How can the PGA Tour make its season-opener matter more?
The PGA Tour brass is in a spot hoping a storyline develops that will trump star power in its season opener at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
Or, more precisely, will trump the lack of star power.
If Stuart Appleby closes with a 59 Sunday to win at Kapalua’s Plantation Course ...
Or Graeme McDowell wins with a 40-foot eagle putt at the final hole ...
Or Anthony Kim sprays the crowd with a $25,000 bottle of Dom Perignon after blowing away the field by 10 shots ...
If any of that happens, maybe we’ll get the big-bang start the season opener appears to be lacking yet again.
With players ranked No. 1 (Lee Westwood), No. 3 (Martin Kaymer), No. 4 (Phil Mickelson) and No. 10 (Rory McIlroy) all passing on the winners-only event, the season begins once more with too much focus on who’s not in Hawaii than who is. British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen’s also not playing, meaning three of last year’s four major championship winners are passing.
PGA Tour leadership figured out how to get a big-bang finish with its FedEx Cup playoffs, but it seems a larger trick figuring out how to get a big-bang start amid the NFL playoffs. A more compelling season opener would be a giant bonus for golf fans. Starting the year with something like the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship would fit that bill.
Can you call it the season-opener without Tiger and Lefty?
Tiger Woods isn’t in Kapalua yet again, this time because he failed to qualify for the first time in his career. It means the year will feel like it’s officially starting in a familiar locale, the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, where Woods and Mickelson are expected to make their PGA Tour starts in three weeks.
Golf’s dynamic duo started last season ranked Nos. 1-2 in the world but combined to win one event, Mickelson’s Masters triumph. If they both struggle again this year, it’s a disconcerting turn for American golf. While there’s promise in the games of Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler, no other Americans compare in appeal to Woods and Mickelson. How Woods rebounds from his woes and how Mickelson rebounds from family challenges and arthritic trouble rank as the two most compelling season-opening stories.
Are Aussie rules in play again?
Australians have won five of the last seven season openers at Kapalua, and there are four from Down Under in this week’s 34-player field.
Aussie Geoff Ogilvy will be looking for a three-peat this week after winning at Kapalua in ’09 and ’10. If he wins again, he’ll equal fellow Aussie Stuart Appleby’s feat (2004-06). Appleby's in the field. So are fellow countrymen Jason Day and Adam Scott. Day won the HP Byron Nelson last year and logged a pair of top-5 finishes in the FedEx Cup playoffs. Scott won the Valero Texas Open in May and the European Tour’s Barclays Singapore Open in November.
Can these six young ‘uns keep the youth movement going?
Sixteen PGA Tour events were won by players in their 20s last season.
Six 20-somethings can keep the youth movement going in Hawaii this week.
Day (23), Bill Haas (28), Johnson (26), Kim (25), Hunter Mahan (28) and Camilo Villegas (28) are in this week’s field.
Where’s McDowell go from here?
McDowell soared from No. 40 in the world rankings at the start of last year to No. 5 starting this year.
With his U.S. Open victory at midseason, his clutch putt to help seal the European Ryder Cup victory and his triumphant duel over Tiger Woods at the Chevron World Challenge at season’s end, McDowell enters 2011 looking for more of the game’s large prizes.
“I know how much better I can get,” McDowell said last month. “There is a lot of room for improvement.”
McDowell starts the year with some major changes in his equipment arsenal. With his Callaway deal expiring Dec. 31, he opened the new year announcing a major new deal with Srixon. He’ll be playing Srixon irons, Cleveland wedges and Srixon balls this year. The changes, as they always are when a player’s coming off success like McDowell had in ’10, will be scrutinized in how they affect his quest to build on what he’s achieved.
Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell