The PGA Tour begins its West Coast swing this week with three consecutive stops in California, followed by a quick trip to the mayhem that is the Waste Management Phoenix Open and then a return to California for Tiger Woods‘ event, the Genesis Invitational.
While a few big names are absent — no Rory McIlroy or Bryson DeChambeau — a strong field opens things up at The American Express in La Quinta.
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Our experts jumped in to gauge what we can expect this year from the oldest major champion ever, which side to take in golf’s latest Twitter fight and more.
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The American Express is hosted by Phil Mickelson. So it seems fair to ask … what, if anything, should we expect from Phil in 2022?
Michael Collins: Don’t expect anything from Phil — that way, when a magical week or day happens, you’ll enjoy it more. That’s what made Phil winning the PGA Championship so amazing. Everyone kept waiting for the crash and burn that never came. Phil talked about the mental yoga he worked on that week. While he might not have that magic on the PGA Tour this year, I can almost guarantee he’s going to get some wins on the PGA Tour Champions in 2022.
Matt Barrie: Having expectations for Phil Mickelson is like having expectations that you’ll have a flawless airport and flight experience — from checking in to security, boarding, taking off and arriving on time. While you can be stunned (PGA Championship), it’s safe to keep your expectations realistic. Phil has proved time and again he’s capable of anything good, bad and miraculous. He’s stayed in great shape, avoided significant injury and can still send it with the best of them. He might be lurking on a leaderboard at some point this season. But it’s best to be wise and expect someone to be sitting in the middle seat during a two-hour runway delay — although it’s not out of the realm of possibility to have the whole row to yourself.
Mark Schlabach: I think it’s safe to say that we’ll still get a lot of fun from Lefty on social media, especially after he collected the $8 million grand prize from the PGA Tour’s Player Impact Program (PIP) — or at least he’s claimed he did. As far as his game, I’m not sure how much we’ll see him in contention on the weekend. Most of his good work lately has come on the Champions Tour. He can still catch lightning in a bottle — see that PGA Championship win — but his days of contending on a regular basis are probably over.
Nick Pietruszkiewicz: He will go low once or twice, most likely early in a tournament. A 65 here, a 64 there that will get people daydreaming this is Kiawah Island all over again. But to do it over four days, against PGA Tour fields, sorry, but the world got its one last look at Phil in the sun that Sunday with him holding the Wanamaker Trophy at age 50. He’ll put on a show on the PGA Tour Champions, but his biggest week of the year on the big tour might be this one — as a tournament host.
Mickelson was part of the revenge of the old guys last season. Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Stewart Cink won. Lee Westwood was in the mix often early in 2021. So which 40-something could make noise in 2022?
Collins: I’m going to cheat and say Louis Oosthuizen, because he turns 40 in October. More importantly, he’s the guy who everyone keeps waiting to win here on U.S. soil for the first time. Oosty finished second at the PGA Championship, second at the U.S. Open, and third at The Open last year. The experienced guy who keeps knocking on the door knows that if he keeps doing what he’s doing, that door will open eventually.
Barrie: Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. Stenson, 45, can still stripe that 3-wood. When all together, he is still a world-class ball striker. I’m stunned he hasn’t won since the 2017 Wyndham. But given the right course and conditions, he could be the old-guy golfer to go low. As for Rose, just 41, he’s the closest to world-class golf we’ve seen recently out of the 40-and-over set. He won the FedEx Cup in 2018 and can always be counted on to be lurking at major championships. Seeing him on Sunday at Augusta would not be a surprise in the least bit.
Schlabach: Adam Scott‘s struggles can’t continue for a third straight season, right? Since his most recent tour victory, at the Genesis Invitational in February 2020, he has just three top-10s in 28 starts on tour over the past three seasons. He lost a six-man playoff to Kevin Kisner at the Wyndham Championship in August, and that’s as close as he has been. He was dreadful in the majors last year: T-54 at the Masters, missed cut at the PGA Championship, T-38 at the U.S. Open and T-46 at The Open. Scott has putted well, but his accuracy off the tee has put him in too many precarious positions.
Pietruszkiewicz: Every year, I keep waiting for that Paul Casey moment. Now, at 44, that might be asking too much. He didn’t qualify for last year’s Tour Championship, finishing 52nd on the FedEx Cup points list. But he had so many chances — T-5 at Pebble, T-5 at the Players, T-4 at the PGA Championship, T-4 at the Olympics, T-5 at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude. His ability with his irons makes you want to believe. He was second on tour in strokes gained: approach, 11th in proximity to hole and 29th in greens in regulation. The big problem that needs fixing for him to make the noise I think he can make? The putter. He was inside the top 100 in putting in just one major category last season.
There was a little dust-up last week between Kevin Na and Grayson Murray. Na likes to walk in putts. Murray says Na takes too long to putt. Na says Murray should worry about making some cuts. Which side are you on?
Collins: I’m with Kevin Na but … I got a text from a PGA Tour pro after I retweeted a sound bite from Kevin Na talking about the Twitter spat. It said, again paraphrasing, why would Na punch down at a guy who obviously is going through an identity crisis. Here’s some advice for Grayson, who just missed the cut at the Korn Ferry Tour event in the Bahamas: Find something other than social media to spend your downtime on. Volunteer somewhere and you will be better for it both mentally and physically in the long run.
Barrie: Listen, I’m impatient by nature, and especially on the golf course. I’m always going to favor the “hurry the hell up” crowd. Having said that, more golf smack talk and rivalries are good for the sport. So, on this one, give me Murray. And give me more Twitter back-and-forth.
Schlabach: With all due respect, Grayson who?
Pietruszkiewicz: Na has a logo of himself walking in putts on the back of his shirt. Legend. Golf needs more entertainment value. So I’m with Na here. Have some fun.
What kind of year will Hideki Matsuyama have if he keeps putting like he did in his win at the Sony Open? And can he keep putting like that?
Collins: Matsuyama changes putters like politicians change their stance. When it comes to the putting being sustainable? No. Let’s say Matsuyama putts better than average and can hit it like he did in the final round of the Sony Open. Then it’s safe to think somewhere between Jordan Spieth in 2014-15 (five wins and four runners up) and Brooks Koepka in 2018-19 (three wins and three runners-up). The only thing that could keep him from having a monster year is Mother Nature. Wind is his kryptonite.
Barrie: His obvious breakthrough was the Masters. His biggest weakness? Putting. Getting a major off his back might be mental magic for the putter. We saw that over the weekend. He’s always been among the top five ball strikers in the world and a weekly threat to win. If that putter comes along for the ride, I’d expect another major this year and, perhaps, player of the year contention.
Schlabach: Even though he drained just about everything in Hawai’i, I’m going to assume it’s an anomaly. He ranked 175th in strokes gained: putting last season; and he was 174th in 20 rounds this season before this past weekend. Still, Matsuyama has won in two of his past three starts on tour; he took the Zozo Championship in his native Japan in October. I’d be surprised to see him win back-to-back Masters, but he’ll make some noise this summer.
Pietruszkiewicz: If he putts like that, he might be able to keep that green jacket for another year. But asking him to roll it the way he did at Waialae Country Club is asking a bit much, no? He led the field with a career-best 7.537 strokes gained: putting. Last season, as was noted, he was 175th in the world in that category. Sure, players can improve, just not that much on a week-to-week basis. But if he has unlocked the secret, with the way he hits it, he can be in contention often.
After two weeks in Hawai’i to start the year, the tour has three in a row coming in California — at La Quinta, Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach. Which player are you keeping an eye on the next few weeks
Collins: Here are a couple to watch. Rickie Fowler, who is now ranked 92nd in the world. While his exempt status on tour is good through the 2022-23 season, it would be good to see him as a new dad get in contention and play well on the West Coast swing. Another is Sahith Theegala, the young man out of Pepperdine won every major award in college golf and has a good head on his shoulders. Like every young “can’t-miss” guy who comes out on tour, if he doesn’t have success early, what happens? Now, if he does go out and wins or get a top-three finish early, get your popcorn ready.
Barrie: Who will use the West Coast swing to tee off on a great 2022 season? I’m keeping an eye on Patrick Cantlay. His finish to 2021 was dominant. And at the time, he was the most dangerous player in the world. Up next for him is a major championship. I’ve always regarded Cantlay as a player perfectly suited to win at Augusta in April. He showed no signs of rust at Kapalua (fourth at the Sentry Tournament of Champions) after taking four months off. If Cantlay of August shows up early, there aren’t many players in the field I’d take over him.
Schlabach: Will Zalatoris won PGA Tour Rookie of the Year after starting the 2020-21 season without full membership! That’s what eight top-10s, including three in five majors, will do for you. It’s only a matter of time before the 25-year-old claims his first victory. He finished seventh at the Farmers Insurance Open last season and was 15th at the Genesis Invitational. Zalatoris’ putting is still a bit shaky at times, but he’s already one of the best irons players in the world.
Pietruszkiewicz: Isn’t it always Bryson DeChambeau? He is going to play at the Farmers Insurance Open, which means a return to Torrey Pines, where he collapsed on Sunday at last year’s U.S. Open. But that’s not why he’s worth watching. Nor is it to see if he sticks with the classic baseball-hat look and really does rid himself of the driver’s cap. It’s his wrist, which was balky enough to force him to pull out of the Sony Open. You just have to wonder if all the strength work, all the swinging for fences, might take a toll.