Back in the late '80s, Pat Riley popularized the premise that an NBA playoff series doesn't really begin until the home team loses. So we ask: Does the PGA Tour season really begin before Tiger Woods hits his first shot?
Woods hit his first shot Thursday, and then a whole lot more, so many that he didn't even get to play on Sunday at the Farmers Insurance Open. But that was one more day than co-headliner Phil Mickelson, who withdrew after two rounds with a sore back. Fear not, the third marquee name in the field, Jordan Spieth, was the leader at the midway point. But, oops, he followed a Friday 63 with twin 75s on the weekend to fade from view.
Through such heartache for Torrey Pines organizers, not to mention Jim Nantz, Nick Faldo and the entire CBS golf crew, the Farmers came to an exciting conclusion. Scott Stallings (no, he wasn't the fourth name on the marquee) emerged from a pack of 16 golfers within two shots of the lead to surprisingly claim his third career PGA title.
With the South Course being compared to how difficult it played in the 2008 U.S. Open, the pins were made more accessible on Sunday. Stallings closed with a deciding birdie on the par-5 18th for a 4-under 68, but his overall score of 9-under 279 tied for the highest winning score in the 62-year history of the event (J.C. Snead beat Raymond Floyd and Bobby Nichols in a playoff in 1975, when they shot 279).
Woods won that '08 U.S. Open, on wounded knee, and these are just the type of conditions on which he thrives. When the course is toughest, Woods can rise above the other golfers in the field. But with a stunning 7-over 79 on Saturday, he experienced the first MDF of his career. If Woods cannot do well at perhaps his favorite course - he's won there eight times, including that Open - what does that bode for his season? Woods tees it up next week in Dubai in an event he's won twice, but he won't return to the PGA Tour till the Accenture World Match-Play tournament begins Feb. 19.
And wither Mickelson? He's currently listed in the field for the Waste Management Phoenix Open, in which he's the defending champion, but with a sore back at age 43, and you have to at least begin to wonder what his season will be like.
And Spieth? Despite apparently heading for greatness as the Tour's latest wunderkind, the 20-year-old showed that it's difficult for a young player, even one as good as him, to avoid some growing pains after initial success.
Woodland, the third-round leader, came to the 71st hole with the best shot to catch Stallings, who had birdied the 18th to take a one-stroke clubhouse lead. But he yanked his drive into the barranca, took a penalty shot and double-bogeyed, dropping all the way into a tie for 10th. Woodland lost in a playoff earlier this season, so that one drive aside, he appears to be on his game this season. He has a best finish of T5 in Phoenix, so he's had success there. Let's see whether he can put this difficult Sunday behind him.
Choi had the best round on Sunday, a 66 that looked like it might hold up with a lot of golfers still on the course. But he wound up in a five-way tie for second. Still, that's his best finish since winning the Players Championship in 2011, and Choi has three top-20 checks in three starts in 2013-14.
Not too long before Spieth came along, Ishikawa was supposed to the Next Big Thing. It hasn't worked out that way, but at age 22, it might be developing now. Ishikawa added a T7 at Torrey Pines to a T2 at the Shriners in October, and he sits 14th in the FedEx Cup standings.
The injury-plagued Immelman finished T10, only his fourth top-10 since capturing the 2008 Masters. It's too soon to make any determination on Immelman, but he does have his card for 2014.
After a terrible first season on the PGA Tour, the big-hitting Colsaerts showed some life this week. He opened with a 69-67 (an impressive bogey-free 67 on the South Course) to play in Saturday's final group before fading with a 75-73 to tie for 19th with Spieth. It was only his second start of the season.
Holmes made his first PGA Tour start since a rollerblading mishap last March. He ended with an encouraging T23 as he plays on a Major Medical Extension. He now heads to Phoenix, where he is a two-time champion (2006, '08).
Snedeker missed the cut, after opening with a 5-over 77 on the creampuff North Course, which played four strokes easier than the South on Thursday. He did turn in a T11 in the year-opening Tournament of Champions, but had a T58 at the Humana Challenge, leaving some doubt as to how healthy he is following his Segway accident (knee) late last year.