World Ranking is 318th, so there is a big disconnect. The main reason being he's played more on the Tour this year so his more current FedEx Cup ranking is higher than the longer-term World Ranking (cumulative over 2 years). He had missed a few cuts in a row, but a solid showing last week at Pebble Beach has him trending in the right direction.
Brendon Todd (76): Fairly consistent, but he hasn't played much. A Top 10 last week after a couple of weeks off will always help, so hopefully he's rested and ready to go.
Bubba Watson (3): He's taken the last two weeks off, and has a new baby girl (Dakota adopted late last fall) at home, so he's got distractions. But he is the defending champion this week, and has two Top 10s in 2015 including a T2 in Phoenix. The smart money is on Bubba this week, along with a few other select guys. He's more consistent than in year's past and it's showing in his bank account.
So there's lots to get excited about if you'd rather watch golf than college basketball this weekend. The television coverage will be the normal lineup: Th/Fri on The Golf Channel from 3-6pm ET, and Sat/Sun on CBS from 3-6pm ET. Your enjoyment of the announcers may vary, but your allegiance to seeing Red & Black on the leaderboard will surely not. To quote a wise person...