February is the shortest of the month, but it packed quite a punch in 2014, giving rise to a number of interesting new storylines in professional golf.
The intrigue kicked off on Super Bowl Sunday, Groundhog Day, when Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and so, too, apparently, did the Denver Broncos and Bubba Watson, who yielded a chance to win the Waste Management Phoenix Open over the closing holes to Kevin Stadler, who took his first-career PGA Tour victory after Watson failed to get up-and-down on the 72nd hole for a tying par. Stadler will play in his first Masters in April, where he will join his father, Craig, who won the green jacket in 1982, in the field. They will be the first father-son pair to play in the same Masters.
The following week brought the PGA Tour back to California for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Jimmy Walker continued his stellar play in the 2013-14 PGA Tour season, shooting a four-round total of 11-under par 276 at a three-course rota that included Spyglass Hill Golf Course, the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club and Pebble Beach Golf Links. He stumbled to a final-round 74, but it was good for a one-shot victory over Dustin Johnson and Jim Renner. The victory was Walker’s third in eight starts this year, and further extended his lead in the FedEx Cup.
The following week brought the best players in the world down the California coast to Los Angeles for the Northern Trust Open, held at venerable Riviera Country Club. After barely making the cut at -1, Bubba Watson made up for his earlier-February troubles by unleashing two spectacular consecutive rounds of 64 on Riviera over the weekend, good for a two-stroke win over Dustin Johnson and a three-stroke margin over Jason Allred and Brian Harman.
Back to Arizona went the Tour for the World Golf Championships – Accenture Match Play Championship. The event brought 64 of the top 67 players in the world (Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott elected not to compete) for a single-elimination match play extravaganza at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Golf Club at Dove Mountain in Marana, Arizona. The finale included one of the most entertaining playoffs in recent memory. After being two holes down with two to play, 23-year old Frenchman Victor Dubuisson rallied to win the 17th and 18th holes of regulation in the Championship Match against Australian Jason Day. And after hitting his approach shot far over the green on the first playoff hole, Dubuisson looked all but assured of a loss. But his swipe at the ball with a sand wedge sent it up a slope and onto the putting surface, four feet from the hole. Crazily, the same fate befell the Frenchman on the next hole, and once again he was able to get up and down to halve the hole with Day and continue the playoff. Finally, on the fifth extra hole, Dubuisson’s luck ran out, and Day holed a four-foot birdie putt to win. Nevertheless, it provided a much-hoped-for jolt of drama into the PGA Tour season.
Now the tour heads cross-country to Florida for four events in the Sunshine State (in addition to one opposite-field event in Puerto Rico), followed by a brief Texas interlude and then the Masters in early April. After a long winter, it seems professional golf is in full swing once again.