West Coast Is a Swing Pause for the Elite of the PGA Tour

Coming soon to a theater near you, there's a movie about a volcano, which is probably busy spewing molten mayhem. The film has a catchy slogan: "The Coast Is Toast."

It seems that what we have here is yet another example of life imitating art, because the West Coast golf tour may not be toast yet, but they're getting the jelly ready.

The problem is that for many top players, the PGA Tour begins each year in Florida, in March. That's when Greg Norman starts, and likewise Nick Price.

Because pro golf is basically a year-round proposition, thanks to the number of special events played in what used to be the off-season, players must build in their own time off.

"The season's too long," Nick Faldo said. "You play 12 months and you'll snap."

In many cases, time off is scheduled during the West Coast part of the tour, which, after the Mercedes Championships, begins at next week's Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and ends at the Nissan Open the last week of February.

Faldo, who usually plays four of the seven West Coast tournaments, has scheduled himself for the AT&T; at Pebble Beach and the Nissan Open at Riviera this year because he likes the courses.

The Nissan Open usually anchored the end of the West Coast swing to prevent a full-scale flight to Florida by players.

So what will happen next year when the Nissan Open is played at Valencia Country Club? Faldo laughed and shrugged.

Craig Stadler, the defending champion at Riviera, said players will do one of two things.

"You either come for the novelty of playing a new golf course or you just skip it," Stadler said. "I hope it's not the latter, but you know it's going to happen. No doubt about it."

Last year, Steve Stricker was the only player in the top 15 in the SONY rankings to play every West Coast event in which he was eligible. Tom Lehman and Phil Mickelson played five times.

Steve Elkington and Mark O'Meara played four events on the West Coast, Fred Couples and Scott Hoch played three, but no one else among the top 15 played more than two.

"There never has been real strong superstar, so to speak, participation on the West Coast," Stadler said. "The fact that Greg isn't going to play until Doral probably upsets some sponsors, but to me, it probably doesn't make any difference."

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Stadler played a tournament recently in Morocco, where he made a discovery about some of the country's cuisine. He ate lamb, and lots of it.

"Lamb, I liked it before," Stadler said. "But not three meals a day."

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Club news: Corey Pavin's switch from Cleveland clubs to PRGR, which is the Yokohama Rubber Co., brings up a question.

Since Pavin's Cleveland irons were described as resembling "garden tools," will his new clubs be called "tubeless radials?"

Pavin had played Cleveland clubs since he turned professional in 1984.

PGA champion Mark Brooks has switched from Hogan to Callaway, Ernie Els has switched from Lynx to Taylor Made and Stricker from Palmer to Taylor Made.

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The Nissan Open has raised its prize money from $1.2 million to $1.4 million for the event at Riviera on Feb. 27-March 2.

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Justin Leonard said he isn't sure whether Tiger Woods' endorsement deals will create a frenzy among sponsors.

"I don't know," Leonard said. "You have to ask Jerry Maguire."

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