PGA Tour’s season opener at Kapalua gets mulligan
By DOUG FERGUSON
KAPALUA, Maui— A bum deal for Webb Simpson. A big break for Scott Stallings.
And a mulligan for the PGA Tour.
The new golf season was not even two hours old when the wind squalls roaring down the mountains above Maui made conditions too severe to continue Friday in the Tournament of Champions. Because the first group off had only completed eight holes — six players had not even started — and the forecast offered no relief from the wind, the first round was wiped out.
Season opener, take two.
Rickie Fowler will return to the first tee this morning, and for the second straight day, officially launch the PGA Tour season. But even that’s in doubt. The plan was to play 36 holes, though the forecast was for wind just as strong.
“I can honestly say the forecast isn’t real good, but maybe we’ll get lucky,” said Slugger White, the tour’s vice president of rules and competition. “That’s the hope.”
Fowler already was 3 over for the day after a 40-mph gust knocked his ball out of the sky on the par-3 eighth and sent it into a gorge, leading to double bogey. Conditions were so tough that only two of the 20 players who had a score on their cards were under par.
One of them was Simpson, who turned in a remarkable performance by keeping it simple and making a few putts. He was 3 under through seven holes, and now starts from scratch when he comes back to the Plantation Course at Kapalua.
“It stinks for me,” Simpson said.
Stallings already was 7 over through four holes. That no longer counts, either.
“Obviously, I was thrilled,” Stallings said. “It was just really bad. I hit bad shots and got bad breaks. I’d like to know how Webb Simpson was 3 under.”
The wind was raging along the west coast of Maui from sunrise, mixed in with clouds and bursts of rain. When the rain stopped, white caps could be seen dancing along the gray ocean below the mountainous course.
The only way players could have claimed to get the short end of the draw would be if the wind had died after play was suspended. Everyone faced the same conditions, except for those who didn’t have to play.
“I got off to a great start, but that’s the way it goes. I’m sure they made the decision that’s best for all the guys,” Simpson said. “But the good news is, I had a good start and I’m playing well. We’re just trying to keep the ball in play and in front of us and I was able to make a couple of putts. And that’s what you have to do on a day like today.”
So much for starting the year in paradise. Kapalua in this kind of weather felt more like work than a working vacation.
The 40-mph gusts became too much when Carl Pettersson lagged a 40-foot putt that was slowing around the hole until a gust came up and blew it another 30 feet and just off the green. Hunter Mahan went to address a putt and the ball blew a few feet forward. Ian Poulter said he used his umbrella to shield the wind so he could mark his ball on the green, but when the umbrella moved, so did his golf ball.
“You couldn’t identify the best players out here,” Pettersson said.
The last time a round was washed out on the PGA Tour was at The Players Championship in 2005, when 30 players were on a soggy Sawgrass course. That tournament finished on Monday, and this one is also scheduled for a Monday finish. With only a 30-man field, it should be no problem getting it finished by then.
But 36 holes figures to be brutal on the caddies who walk a Plantation Course built on a mountain.
“I’m not sure how I’m going to feel,” Pettersson said.
Bubba Watson, who had yet to tee off, said it looked like “goofy golf” from what he saw on television. FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker was on the practice range and told of an 8-iron that only went about 50 yards.
“I could have caught it if I ran fast enough,” he said.
Those were the kind of shots that counted on the golf course.
Players were averaging about 350 yards off the tee on the first hole, with the trade wind at their backs. On the third hole, dead into the wind, no one hit a drive longer than 248 yards except for Stallings — his went 265 yards, only because it hit a cart path and disappeared into the native grass and was never found.
Fowler hit a driver and a 5-iron on the third hole. It’s usually a wedge.
“Numbers were kind of irrelevant at times,” Fowler said, referring to yardages.
That happens all the time in golf, especially on links courses. The problem, however, was on the putting greens. And the back nine is the most exposed to the wind.
Why even start?
“We aren’t really looking for these gusts up to 40 mph,” White said. “We had gusts up to 42 mph. I don’t think you can just not try to play.”
Kuchar was on the eighth tee when play was stopped. He stood over his 4-iron, then back off. He got back into position to play, and then backed off again.
“It just felt too funny to pull the trigger,” he said.
Players originally were told to stay on the course to see if conditions would improve, and before long, they were brought back to the clubhouse. About an hour later, White met with them in the dining room to tell them the day was over.
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