Punch Shot: Does the Hyundai need a makeover?

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 8, 2013, 1:00 pm

The Hyundai Tournament of Champions has taken its lumps recently, and we're not talking about the weather mess. Critics say the event is more notable for who doesn't play than who does. Some believe it needs to change it's criteria, its spot on the calendar, its location. We asked our writers if the winners-only event needs a makeover.



I understand the logic behind beefing up the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. After all, what kind of season opener doesn’t feature its four best players? 

The NFL trots out its best matchup of Week 1 on Wednesday, four days early. MLB and the NBA always have star-studded opening days. But the year’s first event at Kapalua has never been defined by its field strength, nor should it. The winners-only Tournament of Champions – which next year will serve as the seventh event in the Tour’s wraparound schedule – is about the start of a new year, at a beautiful location, and optimism abounds. Why make it more complicated than that?

More money won’t get players to curtail their winter breaks. (The FedEx Cup and late-season money-grabs already provide ample opportunities for guys to pad their bank accounts.) Increasing the field size only dilutes the product. There’s no other suitable date. You could change the venue . . . but then, you know, the players wouldn’t have a no-cut, guaranteed-money start to their year on an island in Hawaii. That won’t fly.

Tiger, Phil and Rory may never start their seasons in Kapalua. That’s OK. Four days in paradise with a winners-only field competing on a unique and fun layout – sorry, but that product never gets old.


It’s not a format change that the Hyundai Tournament of Champions needs so much as it is a change of scenery.

With apologies to Maui and idyllic images of towering peaks and cobalt blue horizons, the TOC fell out of favor when Tiger Woods, who last played the opener in 2005, and Phil Mickelson, a Kapalua no-show since 2001, decided that early January qualified as the off-season.

For all the high-profile players who made the trip to this week’s TOC – a list that includes two of last year’s four major champions (Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson) as well as the 2012 FedEx Cup champion (Brandt Sndedeker) – it is the list of no-shows (Woods, Mickelson, world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, No. 2 Luke Donald) that suggests it’s time for an extreme TOC makeover.

The Tour’s transition to a split-calendar schedule this fall is the perfect time for the circuit to redefine its opening day and give the game’s top players fewer reasons to say no.

It’s time to move the TOC back to the mainland, perhaps southern California – where it was played before moving to Kapalua in 1999 – and outside the holiday shadow and into a more accommodating date.

If the TOC isn’t going to be the true season opener, (that honor belongs to October’s Frys.com Open next season) make it a must-play stop with a venue and a date (say, February) that is impossible for golf’s top players to ignore.


No, there’s nothing wrong with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions’ concept or format. There’s nothing wrong with an event that rewards winners from the previous year. The problem is the tournament’s timing.

The PGA Tour’s schedule is strong, but there’s a weak spot, and it’s the season opener. The majors, the World Golf Championship events, The Players Championship and the FedEx Cup give the Tour strategically spaced big events throughout the year. There’s good pacing. What’s lacking is a big-bang start. The PGA Tour lacks a highly anticipated start like Major League Baseball’s Opening Day, something to excite golf fans about a new year’s beginning. The Hyundai Tournament of Champions isn’t it and never will be, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a worthy place for the event on the schedule.

The ideal big-bang start would come in late January, the week before the Super Bowl, with the NFL playoffs quiet. The ideal big-bang start would come with the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship as the first event of the year. Granted, with the new wrap-around schedule actually beginning in the fall, it wouldn’t really be a season opener, but it would feel like one with all the game’s biggest stars gathering for the new year’s first event. Slide the Hyundai Tournament of Champions to the week after.


For all its faults – the most elite players failing to show, an ultra-small field – I've always been a fan of the Hyundai event. There's something special about watching the season unfold in paradise (usually) while much of the country is snowed in.

But there's one aspect of the tournament that has always bugged me. With players only eligible who won the previous season, the no-cut, guaranteed-money event provides too much of an advantage for prior success.

Think about it: Such rewards are akin to letting a Major League Baseball team start the season with a 5-0 record simply because it made the playoffs in the previous year.

This situation is only going to be exacerbated next year, when the TOC will no longer serve as the season opener. It is going to be incredibly awkward when the PGA Tour already has tournament winners from the 2013-14 season, then has only winners from the 2013 season competing in a midseason cash-grab.

So what's the solution? I'm not sure there's a perfect one, but the Tour could do worse than to borrow from the LPGA. Throughout its season, the top three players at every tournament not already qualified receive exemptions into the season-ending Titleholders field. If nothing else, the PGA Tour could reward more players with a similar plan.

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials phoned Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial. 

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.