Column: A noisy West Coast swing not all about the golf

DOUG FERGUSON (AP Golf Writer)
The Associated Press

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- The PGA Tour delivered plenty of drama during the West Coast swing.

Most of it was outside the ropes.

After two months that went from rain in Hawaii to sunshine at Pebble Beach to the high altitude of Mexico City, about the only conclusions to draw were that Rory McIlroy is playing good golf, Dustin Johnson is not playing to his standard and Patrick Reed is facing a long, loud year no matter how he plays.

Next up is the Florida swing. It starts this week with the Honda Classic, which five years ago had as strong as any regular PGA Tour event on the schedule and now has attracted only one player from the top 10 in the world.

Turns out players aren't the only ones who endure the occasional slump.

Nothing was wrong with the quality of golf.

Justin Thomas got it started by winning a playoff at Kapalua that lasted three holes and 2,031 yards because they kept playing the par-5 18th hole until they had a winner. Thomas beat Reed, Xander Schauffele and darkness.

He turned out to be the only player in the top 10 to win, though three other players - Reed in Mexico City, Adam Scott at Riviera and Webb Simpson in Phoenix - moved into the top 10 by winning.

McIlroy went all the way to the top, replacing Brooks Koepka, when he tied for fifth in the Genesis Invitational. That matched his worst finish in three starts this year, and it was his sixth straight top 5, all against strong fields.

Even so, the loudest conversations were not on the golf course. That featured manifestos providing more innuendo than immediate solutions.

The buzz in San Diego shifted from Tiger Woods making his 2020 debut - his first shot at his 83rd career PGA Tour victory to set the record - to whether he would be interested in a new world tour offering a big chunk of Saudi money to 12 player-led teams that would face off 18 times a year around the world.

It came up during the mandatory player meeting at Torrey Pines. At the end of the week, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan sent out a memo for players who were not at the meeting and those who were at the meeting but had never heard of the Premier Golf League.

For either ones, the message was clear that they would have to choose one tour or the other.

A month later, the only public answer came from McIlroy, who said he wasn't interested. ''I would like to be on the right side of history on this one,'' he said, adding he values his freedom to choose when and where he plays over whatever riches the new league is offering.

Phil Mickelson played with league organizers in the Saudi International pro-am and is intrigued. He said he might be ready to announce his decision at The Players Championship in two weeks. Other decisions could come as early as this week. No matter; the golf world waits on word from Tiger.

The concept has consumed so much chatter that it practically drowned out another hot-button issue at Pebble Beach when the USGA and the R&A released their two-year study called ''Distance Insights Project.''

That's a fancy way of saying golfers are hitting the ball farther than ever and it might be time to do something about it. The phrase from USGA chief Mike Davis was to break the cycle.

How? That's to be determined, and it won't be this year. The governing bodies wanted 45 days to publish a specific set of research topics, feedback that could take up to a year. And if there are changes, more feedback is likely among manufacturers.

Good thing the report wasn't released in Mexico City, where nine players hit 400-yard drives at 7,800 feet.

So it's been a busy two months. And it feels as though the year hasn't even started.

Woods has played only twice, and it doesn't sound as if he's going to be making up for lost time.

He skipped the Mexico Championship last week and the Honda Classic next week. Woods is 44 and wants to stay out on tour as long as he can, which in his mind means playing less. And that's not much - 15 times in 52 weeks in 2019, about the same this year.

He was coy as ever during a conference call Tuesday ahead of the Masters. When asked about his schedule leading up to the Masters, Woods said, ''It's weather dependent.''

Koepka, on the other hand, held nothing back when asked in a town hall meeting to preview the PGA Championship whether he thought Reed was cheating when he swiped away sand in the Bahamas. He said, ''Yeah,'' on three occasions and followed that by saying Reed was ''building sand castles in the sand.''

Reed has faced small crowds in Hawaii, chill crowds in California, Spanish-speaking crowds in Mexico and he has still heard his fill from the fans. He has four more stops - three in Florida, one in Texas - to endure before he gets to the Masters.

That's where the sounds are unmistakable. And they're usually all about golf.

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