KAPALUA, Hawaii – The PGA Tour season now starts today.
Wind squalls that howled down off the mountains above Maui were so severe Friday that tour officials scrapped the first round of the Tournament of Champions. All scores were erased – only 20 players in the 30-man field even had scores on their cards – and the round will start over Saturday with 36 holes, weather permitting.
“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.”
Rickie Fowler and Jason Dufner, who supposedly started the 2013 season by playing in the first group, only made it through eight holes. Six players, including defending champion Steve Stricker, had not even teed off.
It was the first time since The Players Championship in 2005 that a round had been wiped clean.
The decision was great news for Scott Stallings, who made a quadruple-bogey 8 on the third hole and already was 7-over par after four holes. He will tee off as if none of that ever happened. As for U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson?
“It stinks for me,” Simpson said.
With a conversative game plan and a few good putts, Simpson was 3 under par after seven holes when play was stopped. Jonas Blixt of Sweden at 1 under was the only player surviving par.
So much for starting the season in paradise.
This felt more like work than a working vacation, and 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 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 plan was to play 36 holes Saturday, although the forecast was not much better — occasional bursts of rain and big gusts. The Plantation Course at Kapalua was built on a mountain, and it’s one of the toughest courses to walk all year. It figures to be a brutal day for the caddies.
“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.
The wind was howling at sunrise and never relented, so everyone was playing in the same conditions. And there were times the wind laid down. Simpson was thinking of laying up on the par-5 fifth hole when the rain and wind subsided, and he switched to a fairway metal and reached the green.
Why even start at all under conditions so severe for this golf course?
“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.
“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.”
He might not have been for long. His final tee shot on the par-3 eighth came up well short of the green, and it was not clear if it went into the gorge. Even though seven holes of remarkable golf no longer counts, Simpson managed to find one positive aspect to the day.
“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,” he 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.”