Updated: April 2, 2014, 12:41 PM ET

PGA Tour season chock full of surprises so far

By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

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Steven Bowditch's final-round 76 was the highest by a winner on the PGA Tour since Vijay Singh shot 76 at the 2004 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. Singh won a playoff to capture his third major title.

Front nine
Strange, this PGA Tour season.

The two most prolific performers since the start of the 2013-14 season in October have racked up a total of five victories, in addition to numerous FedEx Cup, World Ranking and Ryder Cup points. And both have yet to play in the Masters, making their debuts at Augusta National next week.

The two most high-profile names in the game have yet to crack the top 10, having each withdrawn midround from a tournament and having bailed on a total of five events they were either in the midst of or scheduled to play.

And two of the biggest stars, major championship winners in the past two years, each held a Sunday lead over the past month, were huge favorites to prevail, and then failed spectacularly to finish off a victory.

Very strange, this PGA Tour season.

At age 35, Jimmy Walker has seemingly come into his own. At age 23, Patrick Reed will have you believe this is what he expected all along. They have combined for six victories since August, five in this PGA Tour season, and appear to be locks for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. And they will play the Masters for the first time next week.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson combined to win eight times worldwide in 2013. Mickelson won the Open Championship, while Woods captured the Players Championship and two WGC events. Both were on most lists for player of the year honors, and they've combined to win seven Masters. But both are now injured, with Woods announcing Tuesday that he'll miss the tournament for the first time in 20 years due to back surgery, while Mickelson's ability to compete for a green jacket remains uncertain.

Rory McIlroy had the 54-hole lead at the Honda Classic (not to mention he was in the final group in Dubai), then stumbled over the back nine and lost in a four-man playoff, with Russell Henley coming out on top. Adam Scott had the 54-hole lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, then made one birdie, shot 76 and lost by 2 to Matt Every.

Incredibly strange, this PGA Tour season.

Going back to the start at the Frys.com Open, the winners: Walker, Webb Simpson, Ryan Moore, Dustin Johnson, Chris Kirk, Harris English, Zach Johnson, Walker, Reed, Scott Stallings, Kevin Stadler, Walker, Bubba Watson, Jason Day, Henley, Reed, John Senden, Every and Steven Bowdich.

Among that group are five first-time winners and just three major championship winners.

It seems like a long time since Woods had that impressive victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August.

What does it all mean? Well, it's a small sample size, and it is likely unwise to read too much into those results other than to say, well, it's been more than a bit odd.

At the turn
The conclusion of the Valero Texas Open marked the halfway point of the PGA Tour's regular season. That's 20 weeks of play, with 21 events. The Shell Houston Open marks the start of the second half -- including all four majors -- with another 20 weeks and 21 events through the Wyndham Championship in August.

Back nine
Andrew Loupe looks like he has the potential to be a fine player. Having made his way to the PGA Tour via the Web.com Tour, the former LSU golfer got off to a slow start, missing his first five cuts before finding some form in the last three. And he got into contention for the first time at the Valero Texas Open, where he tied for fourth.

And that's where the world saw his issues with slow play.

To call Loupe methodical is being kind. There were times he took seven practice swings or more. NBC commentator Johnny Miller quipped, "If everyone on tour played like him, I'd quit announcing."

Slow play has been a big issue again on the PGA Tour the last few weeks as a few slowpokes have found their way into contention. To pick on them might seem unfair, but how else will the problem be rectified? The tour's penalty system of issuing fines after warnings is clearly not working, and the penalty strokes that can be doled out never happen.

One aspect that is often broached in regard to slow play is the size of the field, and that might be true on Thursday and Friday, when 144 and sometimes 156 players are crammed onto the course. Slow play is inevitable.

But there were 71 players in Sunday's final round in Texas, and it took the last group three hours to play the front nine and more than 5:30 to play 18 holes. It looks terrible, and is horrible for spectators on sight to watch golfers standing around, waiting.

In regard to Loupe, he's going to need to change his approach. When asked if his slow play had anything to do with nerves, Loupe said: "Maybe a little bit. Playing a little slower right now. We're on the 18th tee and they're still on the 18th green. You hurry up and wait if you want, but I'm really ... I don't care."

It's bad enough to play so slow, but to have a bad attitude about it, too?

Time for the PGA Tour to step up and get tough with slow play.

Bob Harig | email

ESPN Senior Writer

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