January 06, 2016
By Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM
- Zach Johnson is seventh in career earnings at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
After a six-week break for the holidays, the PGA TOUR season resumes with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. It’s impossible to buy that not everyone who has ever qualified for the winners-only competition on Maui arrived in anything other than a tremendous mood, not to mention refreshed, but levels of every emotion vary. Comfort included.
For example, it’s fair to wonder if Bill Haas arrives with the kind of baggage that suggests that he’s given himself a pep talk before what is his fifth appearance following respective finishes of eighth, 20th, T23 and T24. The Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort is annually one of the easiest tracks in relation to par all year, but he failed to break par in two rounds in each of his last three trips to the only par 73 on the schedule.
As Haas attempts to regain traction, others seek to retain it.
MOST COMFORTABLE: Zach Johnson
With eight appearances at Kapalua and sitting seventh in all-time earnings in the event, he leads the field of 32 in both categories. (Jim Furyk also qualified, but he’s elected to continue to rest a sore left wrist. He’s played here 10 times and ranks sixth all-time on the tournament’s money list.) ZJ is also one of only four golfers to emerge victorious both here and at next week’s Sony Open in Hawaii, which, of course, is contested on a polar opposite of a layout at Waialae Country Club.
“I guess it means I like Hawaii,” he said after last year’s second-round 67 at Kapalua during which he hit all 18 greens in regulation. “I like what both golf courses present, and they are vastly different, yet almost kind of the same. Hard to explain; obviously one is hilly, one is very flat. But when it comes to execution with wind and trajectory control, they are both very similar and I like that kind of golf. That’s kind of what I grew up playing. ... It’s one of those things. The more you play here, the more you get your feet on it, the better it becomes.”
There are 14 first-timers in the field who are relying on just that this week.
Now, the natural concern is that Johnson’s switch to PXG (Parsons Xtreme Golf) equipment is reason to lower expectations immediately. Some golf fans can’t believe it, especially after he’s coming off a career-defining victory at St. Andrews.
“The decision to put PXG clubs in play was not one I took lightly,” he said in the company’s press release. “My entire team, my caddie to coach, was part of the discernment process. We all agree that PXG is undeniably the best equipment to help me achieve my goals on the course.” (Johnson is swapping out every club except for his SeeMore putter, which has been the stick that has caused the most frustration in recent seasons, anyway.)
Before you shrug that off as what he’s supposed to say, somewhere Graeme McDowell might be nodding knowingly. It was at Kapalua in 2011, fresh off his own career-defining victory in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and free from a contract with Callaway, that he migrated to Cleveland/Srixon. Lo and behold, the Ulsterman finished alone in third place in this tournament with a course-record-tying 62 in the final round.
“Sometimes things come to (an) end and I feel really good about the start of a new era with some fresh energy coming at me from some new guys.” Those were G-Mac’s words on the Tuesday before the tournament started. Incidentally, McDowell is back in Maui this week for the first time since that I’ll-show-you performance. Oh, and that 11-under 62 remains his career-low aggregate in 473 rounds on the PGA TOUR.
Johnson isn’t the only former champion at Kapalua pegging it this week.
• Dustin Johnson, winner of the 54-hole edition that ended on Tuesday in 2013, is back for his sixth start. He has two other top 10s and a solo 11th in the books. At 10th in all-time earnings in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, he’s second only to ZJ in this field.
• Defending champion Patrick Reed occupies the 14-hole (and fourth in this field) on the all-time money list here in just two appearances, but that’s what a $1.14-million direct deposit can do. Last year, he emerged from a playoff with Jimmy Walker, who ranks fifth in tournament earnings of those here this week but 30th all-time.
Suffice it to say that Jordan Spieth found the Plantation Course to his liking in his debut here two years ago. That’s a recurring theme wherever he plays, but he finished solo second that week and has embraced the opportunity that the Hyundai Tournament of Champions presents.
“Look forward to some more activities we don’t get to do throughout the year,” he said in his presser on Tuesday. “Kind of take advantage of where we’re at. We’ve had just a fantastic time this week. I do love this golf course. I love the grainy Bermuda. It’s fun. Having to judge the elevation change with the winds. The ball just kind of does some crazy stuff out here.”
“This is one that we strive to make each year. If I’m eligible to play in this tournament and I’m not, I hope every single one of you (in the media) calls me and bashes me for it.”
OTHER SIGNS OF COMFORT
Only 13 in the field have competed at Kapalua more than once, but that still represents over 40 percent of the field.
• Brandt Snedeker finished third in 2013 and hung up red numbers in all 11 of his rounds in competition. No one else in the field with at least five rounds logged can claim the same achievement.
• Fueled by a T4 in 2013 and a solo 10th last year, Bubba Watson has an active streak of 10 consecutive sub-par rounds. His actual scoring average during the stretch is 69.70.
• Davis Love III, 51, has four top 10s in five appearances. That includes a T2 in his last in 2009.