Jan
7
2013
Third time’s the charm!
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour
DJ and Bubba enjoying the breeze at Kapalua during the first round

DJ and Bubba enjoying the breeze at Kapalua during the first round

Rickie Fowler stepped up to the first tee at The Plantation Course and hit the opening drive to kick off the 2013 season for the third time in four days. Difference on Monday morning? It was actually official. Beforehand, Fowler tweeted, “Scene 1…take 3.”

Fowler, who played with Jason Dufner, got the opening event off to a nice pace, completing the first 18 in less than four hours, which is very impressive on this track. As you may have heard, it’s not exactly the easiest course to to walk. In fact, it’s the most strenuous of the year. But after the week that would never end — or should I say, start — the players were ready to get things going.

Fowler has kept a positive mindset and gone with the flow in spite of the delays and inclement weather. He shot three-under 70 to open the year, putting him in T4 at the completion of the first round.

“It was nice, felt pretty calm out there actually from the winds that we’ve seen,” said Fowler.  “Nice to get out.  The greens are a little slow just to make it playable and keep the ball on the green.  Had a few come up short but it was fun.  Nice to finally get out, like I said and get a round in the books.”

The Hyundai Tournament of Champions was supposed to start on Friday, but Mother Nature wouldn’t cooperate. Most of the 30-man field teed off on Friday and Sunday–it was so bad on Saturday they didn’t even try-but called play both times when the extremely strong winds made the course unplayable. While the conditions are still blustery with gusts up to 40mph, the winds calmed down enough for the show to start and go on.

Thankfully.

Mark Wilson, Dustin Johnson and Nick Watney, who holed a 68-footer for eagle on 18, fired four-under 69s to take a three-way share of first-round lead.

DJ is looking to continue his undefeated streak of winning events that were cut to 54 holes due to weather. He’s two for two so far, with victories at the 2009 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and the 2011 Barclays. Johnson arrived to Kapalua early (the 27th) and didn’t waste any time, playing his first practice round at 7am the following day. He played The Plantation Course six times–including once with San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain–before he finally got to see the course on Monday (DJ and Bubba were in the last group and hadn’t hit a shot until they teed off this morning).

“I hit the ball really well,” said Dustin. “I only missed one green and in this wind, that’s pretty good.  I drove it pretty well, too.  Just it’s really tough once you get on the green.  I had three 3-putts, but other than that, I played really solid.  I made some short ones but you know, it’s just tough to read them and with this much wind, you’ve got a right-to-left putt and the wind is coming off the left and you’re playing outside left, that’s tough.”

The Bermuda-grass greens are the grainiest the players see all year, making them difficult to decipher, particularly when you factor in the wind. I like to call it “putt and pray.”

It’s no surprise to see DJ atop the leaderboard the track sets up well for him. Wide fairways make it a bomber’s paradise, not to mention it’s playing long due to the soft conditions.

Ben Curtis improved his score on Nos. 10 and 11 on Monday morning and played them one-under, birdieing the 11th (the hole where his ball blew off the green yesterday). On Sunday he four-putted them after hitting both greens in regulation and walked away 8-over through 2. Well, technically, it never happened. Curtis shot three-under 70 in the first round.

The players had about 30-45 minutes between starting times to change and eat lunch before they headed back out for another 18. The wind picked up this afternoon, making things more challenging.

Steve Stricker, who looked lethargic walking up the 18 fairway (his 9th hole of the second round), chipped in for eagle to get to six-under total and a share of the lead with Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker. Stricker, 45, also appeared to come by a second wind, but he’s struggling with a back injury.

Oh, update: DJ has taken the outright lead with a birdie on No. 12. He’s currently 7-under. Meanwhile, Rickie Fowler and Jason Dufner are finishing up their second rounds, posting one-over 74 and four-over 77, respectively.

Have I mentioned their incredible pace of play? Another round under four hours! Hats off.

*******

Ed. note: I gotta run and check out of the hotel. Stay tuned.

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)