KAPALUA, Hawaii – As if the up-and-down round of level-par 73 weren’t enough to leave Nick Watney feeling queasy, more anxiety arrived at the scorer’s trailer. It came in the person of PGA Tour rules official Slugger White.
“When I saw him and knew he was there to talk to me, yeah, I got nervous,” Watney said. “I had just played scratchy, and now I thought I might have to add two more (strokes).”
As often is the case, a viewer had called in a questionable action, in this case, something done by Watney’s caddie, Chad Reynolds. Back at the green of the par-4 seventh hole, Reynolds had knelt down and motioned with his hand close to the putting surface. The view suggested Reynolds was “testing the surface or testing for grain,” Watney said.
After discussing things at the trailer off the 18th, Watney and Reynolds went with White to the TV compound. After a group huddle, it was deemed that Reynolds never did touch the putting green, and Watney wasn’t surprised.
“I fully support Chad,” Watney said. “He’s one of the best caddies out here, and I didn’t think he would have done something like that.”
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THE LONG BALL: As massively sprawling as the Plantation Course is, at times it could barely contain Gary Woodland’s power. At the par-5 18th, which is a whopping 663 yards, Woodland needed just an 8-iron for his second shot to reach the green.
We’ll repeat: An 8-iron to reach the green with his second shot on a 663-yard hole.
That happens when you hit it 450 yards, of course.
Even Woodland, who is used to employing his immense power, had to shake his head at that one. “I mean, I just don’t hit it 500 yards,” he said.
But it was another blast that left him really confounded. Back at the par-5 ninth, a 508-yarder that played uphill and into a stiff wind, Woodland pushed his tee shot right and into a hazard of thick shrubs. Keeping the same line, he backed up so that he had a flat lie out of light rough. With roughly 237 yards into the wind to reach the flag, he and caddie Jon Yarbrough determined that it was a 3-wood.
“I thought I had to ‘nuke’ it to get it there,” Woodland said.
He nuked it, all right. Too much. Though it was on a brilliant line, the ball carried over the green and five rows back into the grandstands.
After exchanging a look of disbelief with his caddie, Woodland hung his head, then could do only one thing. He laughed. And when it was suggested later that the rules official should have told him to “touch them all” because it was a home run ball, Woodland laughed again.
For all his power, Woodland concedes he struggled a bit with his focus despite the wide-open fairways and settled for an even-par 73.
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THE SINGLE: They say golf is a lonely game. Certainly it was for Chris Kirk on Friday during the opening round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Kirk was scheduled to tee off in the middle of the 28-man field alongside his buddy and neighbor from Sea Island, Ga., 2009 U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover. But with Glover unable to make the start because of a paddleboard injury sustained in Hawaii – he hurt his knee – Kirk went off by himself at 11:35 a.m.
“I was lonely,” Kirk said. “Very lonely. I don’t like to do anything by myself – especially play golf. I hate to say it in such a beautiful place, but I didn’t have a whole lot of fun today.”
Kirk shot 2-over 75 in his Kapalua debut, and is tied for 23rd. On the ninth hole, a par 5, he sprayed his second shot well right of the green, into the tall native grass. His ball took several minutes to locate (a volunteer found it), and even then, Kirk needed to call in a PGA Tour official to get clarification on a ruling as he dug in to identify his golf ball. He hit his third shot into a greenside bunker, blasted out, and made a 5-footer for par.
The whole process seemed to take an eternity.
“I still waited in the fairway on 10,” he said, smiling at the thought. Kirk turned down the opportunity to play with a non-competing marker. “That was a first. A few years ago at Colonial, I made the cut on the number and was the first off by myself on Saturday. At least then I didn’t have to wait. I tried to go slow a little bit, walk really slow and take my time, but after making a few bogeys, it was pretty easy for me to lose my patience, that’s for sure.”
Kirk, 26, was a first-time winner in 2011, capturing the Viking Classic. What does he look forward to most in 2012? He and his wife are expecting their first child March 20.
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SHORT SHOTS: Defending champion Jonathan Byrd made six birdies in a row beginning at the third hole. Byrd shot 67. In his last five rounds on the Plantation Course, Byrd’s highest round is 68. Byrd now has played 17 rounds at Kapalua and has a scoring average of 68.7. . . . This event has been kind to defending champions. Previously, Stuart Appleby won three consecutive Tournament of Champions at Kapalua (2004-06), and Geoff Ogilvy won back-to-back in 2009-10. . . . Steve Stricker (68), making his sixth start in this event, shot his lowest opening round. . . . Glover, who withdrew with a knee injury, joins other injured players Fredrik Jacobson, Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker and will receive unofficial last-place money of $59,750. . . . It was a good day to be a Bradley: Michael Bradley (68) and Keegan Bradley (69) had the only two bogey-free rounds of the day.
– Jim McCabe contributed