Hyundai Tournament of Champions Q and A

By Jason SobelJanuary 5, 2013, 10:31 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii – They say the Masters doesn’t really begin until the back nine on Sunday. Here at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, that may be literally true.

We’re officially two days into the PGA Tour season and the season hasn’t officially started yet. If that sounds like a riddle wrapped in an enigma, you clearly haven’t been paying attention to the festivities in Maui – or lack thereof.

After the initial opening round was wiped away just two hours into play on Friday, the scheduled restart never happened on Saturday, with strong, gusting winds canceling the day for good following three one-hour delays.

So … now what? Well, you’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Here’s everything you always wanted to know about this tournament (but were afraid to ask).

Q: Why didn’t they at least try to play on Saturday?

A: They did try. And tried and tried. First tee time was scheduled for 7:30 a.m. local time, then delayed until 8:30, then 9:30 and finally 10:30 before it was finally called off for the day.


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Q: Well, why didn’t they keep trying?

A: The strongest winds were expected between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. It wasn’t getting any better. Even if the conditions calmed down after that, they weren’t getting in 18. Besides, ever see Bubba Watson after hours of being told to sit still and be patient? It’s a shock he didn’t start hitting balls through the clubhouse windows.

Q: I play in wind all the time! These guys are such babies.

A: That’s not a question.

Q: Fine. I play in wind all the time! Why are these guys such babies?

A: That’s better. They’re not. That isn’t the issue here. Players aren’t whining about the conditions; they were simply unfit for play. Here’s the deal: If you can’t get the ball to stop rolling on the greens, you can’t play golf. Rules officials were testing the greens during the delays. They would drop a ball and watch it roll all the way off the greens – and that was uphill! It’s not as if the players revolted and refused to play. It was the rules officials who made the decision.

Q: Yeah, but those guys are just protecting these spoiled players. Sorry, I mean: Aren’t those guys just protecting these spoiled players?

A: Nope. Just listen to some of ‘em.

“It’s just ignorant. Come out here and see what we’re dealing with,” Zach Johnson said of those who disagree with the decision. “We can’t use an umbrella because of the wind. If it rains with the wind, that is not easy. And like I said, the ball won’t stop on the greens. So if the ball won’t stop on the greens, you can’t play golf. We’ve played in winds, but when you have gusts in the 40s on hills like this, it just makes it almost impossible.”

“We’re willing to play,” Hunter Mahan explained. “But you can’t when the ball is just moving on its own like it was yesterday. Wind is one thing. But on this golf course, that’s where the difficulty sets in. If it can’t stay on the green and it can hit and spin and roll right off into a bunker, I guarantee you people aren’t playing in that. Not in Hawaii on a mountain with greens that have a lot of slope. I play in Texas all the time, where it blows really hard, but it’s not designed the same. Wind doesn’t bother us. This is just a perfect storm of strong tradewinds at the wrong time of year.”

Q: Don’t they play the British Open every year in stronger winds than these?

A: Yes. And if St. Andrews was built into the side of a mountain, not only would balls roll off the greens, they’d never stop.

Q: So now what happens?

A: The opening round of the season is scheduled for a two-tee start on Sunday, with 36 holes beginning at 7:10 a.m. local time.

Q: Will they actually play or is it just going to be more waiting around?

A: The forecast sounds better than the first two days, with 20- 25-mph winds and gusts into the 30s, but nothing like the 45- 50-mph gusts that we’ve witnessed so far.

Q: Are they still going to play 72 holes?

A: No. The intention is to play a 54-hole tournament, with 36 on Sunday and 18 on Monday.

Q: What if delays prevent the first two rounds from being played on Sunday?

A: According to PGA Tour vice president of rules and competition Slugger White, “Tuesday is not out of the realm as yet. But let's get through tomorrow first.”

Q: Why was this tournament slated for a Monday finish in the first place?

A: Well, the prevailing feeling was that it helped the final round get out of the shadow of NFL playoff games, which is well intentioned until you consider that the final game would be over before the telecast reached prime time on the East Coast. With a Monday finish, though, it’s backed right up against college football’s BCS Championship game. In this specific situation, it’s certainly hurt to lose an extra 24 hours.

Q: Is there a possibility of a 36-hole event?

A: There are a few PGA Tour executives who are fond of saying, “I don’t deal in hypotheticals.” It’s a valid question, though. Officials will do everything in their ability to play 54. If they can’t, a 36-hole winner would be deemed unofficial and – irony of ironies – wouldn’t qualify for this tournament next year.

Q: Going 36 in one day on this course is brutal. What about splitting up the rounds?

A: In his Saturday media session, White had the following exchange with a reporter:

“Were there any thoughts of 27 and 27?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Just because.”

“Just because?”

“Because I didn't think about it.”

So … that should clear up that scenario.

Q: Isn’t this a perfect reason for moving this tournament?

A: Huh? This tournament has never seen weather like this. If it was an annual thing, sure. But one brief period of anomaly shouldn’t serve as a death knell for this event.

“All the years it’s been here, they’ve never ever even had to evacuate anyone off the golf course,” George McNeill said. “It’s just not something you can plan on, especially here in Hawaii.”

Q: So who’s more depressed about this – the players or the fans?

A: Might have to go to a playoff to determine this one. As Johnson said, “There’s no winner in this. It stinks for everybody. It stinks for us players, certainly. It stinks for the fans. It really stinks for the rules officials. And it probably stinks the most for the sponsors.”

That’s a lot of stink going around.

Q: That answers pretty much everything. Just one more question: What’s going to become of those 17 fans who were still dutifully sitting under umbrellas on the first tee bleachers after the final announcement was made on Saturday?

A: One of two things. Either they’ll each earn co-PGA Tour Fan of the Year honors or they’ll catch the flu. Maybe both.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.