TOC at Kapalua: Don't mess with a good thing

By Doug FergusonJanuary 8, 2013, 8:34 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Paradise can leave a lasting impression.

Steve Stricker was just starting to pull himself out of a deep slump in 2006 when he was reminded by his daughter, Bobbi Maria, how long it had been since he last won on the PGA Tour. She was 8 at the time and won a tournament for juniors at their home club in Wisconsin, no more than three or six holes.

''She comes home all excited and says, 'Daddy, I won, I won! We're going to Hawaii,''' Stricker once recalled.

He had to break the news to her.

Stricker was the one who had to win a tournament for them to go to Kapalua to start a new season, and he did that the following year.

As traditions go in golf, starting the year on the rugged coast of Maui is relatively new. The Tournament of Champions began in Las Vegas in 1953, moved to La Costa Resort north of San Diego in 1969 and stayed there 30 years until coming to Kapalua.

This was the 15th year the Tour has started at Kapalua, and there has never been another year like this one. A tournament that was supposed to end on Monday didn't start until Monday because of three days of powerful wind – one gust measuring 48 mph – that had the locals drawing comparisons with a 100-year storm.

About the only good that came out of such freak weather was that it took attention away, however briefly, from the Tour winners who stayed home and missed out on the endless days – the top four players in the world ranking, for starters, led by Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.

It's not a new problem, but it's still a problem. And it contributes to a future as cloudy as Molokai at sunrise.

Kapalua has a contract only through this year to host the tournament.

Hyundai's three-year deal as the title sponsor of the Tournament of Champions expires this year, even though corporate officials sounded optimistic about renewing, and there are strong signs it will happen.

It doesn't help that Mother Nature was in a bad mood this week. Few things in golf cause a knee-jerk reaction like bad weather.

There were suggestions to move the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am to the end of the West Coast Swing after the tournament was canceled by rain in 1996, completed nearly seven months after it started in 1998 because of rain, and shortened to 54 holes a year later because of – you guessed it – rain.

Since then, Pebble has had more than its share of glorious weather.

The rain was so bad in California in 2005 that the Nissan Open at Riviera went five days to get in 36 holes. The next week, the Match Play Championship at La Costa was postponed one day because the entire course looked like a water hazard. Woods wondered if it might not be better for the Tour to spend February in Florida and March in California. It sounded like a reasonable idea until a Champions Tour event in Florida was shortened to 36 holes because of rain.

Wiser heads will realize that golf is an outdoor sport. It's not a disgrace when weather causes problems. It's a miracle it doesn't happen more often.

The issues on Maui go beyond weather.

The Tour is going to a wraparound season in the fall, meaning the real season-opener will be in October at the Frys.com Open. There already will be six tournaments in the books before the Tournament of Champions next January.

Is that a problem? Not when you consider that for 33 years, the Tournament of Champions was held after the Masters.

''We are not terribly concerned about it,'' said Steve Shannon, vice president of marketing for Hyundai. ''I think there is that aspect of it's the start of the year, so even if it's literally not the first PGA Tour event, there's something about the start of the year, and there's something about this location.''

Still to be determined is what he meant by location – Kapalua specific or Hawaii in general?

Kapalua tends to get the brunt of the bad weather. There can be what the locals call ''pineapple showers'' along this portion of the coast, while only 20 miles away there is abundant sunshine and less wind. Still, the Plantation Course is the only course in Hawaii that Golf Digest ranks among the greatest 100 courses in America (No. 97). It's unlike any course the Tour plays all year with dramatic changes in elevation and stunning views of the Pacific, such as humpback whales breaching and surfers at Honolua Bay.

The bigger concern is getting more players to come, though that's been an issue for years now.

Woods hasn't been back since 2005, when he started taking uninterrupted breaks in the winter. Phil Mickelson stopped coming a decade ago, suggesting the wind and slope allowed bad habits to creep into his swing. Adding to the list of absentees is Europe producing some of the best players. The European Tour season stretches deep into November, and some players simply want a long break going into the new season.

The 30-man field this year was hardly a disaster, and the leaderboard going into the final round featured a top five of Dustin Johnson, Stricker, Masters champion Bubba Watson, FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker and former PGA champion Keegan Bradley. A lot of tournaments would love to have a leaderboard like that.

Years ago, an idea was tossed around to expand the field by offering a two-year exemption to the Tournament of Champions and include all past champions of the event, with the idea of getting Els and Sergio Garcia to the event because they didn't win the year before. Sure, having them at Kapalua would have helped. But the biggest mistake golf can make is to change rules around any one player, even a player like Woods.

Besides, Els and Garcia both won on the Tour last year and were eligible to start the year in Kapalua. Neither of them showed up.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.



The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”



Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.