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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Watch: Tiger 'drops mic' in long drive contest

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 20, 2018, 12:44 am

Tiger Woods is in Las Vegas this weekend for the 20th annual Tiger Jam charity event that benefits his foundation.

During the tournament on Saturday afternoon, Woods challenged World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a long drive contest.


A post shared by TROY MULLINS (@trojangoddess) on May 19, 2018 at 1:25pm PDT

Safe to say it looks like Tiger won.

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Sunday showdown for Wise, Leishman at Nelson

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 11:40 pm

DALLAS – While the swirling Texas winds may still have their say, the AT&T Byron Nelson is shaping up to be a two-horse race.

With a four-shot gulf between them and their closest pursuers, co-leaders Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise both stepped up to the microphone and insisted the tournament was far from over. That it wouldn’t revert to a match-play situation, even though the two men didn’t face much pressure from the pack down the stretch of the third round and have clearly distanced themselves as the best in the field through 54 holes.

But outside of an outlier scenario or a rogue tornado sweeping across Trinity Forest Golf Club, one of the two will leave with trophy in hand tomorrow night.

That’s in part because of their stellar play to this point, but it’s also a byproduct of the tournament’s new and unconventional layout: at Trinity Forest, big numbers are hard to find.

Even with the winds picking up during the third round and providing the sternest challenge yet, the field combined for only 16 scores of double bogey, and nothing worse than that.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

There’s irony in a course called Trinity Forest offering a tree-less test, sure, but there are also no water hazards in play here. For the most part, players have been maxing out with bogey – and Leishman and Wise have combined for only six of those so far this week.

If someone from the chase pack is going to catch them, the two sharing the pole position aren’t going to do them any favors.

“I don’t really want to give them a chance,” Leishman said. “I’d love to go out and shoot a low one and make Aaron have to shoot a good score tomorrow to beat me, which, I fully expect him to shoot a good score.”

While Leishman has been somewhat of a late bloomer on the PGA Tour, with only one win across his first eight seasons, he now has a golden opportunity to add a third trophy in the last 14 months. He has felt right at home on a sprawling layout that reminds him of a few back in his native Australia, and he’s part of a Down Under invasion on a leaderboard that also includes Matt Jones (-13) and Adam Scott (-9).

While Wise briefly held sole possession of the lead, Leishman has seemingly held an iron grip on the top spot since opening his week with a blistering 61.

“Before last year, I was a pretty slow starter. I always got off to a slow start Thursday, or I’d be fighting to make the cut and have a good weekend to slide into the top 10,” Leishman said. “Getting into that round straight away on the first tee rather than the ninth green or something, which sounds like a really basic thing, but it’s something I didn’t do very well until last year.”

But as Leishman acknowledged, he likely can’t count on a stumble from Wise to help finish off a wire-to-wire victory. As the youngest player to make the cut this week, Wise is facing a challenge of taking down a top-ranked Aussie for the second time in as many starts.

While he came up short at the Wells Fargo Championship, tying for second behind Jason Day, he remains supremely confident that he can put those hard-earned lessons to use this time around.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” Wise said. “It will obviously be a huge day for me. I feel like having one go at it already, I’m a little more confident going into it this time.”

Even among the landscape of the Tour’s promising next wave, Wise stands out as a particularly young gun. Still only 21, he could feasibly be heading to Karsten Creek next week with his Oregon Duck teammates to close out his senior season with another NCAA championship appearance.

But Wise turned pro after winning the NCAA individual title as a sophomore, and he steadily worked his way through the professional ranks: first a win on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, then one last summer on the Web.com Tour.

Now he’s poised to turn what he described as a “lackluster” season before his Quail Hollow runner-up into one that defies even his own expectations.

“Absolutely, I am way ahead of the curve. It’s pretty hard to do what I’ve done at such a young age. Only a few have done it,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”

An unpredictable Coore-Crenshaw layout will have one more day to star, and outside of Wise the top six names on the leaderboard have at least one Tour win to their credit. But after the two men traded punches on a firm and fast afternoon, it sure feels like the final round is shaping up to offer more of the same.

For Leishman, it’s a chance to add another notch to some quickly expanding credentials; for Wise, it’s an opportunity to win on the one level he has yet to do so.

“It’s golf, at the end of the day. If you play better than everyone else, you’re going to win,” Wise said. “That’s why I play it. That’s why I love this sport, and tomorrow is nothing different.”

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5 thoughts from NCAA Women's Championship Day 2

By Ryan LavnerMay 19, 2018, 11:35 pm

The field is almost halfway through stroke-play qualifying at the NCAA Women’s Championship. Here are some thoughts on the first two days at Karsten Creek:

1. UCLA is on a mission. Just a year ago, the Bruins were headed home from regionals after becoming the first No. 1 seed that failed to advance out of the qualifying tournament. This year, with the core of the team still mostly intact, the Bruins have opened up a five-shot lead on top-ranked Alabama and a comfortable 16-shot cushion over Southern Cal in third place. On one of the most difficult college courses in the country, UCLA has received contributions from all four of its usual counters – standout Lilia Vu shot 68 on Saturday, while Mariel Galdiano posted a 69. Freshman Patty Tavatanakit and junior Bethany Wu also broke par. This is a strong, deep lineup that will pose issues for teams not just in stroke-play qualifying, but also the head-to-head, match-play bracket.

2. What happened to Arkansas? Riding high off their first SEC Championship and a dominant regional performance, the Razorbacks were considered one of the top threats to win the national title. But entering Sunday’s third round of stroke play, they need to hold it together just to ensure they make the top-15 cut. Arkansas is 32 over par through two rounds. The Razorbacks had shot in the 300s just once this season in the play-five, count-four format. Here at Karsten Creek, they’ve now done so in consecutive rounds.

3. The Player of the Year race is heating up. With a decent showing at nationals, Arkansas’ Maria Fassi should have been able to wrap up the Annika Award, given annually to the top player in the country. She has six individual titles, plays a difficult schedule and is well-liked among her peers. But through two rounds she’s a whopping 15 over par while spraying it all over the map. If the Razorbacks don’t survive the 54-hole cut, neither will Fassi. That’d open the door for another player to steal the votes, whether it’s UCLA’s Vu or Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho. There’s a lot still to be decided.

4. Stanford has steadied itself. One of the biggest surprises on Day 1 was the horrendous start by the Cardinal, one of just two teams to advance to match play each of the three years it’s been used to determine a national champion. They were 19 over for their first nine holes Friday, but instead of a blowup round that cost them a shot at the title, they’ve found a way to hang tough. Stanford has been just 4 over par over its last 27 holes. Andrea Lee made only one bogey during her second-round 69, Albane Valenzuela eagled the 18th hole for a 73 and senior leader Shannon Aubert – who has been a part of each postseason push – carded a 74. And so, even with its early struggles, coach Anne Walker once again has Stanford in position to reach match play.

5. Karsten Creek is identifying the best teams. The top teams in the country want a difficult host venue for NCAAs – it helps separate the field and draws an unmistakable line between the contenders and pretenders. Only one team (UCLA) is under par after 36 holes. Fewer than a dozen players are under par individually. The dearth of low scores might not be the greatest advertisement for how talented these players are, but the cream has still risen to the top so far: Five top-10 teams currently sit inside the top 7 on the leaderboard (and that doesn’t even include last year’s NCAA runner-up Northwestern). This is all any coach wants, even if the scores aren’t pretty.

Quick hits: Cheyenne Knight, part of Alabama’s vaunted 1-2-3 punch along with Lauren Stephenson and Kristen Gillman, shot rounds of 70-69 to figure in the mix for individual honors. The junior will turn pro after nationals. …  Arizona’s Bianca Pagdanganan made a hole-in-one on the 11th hole Saturday en route to a 68 that tied the low round of the day. She’s at 5-under 139, same as Knight. ... Defending champion Arizona State, which lost star Linnea Strom to the pro ranks at the halfway point of the season, is 35 over par after two rounds. … Play was delayed for nearly an hour and a half Saturday because of inclement weather.

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Wise (21) makes Leishman (34) feel a little old

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 10:55 pm

DALLAS – With the final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson likely to take on a match-play feel, Marc Leishman likes his chances to close out another win – even if his opponent makes him feel a little old.

Leishman, 34, shares the lead at Trinity Forest Golf Club with 21-year-old Aaron Wise, who was the youngest player to make the cut at the tournament’s new venue. The two men will start the final round at 17 under, four shots clear of their next-closest pursuers.

Leishman played the third round alongside Wise and Brian Gay, and he originally didn’t realize just how fresh-faced his fellow co-leader is.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

“He’s a solid player for, I heard this morning he’s only 21. I didn’t realize that,” Leishman said. “I guess I was in high school before he was born, so that’s – I don’t know. You hear guys talk about that all the time but I’ve never said that, I think. Yeah, he’s a good player.”

Wise won the 2016 NCAA individual title while at Oregon, and he opted to turn pro after his sophomore season. While he could have been capping his senior season with a return to the NCAAs next week, Wise is pleased with the career choice and remains eager for a chance to close out his first career PGA Tour win against a seasoned veteran.

“I feel like I’m in a great spot for tomorrow,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”