PGA season kicks off at Tournament of Champions
Hawaii isn’t paradise for everyone at the PGA Tour’s season opener.
The 2011 season gets under way on the Plantation Course at Kapalua with a 34-man field of tour winners from last year. After a week of sunshine, Thursday began with low clouds and a light, steady rain.
Robert Garrigus was the last one to get in, winning at Disney in the final event of the year. Ogilvy was the first to qualify by winning the Tournament of Champions a year ago by one shot.
He has a chance to join Stuart Appleby as the only players to win three successive years at Kapalua, and Ogilvy appeared to be in fine form by winning the Australian Open and losing in a playoff at the Australian PGA Championship.
Ogilvy headed for the beach on Tuesday, and cut his right index finger on some coral reef while coming in from the surf. He received more stitches than he needed as a precaution, but pulled out of the pro-am Wednesday and after another trip to the doctor, opted to rest until Thursday before deciding if he could play.
“It’s not ideal,” said his manager, Paul Galli. “It’s not so much a big cut, it’s just in an awkward position. It was fairly deep, and when you’re on the reef, you’ve got to be careful with an infection. They cleaned it out and put in some stitches.”
The Tournament of Champions has not been without its defending champion since Jerry Barber didn’t play in 1961.
Johnson also hurt himself in a tropical paradise, though it was nothing to boast about. He was in the Grand Caymans on a family holiday last week when fireworks left a trash can smoldering. He grabbed a hose and was running to the rescue, in pitch dark wearing flip-flops, when he slammed into a concrete step he didn’t see and tore off his toe nail.
He tried sandals with golf spikes when he got to Kapalua. That didn’t work. For the pro-am Wednesday, he went to a larger shoe and cut out the toe, but the size left him uncomfortable. The plan for Thursday was to cut out the toe of his regular golf shoes and give it a shot.
Johnson was taking it all in stride.
He managed to make it through the pro-am because players are allowed carts. Thursday is the real test: walking a 7,400-yard course that was carved out of a mountain overlooking Maui. It’s one of the longest walks of the year.
“It’s a win-win,” Johnson said. “If I play and get through this, I look like a stallion for the first time. And if I don’t, I go to the pool with my kids on Maui and watch the rest of them suffer.”
There’s not much suffering this week.
It’s the toughest PGA Tour event to get a tee time because it requires nothing less than a win, and those don’t come easily these days, even when Tiger Woods isn’t taking his share. Once they get to Kapalua, however, it’s a small field with a big purse ($1.08 million to the winner) and no cut.
The Plantation Course can look impossible, despite its 80-yard wide fairways. The typical trade wind is required to take advantage, although the Kona wind out of the opposite direction can be a bear. Either way, getting on the contoured, spacious greens with severe grain can make even the best look foolish at times. As usual, they manage.
“When I first came here, I couldn’t understand how anybody shot the scores that they were shooting,” Ogilvy said Tuesday. “But every year, I enjoy it more.”
The question is whether he gets to enjoy it Thursday.
There was friendly banter whether Ogilvy could get a third straight win now that Appleby is back at Kapalua and playing well. He shot a 65 on the final day at Victoria Golf Club — Ogilvy’s home course in Melbourne — to win the Australian Masters in late November.
Appleby hasn’t been at Kapalua in four years. It used to be easy to qualify because he was winning the Tournament of Champions so often. But he went into a slump, and pulled out of it in style by shooting a 59 to win The Greenbrier.
“I can’t believe it’s that long,” Appleby said. “It feels like yesterday I was here. But again, I had a child that was turning 2 at that time and now she’s 6. So I can do the math.
“You love to get off to a good start, and I’ve got a lot of mojo here,” he said. “I just hope I can create something resembling my previous form, because it will be a good week.”
Photos of past champions line the wall of the locker room, and it’s easy to see triple when getting to Appleby’s stretch. There are plenty of other familiar faces, too. Ernie Els returns after his two-win season, and everyone still remembers his record score of 31-under 261 in 2003 for an eight-shot victory.
FedEx Cup champion Jim Furyk, who won three times last year, returns after a three-year absence. He won in 2001. In one of the more intriguing pairings, U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell plays with Hunter Mahan. They haven’t played golf with each other since that singles match at the Ryder Cup that McDowell won to set off a European celebration.
It all starts with Arjun Atwal of India, the winner at Greensboro, hitting the opening shot to the 2011 season. That’s a lot of pressure — though not so much on Atwal, for it’s difficult to miss a fairway that can accommodate a small shopping center.
“It’s just another shot,” Atwal said. “I just hope I don’t top it.”
No, the heat is on Jerry King, who teaches at the Kapalua Golf Academy and serves as the announcer because of his booming voice. Atwal still chuckles at the time he played the old Buick Classic at Westchester, and the announcer struggled.
“He said, ’Now on the tee, from Calcutta, Indiana, Arjeeen Atwale,’” he said.
Last updated: 4:09 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012