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Early Birdies

A fast start can pay off in the first nine events of the PGA Tour, a stretch that features a desert marathon, an old-time clambake, life on the Riviera and playing with matches

January 19, 2006|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

What do Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and David Toms have in common, besides collecting piles of checks?

Each one cashed in early last year by winning tournaments before the PGA Tour headed to Florida in late February.

If it's Bob Hope Classic week, then the West Coast Swing is in, well, full swing. The early part of the 48-tournament PGA Tour schedule not only has a name, it has a sponsor and a bonus pool. The nine-event tour within a tour began at the Mercedes Championships two weeks ago in Hawaii.

Last year, Mickelson made an extra $500,000 by playing better than anyone else during the West Coast Swing, thanks to back-to-back victories at Phoenix and Pebble Beach.

Mickelson went on to win the PGA Championship at Baltusrol, his second major victory in two years, and wound up with $5.69 million in earnings.

With a total of $46.8 million in prize money at stake in the nine tournaments on the West Coast Swing, playing well early in the year has never been more worthwhile.

"If you can get a lot of that cash, then you're doing pretty good," said Pat Perez, who shot an opening round of 60 Wednesday at the Palmer Course at PGA West.

Perez said starting with a bang is vital because it can set up the entire year.

"I would not want to wait until April to play well," said Perez, who tied for sixth at the Buick Invitational last year. "Your confidence is kind of shot by then. It's a great time of the year, the weather is perfect ... I think it's really important to get off to a good start."

Olin Browne, who shot a 65 at Bermuda Dunes, said there's no time like the present.

"A good week early in the year is always a good thing."

Justin Leonard set up the second-best year of his 12-year career with his victory last year at the Hope. Leonard is back to defend his title this week at the $5-million Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, which begins the California part of the swing. Mickelson and Davis Love III are the only players ranked in the top 20 who are playing.

Woods will play his first tournament of the year next week at Torrey Pines at the $5.1-million Buick Invitational, where Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and John Daly are also entered. Neither Singh nor Ernie Els nor Retief Goosen are entered, choosing to play the Qatar Masters on the European Tour.

Woods won by three shots last year at Torrey Pines, the first of his six victories on his way toward his seventh player-of-the-year award.

Next on the schedule is probably Mickelson's favorite part, because he won two in a row last year. First is the FBR Open at Phoenix, where Mickelson had a second-round 60, then the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, which he won by four shots, helped by his opening round of 62.

No one won the Nissan Open at Riviera Country Club last year, which was not counted as an official event because constant rain allowed only 36 holes to be played. The money was official, though, and Adam Scott collected $864,000.

Els has said he will make Riviera the first stop on his PGA Tour schedule and Woods also is expected to play, along with Goosen. The Nissan Open, which is the week before the $7.5-million Match Play Championship at La Costa, is valuable to the players because it's a warmup for the match play event and because Riviera is a historic venue.

It's a limited field event at La Costa with only the 64 players in the rankings qualifying. Last year, Toms defeated Chris DiMarco in the final, 6 and 5, and earned $1.3 million. The pros who aren't at La Costa have the $3-million Chrysler Classic at Tucson, where Geoff Ogilvy defeated Mark Calcavecchia in a one-hole playoff.

Collectively, that's the West Coast Swing, which is changing slightly in 2007 when the PGA Tour's new television contract kicks in.

The match play tournament will move from La Costa to Tucson and Tucson's place on the schedule will be replaced by the $3.5-million Mayakoba Classic, the first PGA Tour event to be played in Mexico, in the state of Quintana Roo.



Heading west

PGA Tour West Coast schedule, which began in Hawaii:

*--* * Jan. 5-8: Mercedes Championships, Kapalua, Hawaii (won by Stuart Appleby). * Jan. 12-15: Sony Open, Honolulu (won by David Toms). * Through Sunday: Bob Hope Chrysler Classic (Palm Desert, La Quinta, Bermuda Dunes). * Jan. 26-29: Buick Invitational, Torrey Pines (La Jolla). * Feb. 2-5: FBR Open, Scottsdale, Ariz. * Feb. 9-12: Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. * Feb. 16-19: Nissan Open, Riviera Country Club, Pacific Palisades. * Feb. 22-26: WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, Carlsbad. * Feb. 23-26: Chrysler Classic of Tucson.


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