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Wild crowds, low scores and an amateur victory highlight the PGA Tour's West Coast Swing

Nick Dunlap (right) embraces Justin Thomas after winning the final round of The American Express at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024.
Nick Dunlap (right) embraces Justin Thomas after winning the final round of The American Express at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024.

In recent years the West Coast Swing of the PGA Tour has provided a great launching point for the rest of the tour season, with great winners, solid golf courses and great weather.

This year, not much of that was true.

Yes, the golf courses remained the same, but weather was an issue, the loss of a big name to the LIV tour was evident at three tournaments and the swing lacked some of the star power of recent years. And at least one tournament seemed to go out of its way to leave a bad impression with television viewers and a few players.

Here’s a look back at the good, the bad, and the ugly from the PGA's West Coast swing:

The good

Nick Dunlap’s victory: No amateur had won on the PGA Tour in 33 years, but Dunlap, a sophomore at the University of Alabama and the U.S. Amateur champion, played brilliant golf on all three courses of The American Express. His week in the desert included a 60 at La Quinta Country Club. In the closing stretch Sunday, it was the amateur who showed nerves of steel against veteran pros, completing a magic week that gave him a one-shot victory over Christiaan Bezuidenhout, who took home the first-place check. Dunlap has since turned pro.

More: Nick Dunlap's golf story takes new turn with pro debut at Pebble Beach

Hideki Matsuyama’s win: The West Coast swing didn’t have many big-name winners, but Matsuyama’s Sunday performance at the Genesis Invitational gave the swing its best-know winner. The former Masters champion overtook top names like Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele with a Sunday 62 at Riviera Country Club, breaking a slump on the tour of more than 700 days without a win for the Japanese star.

Low scores: It seemed like every other day on the West Coast Swing there was someone going low and lower. Dunlap and Wyndham Clark each shot 60 in a round, Dunlap at the American Express and Clark at Pebble Beach. There were 61s and 62s all over the leaderboard of the events, including Matsuyama’s 62 at Riviera. It used to be said some pros on the PGA Tour were afraid to push to go low, but that doesn’t seem the case anymore

The bad

Woods and Spieth at Genesis: The golf world had waited for Tiger Woods to return to competition, but the return was short-lived. Woods struggled with a stiff back in his first round at Riviera, then withdrew on the seventh hole of the second round with the flu. Who knows when we will see him again before the Masters. Meanwhile, Jordan Spieth signed an incorrect scorecard after the second round and was disqualified, robbing the 70-player tournament of two big names in a single day.

Where are the big names?: Jon Rahm had won three West Coast Swing events in 2023, but that same star power wasn’t shining through this year. Yes, Matsuyama and Clark won tournaments, but the rest of the West Coast saw a lack of winners with big names like Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Cantlay, Schauffele, Viktor Hovland and others. They didn’t play poorly, they just couldn't beat the likes of Dunlap, Matthieu Pavon and Nick Taylor.

Speaking of Rahm: The West Coast Swing had been something that Rahm loved, including having gone to Arizona State, having won The American Express twice including 2023 and his love for Torrey Pines and the San Diego area in general. The Spanish star’s decision to jump to the LIV tour not only robbed the West Coast tournaments of a big name and in some cases a reigning champion, but robbed Rahm of a chance to play tournaments he had come to love.

The ugly

San Diego woes: The leaderboard of the Farmers Insurance certainly lacked star power, with many players skipping what had been a popular tournament because it was just a week before the signature event at Pebble Beach. Toss in word that Farmers Insurance plans to leave the event after the 2026 event, and San Diego has some significant issues to overcome in the coming years.

Parking lot 2 was closed due to muddy conditions during the Annexus Pro-Am at the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale on Feb. 7, 2024.
Parking lot 2 was closed due to muddy conditions during the Annexus Pro-Am at the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale on Feb. 7, 2024.

The weather: Pebble Beach can never guarantee great weather, but this year the weather cut the tournament down to a 54-hole event, pushing the final round to Monday before that round was finally canceled anyway. Perhaps Wyndham Clark would have won the event either way, but it’s never satisfying when the winner learns he has won in a hotel room waiting out the storm.

Phoenix gone wild: Most tournaments track birdies and eagles. The Waste Management Phoenix Open was reduced to counting arrests and police calls this year. The tournament that celebrates its rowdy fans seemed to cross over a barrier that it didn’t need to cross this year. Fifty-four arrests, 211 police calls and more than 300 fans were evicted from the grounds as part of the ongoing alcohol-fueled party. Even players like Zach Johnson and Billy Horschel started firing back at unruly fans. Throw in some rain that made parts of the TPC Scottsdale course too soggy for fans and gates being closed because of that, and you end up with a mess. The Thunderbirds who run the tournament promise to make changes and do better in the future. Let’s hope so.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: The good, the bad and the ugly from the 2024 PGA West Coast Swing