KAPALUA, Hawaii – Thirty-two players, no cut, idyllic views of the Pacific Ocean, it’s tough to consider anyone a loser at the year’s first event, but Cut Line dug deep into the island sand to deliver the calendar’s first edition.
Changing priorities. There was a time, not that long ago, when the year began with a quiet rustle instead of a big bang. A time when the top players avoided the Hyundai Tournament of Champions like the dentist office.
But this week’s event features the best field at Kapalua since 2005, when then-world No. 1 Vijay Singh was joined by Nos. 2, 3 and 4, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, respectively.
Top-ranked Jordan Spieth led the infusion of star power this year and he’s joined by six of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking at the Plantation Course.
For this new generation, what had been a bye week has been transformed into a must-play stop, with only four winners from last season skipping the year’s first event, and this goes deeper than an affinity for sweeping vistas and wide open fairways.
For Spieth and Co., the Tournament of Champions is a reason to get excited and reflect on the essential fact that a tee time at Kapalua is a reward for winning, not a burden.
“This is one that we strive to make each year, and if I am eligible to play in this tournament and I'm not, I hope every single one of you [media] calls me and bashes me for it,” Spieth said this week.
It’s a refreshing take, but let’s just hope it doesn’t result in a change of heart down the road and an overloaded voicemail.
Reed on. In his last seven global starts Patrick Reed has finished inside the top 10 on six occasions, a run that dates back to his tie for third at the Hong Kong Open in October.
For all the heat Reed took following his declaration at the 2014 WGC-Cadillac Championship that was a top-5 player, he has certainly played like a top-5 in recent months.
Reed will always be a difficult study, he savors the competition but not the celebrity and is reluctant to play the media game, but his play – which is what should define every player – is ready for Broadway.
On Thursday at Kapalua, Reed was paired with Spieth and calmly eagled the last to take a one-stroke lead. Back-to-back victories at the Tournament of Champions will not move Reed into that coveted top 5 in the World Golf Ranking, but it certainly gives the golf world plenty of reasons to take notice.
Tweet of the week:
Would rather this year not end...— Jordan Spieth (@JordanSpieth) January 1, 2016
Actually, the world No. 1 sent that missive on New Year’s Eve, but after starting the new calendar with rounds of 66-64 for the early lead, it’s clear that it may be a New Year but it’s the same old Spieth.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
Match madness. Second-year Tour player Justin Thomas raised a few eyebrows this week when he said on Golf Channel that he’d rather win a Ryder Cup this year than a major.
While Thomas’ take was surprising it’s not at all misplaced given the current Ryder Cup environment.
Given the U.S. team’s eighth loss in the last 10 matches in 2014 in Scotland, the sweeping changes made by the Ryder Cup task force and Tiger Woods’ early commitment to be a vice captain, it’s clear the passion on the U.S. side has never been higher.
“The new guys certainly have that attitude. They want to be on a winning Ryder Cup team,” said this year’s captain Davis Love III. “Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, they have been on a team and not won. They want to be on a winning team.”
Love also pointed out, “I bet with nine holes to go, a two-shot lead at the Masters, [Thomas] might not want to trade for a Ryder Cup win.”
A tough Day. Armchair quarterbacks are part of sports, but armchair bodyguards are a bit much.
Jason Day returned to work this week at Kapalua and was asked about an incident that occurred during the Cleveland Cavaliers game in December when LeBron James ran over Day’s wife, Ellie.
Ellie Day was taken to a local hospital and released the next day, but the real action occurred on social media as many questioned Jason Day’s decision not to protect his wife.
“People that think I should have jumped in front of Ellie; they must have the fastest reaction time,” Day said. “I’m not going to stop a 260-pound guy that's 6-8 running full speed. Ellie took it like a champ.”
For Day, hitting a 300-yard 3-wood to a tucked pin is easy compared to sitting courtside at a Cavs game.
Who Els? In golf, it’s a word that simply can’t be washed away and it is discussed only in hushed tones. On Thursday at the South African Open Ernie Els succumbed to the yips, again.
Els, who has been beset by putting woes in recent years, missed the hole on an 18-inch putt on Day 1 in South Africa. He missed a similar putt during last year’s Dunhill Links Championship and conceded that he did not want to watch the miscue afterward.
Some, however, have no problem coming to terms with the yips. Following an opening-round 70 at Kapalua, Padraig Harrington admitted that he struggled with the yips in 2012.
“If you have it, you have it. That's the way it is. And you know what? It will never be the same. You'll never be the same once you had it,” Harrington said.
Turns out some scars don’t heal.
Anchors away. This week’s stop in Maui marks the beginning of the no-anchoring era in golf and on the PGA Tour, not that anyone seemed to notice.
There are few players who have recently used an anchored putter playing this week at the Plantation Course, and maybe the narrative changes over the next few weeks when the likes of Tim Clark and Carl Pettersson make their way into a brave new world, but the lack of attention paid to this week’s deadline is telling.
Although the change caused plenty of reaction when it was first proposed, the utter lack of fervor this week reinforces the adage that time can dull any passion.
It’s worth noting only because the general perception is the USGA and R&A are reluctant to dial back the golf ball or modern driver for fear of the ensuing blowback.
For those who would like to see further equipment rollbacks, this week is proof that, with time, anything is possible.