KAPALUA, Maui ---Golfers finally teed off at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions Sunday, but PGA TOUR officials blew the horn a little more than an hour later and called them in when the wind went from bad to worse, gusting to 48 mph.
The fluid plan now is to play 36 holes from 7:10 a.m. local time Monday, then try to get 18 more in Tuesday to make tournament results official.
“Obviously we need the weather to cooperate,” said Andy Pazder, the TOUR’s Chief of Operations. “It’s going to be borderline tomorrow. Our meteorologist is saying 25- to 30-mph winds, which we can play in.
“It’s the gusts that creep up above 40 that have knocked us out. We had registered gusts up to 48 mph right before we suspended play today. Somewhere in the low 40s is what puts us out of business.”
Defending champion Steve Stricker was about to tee off on Kapalua Plantation’s first hole with Brandt Snedeker in the final group when the horn sounded. Out of 26 players on the course at that point, Jason Dufner was the only one in red numbers. Two birdies left him 1-under through five holes, but that did not matter when scores were erased, just as they were Friday.
Dufner started on the front nine. The back nine is much more exposed to the elements — and it was problematic.
Matt Kuchar and Webb Simpson started at No. 10 with the first tee time (11:10 a.m. in Hawaii). Kuchar teed his ball up and saw it “wiggle.” He backed off and waited.
Simpson looked at him and grinned: “Can we just get a running start,” he joked.
Kuchar put his ball back on the tee and a gust of wind blew it off, with spectators also getting blown back.
“I’ve never had that happen before,” Kuchar told NBC, which was making the first network appearance at this tournament since it moved to Kapalua in 1999. “Maybe that was a sign of what was to come. This wind … it’s a shame we are here in this beautiful place that’s so special, as nice as any, and the first round of the year we want to get going and we’re just unable to.”
An official joined the group at that point. After a short discussion, Kuchar teed off at 11:18 a.m. He parred the first two holes, birdied the 12th and finished five holes at even-par after a bogey at No. 13.
Ben Curtis, who went out three groups later, took 6 at both the par-4 10th and the par-3 11th, where his ball rolled backwards off the green while he was preparing to putt.
About then the horn blew, much as it had Friday when the first group was through eight holes and a ball blew off the second green. Wind gusts above 50 mph and relentless rain squalls cancelled the 36 holes scheduled for Saturday.
Rain stayed away Sunday, but the TOUR postponed the start four hours because of the wind, hoping to get 18 holes in and finish with 36 Monday. Officials instructed Kapalua’s staff not to cut or roll the greens Sunday, slowing them by about a foot, according to Slugger White, the TOUR’s Vice President of Rules and Competition.
But with the course drying and gusts picking up, balls began rolling off the green again.
“We were on the edge starting out at 11:10,” White admitted. “You hope for the best and it just didn’t happen. After 30 or 40 minutes we were still on edge, and all of a sudden there were gusts up to 48 mph and we couldn’t keep balls on the green. … It’s difficult walking out there, and hitting golf shots … it’s just one of those things.”
According to Kuchar, the players in the elite 30-man field are hanging tough.
“I think most of us know the routine and pretty much knew what to expect,” he said. “Everybody is enjoying themselves. We’re here in Hawaii and fortunately today the sun is shining so everybody is in a better mood with the sun shining.
“After what we went through Friday and then having Saturday blown out, as well, we were kind of expecting that today, with the wind as strong as it was this morning, being told to go home. I think most guys pretty much could have told you what was going to happen this afternoon in the locker room.”
The tournament is considered official if 54 holes are played, with the winner getting an invitation into next year’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions. If only 36 holes are played, it would be an “unofficial” win with no Hyundai invitation, but money would be included in a golfer’s total. If only 18 holes are played, the $5.7 million purse is cut in half and money is unofficial.