Jan
10
2015
Four share lead at halfway mark in Kapalua
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

It’s virtually impossible to write about golf right now with playoff football showing on the television in front of me in the media center, but I’ll do my best to get through this write-up for the few of you who actually care.

As the conditions have been soft all week at Kapalua’s Plantation Course, low scores were there for the taking in the second round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Defending champion Zach Johnson was one of the players to capitalize, posting a six-under 67 to take a four-way share of the lead with Jimmy Walker, Sang-Moon Bae and first-round leader Russell Henley.

“I think it is softer,” said Johnson, referring to the conditions. “That being said, I’m hitting a lot more 3woods than last year. Trying to figure that one out. Last year there was slightly different wind but really wasn’t that severe, either. But I’m hitting a lot of 3woods off the tee. I hit a 5wood today off 6 which I’ve never done. Just trying to plot my way around and pick it apart.

“Early on in the day, there’s a little bit of dew so the ball wasn’t rolling. Some guys didn’t get it down the hill and I was right on the hill, so things of that nature. Greens are still receptive, especially when you land it into the grain, you can be aggressive, and like I said, I got a lot of loft in my hand on this golf course.”

Johnson was nearly perfect on Saturday, hitting 15 of 15 fairways and 18 of 18 greens.

“I was thinking about it on 17 and I thought about it briefly because I didn’t want to think too hard,” said Johnson on hitting every green in regulation. “Yeah, you can do that here. You can miss fairways and still do that here. But I’ll take it. That is part of the goal. Give yourself opportunities and that’s all you can ask for.”

One of his goals heading into the week was to avoid three-putting (which is a near impossible task). Unfortunately, he gave one up on no. 8, but overall, his putting has been extremely solid.

“I was trying to go the week without a 3-putt, but I failed on that one, so we’ll go the week with one 3-putt,” said Johnson. “I gave myself some opportunities. I gave myself some putts that didn’t go and I made some and that’s really what you’ve got to do.

“For the most part, I putted well. Especially those  it’s hard to putt 2footers out here. Those two to four footers were quite solid.”

Several years ago, out of frustration, Johnson said (perhaps slightly in jest) that he was never going to return to play in this event. At the end of the day, even if he hadn’t started performing better at this course, he would’ve still played. After all, as he reminded us, it is Maui and his family dictates his schedule. However, experience and reps over the years at the Plantation Course have changed his tune.

“I’ve just got used to it,” he said. “Nick (Taylor) shot even, and he played six shots worse than I did. It’s just really getting your feet on these holes more and the more I play, the better  the more I like it. The better I see it, the more I know how to attack it. The holes you have to take advantage are of the par-5s, and you have to know where to miss it and where to putt it. Just experience is really what it boils down to.

“I remember my first, whatever it was, five, six years I was here, seven years I was here, it was frustrating seeing everyone shoot 5, 6-under every single day and I’m like, how the heck are they doing that.”

Jimmy Walker, who is next week’s defending champion at the Sony Open, also took advantage of the benign scoring conditions and posted a five-under 68 to get to 11-under.

“It’s just softer,” said Walker when asked to compare this year’s course conditions to last year’s.  “I think it’s softer this year than it was last year.  And just talking to the agronomy guys, they got dumped on right before we got here and again the week prior.  So it’s had a lot of rain.

“But I think you’re used to, you watch it on TV and you’re used to seeing shots.  We were hitting shots last year short of 17 and it would bounce up on to the green.  Not saying that that fat 8-iron was going to do that, but you see shots into 18 do that, too.

“So guys in the past driving 12, I just don’t see it happening.  That’s just too soft.  It’s not running as much.  It’s soft.  You can feel it when you walk out there.  The greens are soft.  The fairways are soft.”

In his first start at this event last year, Walker finished T21 with rounds of 73-73-67-72. As Johnson mentioned, experience plays a huge role in scoring well at Kapalua. Same deal for Walker.

“It’s still just a real big golf course, and feel like I get lost off the tee a little bit because it’s so expansive and you have to really focus,” said Walker.  “I remember last year thinking, I have to really focus on picking lines off the tee and really picking a target.  You kind of get roped into that at other golf courses where it’s so tight and narrow.  Here it’s just big.  So you’ve really got to focus in.  I think you have to concentrate just as hard here teeing off on some of these holes.

“But I feel comfortable, it’s fun to play.  Risk, reward, whatever you want to do on some shots.  They have got the grainy bermuda greens which I kind of grew up on in south Texas.  Feels good.”

First-round leader Russell Henley followed an opening-round 8-under 65 (the best opening-round score at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions since Ernie Els and Jim Furyk shot 64 to start the 2003 event) with a 3-under 70. Henley got off to a bit of a slow start with a bogey on the par-3 no. 2, but bounced back with a birdie on the par-5 no. 5. Then, he found his rhythm on the back nine, rolling in birdies on nos. 10, 13 and 15.

“I felt like I hung in there great,” said Henley.  “I was proud of my attitude and I fought back there at the end, and got off to a little bit of a slow start, but that’s golf…

“I made some dumb mistakes on the front nine, just mistakes you shouldn’t make if you want to not have any stress out there. So just didn’t have my best stuff on the front but was able to hang in there and get up-and-down.”

With four tied atop the leaderboard at the midway point, what will eventually separate the field? Henley believes that it will be mostly on the greens and playing smart.

“I think putting will separate it and I think good course management,” he said. “I feel like if you hit the ball in the correct side of the hole out here, you put yourself in position to make a lot of birdies and at the worst, par.  So I think just course management over the course of four days is going to be probably the biggest factor.”

If putting will play a role, then don’t be surprised to see Henley continue to stay atop the leaderboard. He leads the field in strokes gained putting for the second day in a row.

Alright, that about sums things up. It’s time for the Seahawks vs. Panthers game. Go Hawks!!!