PGA Tour West Coast Swing talking points – Jordan Spieth back to form as Rory McIlroy struggles

The PGA Tour now heads to Florida after an eventful few weeks on the West Coast Swing, starting with Si Woo Kim’s victory in The American Express and ending with Max Homa’s success in the Genesis Invitational.

Tiger Woods has remained on the sidelines during this spell but there have still been plenty of talking points from the five tournaments.

Spieth back to form

Talking of Woods, it is not so long ago that Jordan Spieth was being tipped to reach the same heights of superstardom after claiming his third major victory and 11th PGA Tour win in The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in 2017.

Spieth has not won since then but the last three weeks have provided some encouraging signs of a return to form for the 27-year-old.

After missing the cut on his 2021 debut at the Farmers Insurance Open, Spieth has finished tied-fourth, tied-third and tied-15th.

That run has lifted him back up to 61st in the world rankings after ending last year down in 82nd spot and he will hope to make further progress over the next few weeks and get back inside the top 50.

There seems a genuine warmth towards Spieth in the golfing world and it might be a good thing he has not raised expectations too early with a victory so he can continue to steadily build up confidence.

The Masters is on the horizon – Spieth won at Augusta National in 2015 and has three other top-10 finishes – and punters are clearly hoping he will be back to his best by early April as his odds to win the first major of the year have tumbled to as low as 14/1.

DJ still undisputed No 1

Spieth spent 26 weeks as world No 1 after reaching the summit in August 2015 but there is now no disputing the top spot, with Dustin Johnson firmly established at the summit.

Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas were all vying for the No 1 ranking at one stage last year but Johnson has emerged from the pack following his triumph at The Masters.

He largely missed the West Coast Swing, advertising the strength of his game with a victory at the Saudi International, but was once again among the front-runners at the Genesis Invitational last week as he tied for eighth place.

Johnson did disappoint a little over the weekend with rounds of 71 and 72 – his driving letting him down at times as he missed the target to the left – but he is going to start a warm favourite for every tournament he enters if he maintains his present form.

Rahm is currently playing the best of the trio mentioned above and had a worst finish of tied-13th in his three events on the West Coast Swing, but he has not really been threatening the top of the leaderboard.

Thomas has been inconsistent so far this year with two missed cuts, a four-putt double-bogey as he carded a 77 in the opening round of the Genesis Invitational summing up his performance in Los Angeles.

Concerns over McIlroy’s form

McIlroy also missed the cut at Riviera Country Club and is now down to eighth in the world rankings.

The Northern Irishman remains without a victory since the WGC-HSBC Champions in November 2019, although this had been camouflaged somewhat by a consistent run which had seen him not miss a cut since The Open in 2019 and a run of 25 events on the PGA Tour without having the weekend off.

However, his form is now firmly in the spotlight after that run came to an end following rounds of 73 and 76 as he appeared out of sorts in the fast and tricky conditions in Los Angeles.

Speaking on Friday about McIlroy’s form, Sky Sports’ Andrew Coltart said: “The thing that’s really alarming which I’m seeing is that par fives, which should be his bread and butter, he’s making some bad shot choices. He’s missing it in the wrong places and putting himself under pressure and in some instances not even managing to get out of there with a par. That’s just giving far too many shots back to the field.”

McIlroy, who became a father for the first time in September, will now hope for a return to form on home turf in Florida and Sky Sports’ Rich Beem expects to see a different player.

Beem said: “He’s a brand new dad and maybe there’s some heartache when he gets on the road and he’s travelling alone right now. Maybe that’s part of it as well, having some more folks around him.

“It’s hard to tell but I don’t expect this form to last very long. I think once he gets back down to Florida, it’s back on Bermuda greens, which he absolutely loves. I think we will see hopefully a different type of Rory McIlroy, but right now it’s a little bit confusing. I’m not sure exactly what’s going on.”

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Crowds give Phoenix a buzz

It has been suggested that McIlroy is missing the buzz he gets from a crowd and his closing 64 at the Phoenix Open, where he tied for 13th, might provide some evidence of that.

TPC Scottsdale normally hosts a large and rowdy crowd and although numbers were limited to 5,000 a day this year, there was the welcome sight of fans in attendance at a PGA Tour event earlier this month.

One man who did enjoy having the fans back was Brooks Koepka who came from five shots back on the final day to secure his first victory in 19 months.

“I’ve missed the fans. Just being around fans is something else. I love it. I’ve played my best golf with fans, so just need to find something when they’re not there,” he said.

Koepka only tied for 38th at the Genesis Invitational, but is now another man to bear in mind for the Florida Swing events, as is Francesco Molinari who is also on his way back judging by his three top-10 finishes in four events on the West Coast Swing.

Bouncing back

Before his win in Phoenix, Koepka had missed the cut the week before in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines (as well as in his previous two tournaments), while Daniel Berger missed the cut at the Phoenix Open the week before his success at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

So a disappointing performance one week is not necessarily a sign of a lengthy poor run, giving hope to the likes of McIlroy, Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau, who also struggled at Riviera, ahead of this week’s WGC-Workday Championship.

One man certainly not worrying about missed cuts in the form he is in at present is Tony Finau who has finished in the top four in his last four events.

However, the 31-year-old remains without a win since the 2016 Puerto Rico Open after losing out to Homa in a play-off at the Genesis Invitational.

Finau has had 37 top-10 finishes without a win since 2017, earning $19.2m, but 116 different players have now won on the PGA Tour since his sole success with 43 of them winning at least twice.

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