PGA Tour opener finally gets started
KAPALUA, Hawaii — Dustin Johnson got off to a good start Monday in the Tournament of Champions. Then again, just starting was good.
Three days behind schedule because of high wind, the PGA Tour finally got its 2013 season started on the day its first tournament was supposed to finish. Johnson, who showed up on Maui a week before the tournament and played just about every day, three-putted three times in five holes and still had a 4-under 69. That gave him a share of the lead with Mark Wilson and Nick Watney, who rolled in a long eagle putt on his last hole.
The 69s matched the highest score to lead after one round in 15 years this tournament has been held on the Plantation Course at Kapalua.
But there were no complaints. At least they were playing.
As long as Johnson has been at Kapalua, this was his first time playing a full round in five days. He was among four players who had not even teed off when the first round was scuttled on Friday and Sunday. It was too windy to even try to start on Saturday.
“Today was the first day I got on the course, but definitely felt good,” Johnson said.
Rickie Fowler made history as the first player to hit the opening tee shot of the PGA Tour season three times. He was in the group at 3-under 70 that included Bubba Watson, Brandt Snedeker and Carl Pettersson. Defending champion Steve Stricker was another shot behind.
The players had about 30 minutes for lunch before going out for 18 more holes Monday afternoon, followed by a Tuesday finish of 18 holes. It would be the first time the Tournament of Champions was reduced to 54 holes since 1997 at rainy La Costa Resort.
The tournament finally caught a break when the wind subsided just enough as players were on the practice green under floodlights before sunrise. The greens were slowed to 8 1/2 on the Stimpmeter — compared with 10 1/2 on Friday — to help keep the balls from blowing off the green.
It still was plenty windy, though this mountainous course was built for that. Only six players in the 30-man field failed to break par.
But the green speed, combined with the wind, made it difficult.
Johnson’s chip on the second hole came up 10 feet short, and he made that for par. He left his 20-foot birdie putt on the third hole about 4 feet short and missed that one, but answered by rolling in a 20-foot birdie that looked as if it would miss on the right side until the wind blew it back toward the hole. Johnson walked off the green with a smile.
“Ride the wind, baby,” he said. Johnson turned to see Watson hit an identical putt that stayed out to the right. He didn’t think it was that much of an advantage to have played the course so much in the days leading up to the tournament because the wind didn’t arrive until Friday.
“But the greens were about this slow when I got here,” Johnson said. “I still can’t get it to the hole.”
He also three-putted the fifth green from 70 feet for par, and he three-putted the seventh green from 15 feet.
“The ball is really not moving,” Johnson said. “But it’s the gusts of wind that kind of blow you off balance. So you’re oscillating quite a bit.”
There was plenty of trouble at Kapalua even in slightly less wind. Tommy Gainey was tied for the lead playing his 17th hole, the par-3 eighth, when the wind knocked it short of the green and the ball rolled into a hazard. His next shot went into the grassy bank of a bunker and stayed there, and he made triple bogey.
Keegan Bradley also had a trio of three-putts in his round of 71. Pettersson’s lone regret was missing a 2-foot putt on the 16th because of the wind. “That’s going to happen,” Pettersson said.
Wilson played bogey-free, a remarkable effort with so many holes into the wind playing much longer.
Then again, the tour made accommodations for the wind — and the pace of play trying to squeeze in 36 holes — by moving the tees forward. In several cases, the players were on tees reserved for resort guests.