By Ann Miller for PGATOUR.COM
KAPALUA, Maui — Somehow, Steve Stricker made it work in Tuesday’s final round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
Stricker, the 45-year-old defending champion, had a putt to tie 28-year-old Dustin Johnson on the 13th green. Stricker missed, Johnson crushed his next drive, chipped in for eagle and ultimately won by four.
“I actually thought, as we started the round today, I could really put some serious pressure on this guy because I’m going to hit first every time to the green,” said Stricker, who shot a bogey-free 69. “If I can put it inside there and start making a little run and make some birdies, if I continually hit it in there on him, that’s to my advantage.
“And that just didn't work the way I was thinking, but it’s always a possibility.”
Particularly in Hawaii. At Kapalua Plantation, Stricker is 90 under in his last 20 rounds. He has six top 10s at the Sony Open in Hawaii, which starts Thursday.
But Johnson was too much this windy time around at Kapalua. They were strange looking pair, the young guy with the prodigious drives and the only 40-year-old in the field, walking with a limp because of a shooting pain on his left side that has been bothering Stricker the last month.
He never blinked Tuesday.
“I had an opportunity, which is why we play is to have that opportunity to try to win,” Stricker said. “I had some chances today. I had some chances to put some pressure on early. Missed some putts there early in the round that could have made a difference, maybe not, but who knows-type thing.
“It was a good week. Looking forward to getting rid of this little nagging thing I’ve got going down my leg and looking forward to playing again at the (WGC-Accenture) Match Play.”
That’s six weeks away, giving Stricker time to get well and enjoy the first break of many. He will only play “10 or 12” events this year as he cuts back. That life-changing choice changed him this week.
“Maybe that’s why I played well, too,” Stricker said. “I didn’t expect a lot. I had this different attitude about playing a little bit less, and I felt a little more comfortable and the pressure was taken off me this week, too. So I’m hoping that kind of translates like this into the rest of the season.”
He is hoping he won’t see winds like Kapalua’s again anytime soon. Gusts up to 50 mph forced TOUR officials to start Hyundai with 36 holes Monday — the day it was supposed to end.
Somehow a week that began with questions about his health and was plagued with poor weather turned into another great time in Hawaii for Stricker, who has now won nearly $5 million here.
“Everybody took it great,” Stricker said. “And the rules officials did a great job working with us and trying to get everybody out there and around. I thought yesterday was a great setup that they did. They shortened the course. They gave us rides on some holes.
“I don’t think this will put a damper on Maui or the Hyundai Tournament of Champions or anything. I thought everything went as well as could be expected given the circumstances with the weather. Guys will be itching to get back here. I’m going to work hard to try to get back here again. It’s a special place to start the year.”
By Ann Miller for PGATOUR.COM
KAPALUA, Maui — Dustin Johnson went from wire-to-windy-wire at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Tuesday, winning the PGA TOUR’s first event of 2013 by four shots over defending champ Steve Stricker.
Johnson closed with a 5-under 68 at the Kapalua Plantation Course, which was blown into submission the first three days. Gusts of more than 50 mph forced officials to start the tournament Monday with 36 holes and end it Tuesday with 18 more.
It was an ideal situation for Johnson, who has now won the TOUR’s last three 54-hole tournaments.
“I’ve got a long way to go,” grinned Johnson, 28, “but I will be ready for the Champions Tour.”
His three-round total of 16-under 203 was four shots better than Stricker, who closed with a 69. Johnson has now won TOUR events in six straight years, since coming out of college.
Tiger Woods is the only other golfer who can make that claim. And only Phil Mickelson, who has won events the last nine years, has a longer annual streak. That is fast company.
“He’s very athletic and he’s just going to continue to get better,” Stricker said. “That’s going to be the fun part watching is what he’s going to do from here on out, because he looks unflappable out there. He hit a couple wayward drives and opened the door for me a little bit, and then he stepped up there with a driver again, and I’m like, OK. But then he piped it and chips it in.”
That came on the 14th hole. Stricker was five back after seven, but cut his gap to two at the turn with a couple birdies and Johnson’s bogey on the ninth, where he drove into a hazard.
Johnson padded his advantage with a birdie on the 12th, blasting his drive more than 400 yards and sinking a 12-foot birdie putt. He made just two putts that were longer all week, aside from a 25-footer from the fringe Tuesday that counted as a chip-in.
His next chip-in was the most decisive shot of the long week.
Johnson hit into another hazard on the 13th, found his ball but hit it just four feet, leading to double-bogey. Stricker missed a 25-foot birdie putt that could have tied it there, but Johnson’s advantage was down to one with five holes left.
He grabbed his driver again on the next hole, blasted the ball 267 yards through the wind about 50 feet short of the hole, and nearly knocked over the weather-whipped pin for eagle.
“The chip on 14 was definitely the biggest shot,” Johnson said. “Maybe the drive; the drive set it up all. I hit a great drive right at the flag, which came up just short, and I had a really easy pitch. Fortunate to hit a great pitch and it went right in the middle.”
Johnson won $1.14 million and 500 FedExCup points to take the early-season lead. Kyle Stanley finished last in the 30-man field and collected $61,000.
They now head to the Sony Open in Hawaii, which tees off Thursday. Johnson has top-20 finishes at Waialae Country Club in both previous starts.
How bright is his future?
“I don’t really look ahead that far,” Johnson said. “I kind of go week-to-week. I’m looking at next week where I want to go in and play three good rounds and then contend on Sunday for another victory. That’s my goal.”
Then he fired a shot heard ‘round the PGA TOUR.
“If I keep playing golf like I’m playing right now, then, you know,” Johnson said, “obviously there is no limit.”
Dustin Johnson won the 54-hole Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Tuesday for his seventh career PGA TOUR victory. With this victory, Johnson ...
Steve Stricker and Dustin Johnson played in the final group Tuesday at Kapalua. (Petersen/Getty Images)
By Ann Miller, for PGATOUR.COM
KAPALUA, Maui — Wind and weirdness rocked the first week of the PGA TOUR season.
Dustin Johnson and defending champion Steve Stricker battled it out on the back of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Tuesday’s final round, but the memories of this tournament will go beyond their result.
Since Thursday’s pro-am, played in driving wind and rain at Kapalua’s Plantation Course, this has been “goofy golf,” as Bubba Watson so accurately put it.
Kapalua residents call the rare and crazy weather that delayed the start for three days “pe‘epohaku.” It basically means rain and wind that cause you to “hide behind a rock.”
There were sustained winds of 30-40 mph the first three days, with gusts that got into the 50’s Saturday. The tournament did not start until Monday, when it was scheduled to end. It is the first Tuesday finish since the Booz Allen Classic in 2006.
Friday’s round was suspended and scrapped with the first group through eight holes. Saturday’s 36 holes never got started. On Sunday, lead group Rickie Fowler and Jason Dufner got through five holes before that day was suspended, and scores voided yet again.
Fowler hit the opening drive of the season three times. Golf balls at rest blew off greens. Pins blew horizontal. An entire cheesecake blew out of a food tent, Frisbee-ing down the first fairway.
Matt Kuchar’s golf ball blew off the tee when he tried to tee it up on the 10th Sunday. A few days earlier, the visitor’s bureau took he and his family on a catamaran ride to Lanai in a serene ocean surrounded by whales.
Wind is pretty much a constant here on the side of the West Maui mountains, but this is weird even for the islands. The prolonged gusts made the Plantation unplayable, which had never happened before.
The tournament, which moved here in 1999, was cut to 54 holes over the weekend. It the first time the Hyundai TOC has not gone the full 72 since 1997 in Las Vegas, and only the third time since it started in 1953.
The wackiness had an impact on this week’s Sony Open in Hawaii at Waialae Country Club.
The Golf Channel needs to send its equipment to Oahu by barge, causing complications with Thursday’s first-round broadcast. The 20 golfers playing the Sony Open had to alter travel plans to Oahu.
Defending Sony Open champion Johnson Wagner, who said Sunday that “every 3-footer on these greens takes a year off my life,” was scheduled to play in the Acura Hawaii Pro-Junior Challenge Tuesday afternoon. So were Kuchar and Mark Wilson, who also played Hyundai.
They were replaced by Davis Love III, Fred Funk and Hawaii native Dean Wilson.
Wilson is used to this wind, which is forecast to die way down for Sony. He is also used to the temperature. Through Kapalua’s entire ordeal, the weather barely dipped below 70 degrees.
Dustin Johnson has twice before won tournaments shortened to 54 holes. With just over nine holes to play in the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions, he appears headed toward a third.
Johnson leads Steve Stricker by five and Brandt Snedeker and Keegan Bradley by six.
Snedeker had crept closer to Johnson with three birdies sandwiched around an eagle early in the day, but back-to-back bogeys have dropped him back.
Of the players in the top 10 of the 30-man winners-only field, Ricki Fowler is having the best round so far at 4 under, but he's already through 12 holes and is well back at 6 under for the week.
Johnson's other two weather-shortened wins came at the 2011 Barclays and 2009 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Dustin Johnson has won six PGA TOUR events. Two of them have come in weather-shortened 54-hole tournaments.
Now he stands on the verge of adding a third 54-hole win as he takes a three-shot lead going into Tuesday's third and final round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
But the long-hitting Johnson doesn't consider himself the "54-hole King." He just plays to win until they tell him to stop. That's what he did at the 2009 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and the 2011 Barclays.
And that's what he'll do today at Kapalua's Plantation Course.
"Just happened to win those two events," Johnson said of his 54-hole wins. "You know, I've still got 18 more holes of golf. It wouldn't matter if it was 72 holes or 54.
"(Tuesday) is still the last round and there's 18 holes to play, so got to get the job done."
He certainly got the job done on Monday when the 30-man field played 36 holes. He shot a 4-under 69 in the morning and followed with a 7-under 66 in the afternoon, leaving him at 11 under, three shots clear of defending champion Steve Stricker.
Bubba Watson, Johnson's playing partner on Monday, is in third place at 7 under.
Although the Plantation Course is one of the toughest walking courses on the PGA TOUR, Johnson used his peak physical condition to play better in the afternoon.
"This course is a tough walk and it's really windy out there," Johnson said, "but I'm in pretty good shape. I can handle it."
He'll need to walk only 18 holes on Tuesday. His distance off the tee, along with his accuracy with his irons -- he hit a career-best 33 of 36 greens in regulation on Monday -- will make him tough to beat.
Add in the fact that he played six practice rounds at Kapalua with new equipment, and no one may have been more ready to start the season.
Tuesday could be something special for Johnson. In fact, 2013 might very well be a special season.
"Obviously it's the first event of the year, but I think for sure that I'm due for a big year," Johnson said. "I haven't achieved everything that I can. I haven't played to my full potential yet.
"So you know, maybe it will happen this year. I still have got a lot of things I need to work on and improve, and if I do that, then I think I'll have a very good year."
Tuesday's round begins at 12:10 p.m. ET (7:10 a.m. Hawaii time). Dustin Johnson and Steve Stricker, playing in the final group, tee off at 1:20 p.m. ET (8:20 a.m. Hawaii time).
Steve Stricker celebrates with his caddie after holing out for eagle on No. 18. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)
By Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM
KAPALUA, Maui -- The PGA TOUR got very fortunate to complete 36 holes on Monday. Both the golf course and the wind were right on the edge for most of the day. Just as the second round began, two golf balls moved on the greens during wind gusts. TOUR officials were ready to halt play but the winds subsided just enough for the tournament to continue. A brief morning rain injected just enough moisture into the greens, which rolled out at 8.6 in the stimpmeter. The course, the wind, the rain and the green speed were all just marginal enough for competition to continue.
Winds: Just because 36 holes were completed and just because Dustin Johnson is 11 under, don’t think Monday was an easy day of golf. The wind blew between 20-25 miles an hour and gusts hovered in the upper 30s. The conditions allowed for some strange yardages. Johnson hit a couple 9 irons 100 yards into the wind and hit one sand wedge 160 yards that he described as, “not quite a full wedge but close.”
Nerves: It was far from a walk in the park for Steve Stricker. It was more like a long limp home. Stricker walked 36 holes with a nerve problem in his upper thigh that shot pain down into his leg. He was in obvious discomfort and would lie down in the fairway between shots to stretch. He was able to shoot 6-under 67 in the second round by putting well. Stricker took just 26 putts. He said the nerve issue started in December and cautioned officials he might withdraw at the start of the opening round. There is nothing like shooting 6 under to alleviate some of the pain.
Driving: Dustin Johnson put a new TaylorMade driver into his bag and leads the tournament in driving distance at 307.6 yards. He attacked the Plantation Course even in the high winds with phenomenal drives. Johnson putted for eagle on four different occasions on the back nine alone, shooting 5 under on the quartet of holes. The distance off the tee also enabled him to hit 33 of 36 greens despite finding just 15 of 30 fairways.
Conflict: Amanda Dufner faced a decision. Would she watch her husband Jason play his second round of golf or would she sneak off to the clubhouse to watch football? Her alma mater won. Amanda is a University of Alabama graduate and she enjoyed the National Championship game and outcome. Roll Tide.
Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.
By Ann Miller, for PGATOUR.COM
KAPALUA, Maui — A jaw-dropping matinee performance blew Dustin Johnson to the top of the windblown Hyundai Tournament of Champions leaderboard on Marathon Monday.
After six practice rounds and three days of watching brutal winds wipe out the start of the 2013 PGA TOUR season, Johnson got revenge on Kapalua’s Plantation Course in Monday’s first two rounds.
He shared the first-round lead with Mark Wilson and Nick Watney at 4-under 69 in the morning, despite a trio of three-putts. When he sank a five-foot eagle putt on the 36th hole of the day, Johnson had a 6-under 66 and a three-shot lead over defending champion Steve Stricker.
The 66 looked uncommonly easy. The longest putt Johnson made was eight feet and that was for par. He two-putted for birdie on three holes and chipped within four feet three more times. On the final hole, he launched a 6-iron 243 yards and the eagle had nearly landed.
“I thought it was going to come up a little bit short, but it ended up fine, just perfect,” Johnson said. “It was rolling down there pretty close to the hole and I made it.”
Johnson’s scintillating performance, in winds that still were some 30 mph at times, was no surprise. At 28, he is trying to become the first TOUR player since Tiger Woods (1996-2001) to win a tournament six straight years out of college.
He had nine top-10s last year, including a win at the FedEx St. Jude Classic that got him the Hyundai invitation. He ranked fourth in driving distance (310 yards) and finished eighth in the final FedExCup standings.
“He’s such a good player and he’s got length on his side and he’s got a lot of talent,” said Stricker, who was suffering from a “shooting pain” down his left leg and limping noticeably. “It’s going to be tough to make up three shots on him here. I wish I was feeling 100 percent.
“I could be feeling better tomorrow, who knows? But you know, we never know, either. That’s why you play. I mean, three shots, two shots can be erased really quickly, one hole.”
Stricker turns 46 next month and has decided to cut his schedule “in half” this year. He is ranked 18th in the world, and the last time he did not break par at Kapalua was in 2002. He is 86 under in his last 19 rounds here.
Twenty of these players head to Oahu after Tuesday for the first full-field event of the year. The Sony Open in Hawaii starts Thursday at Waialae Country Club.
Johnson Wagner, who won at Waialae last year, has a share of 10th going into the final round. He was ninth at Kapalua a year ago.
Dustin Johnson seized a three-shot advantage at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions when he eagled the par-5 finishing hole to close out his second round at Kapalua.
Johnson, a six-time PGA TOUR winner who punched his ticket to this event by winning last year’s FedEx St. Jude Classic, posted rounds of 69 and 66 on the par-73 layout Monday to take the clubhouse lead at 11 under.
A few groups of players, including defending champion Steve Stricker (-8), are still on the course.
Bubba Watson, who played alongside Johnson Monday is third at 7 under.