KAPALUA, Hawaii – Two hours into its 2013 season, the PGA Tour had to call things to a halt. Blame it on trouble in paradise – bizarre weather conditions that veteran residents of Maui insist they have never seen before.
Relentless rain? Sure, it was miserable, but that’s not why the first round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions was scrapped, with six of 30 players not even having teed off. Instead, ferocious winds at about 30 mph, with gusts as high as 40, created havoc.
“We should be in Ohio. It’s probably better than this,” said Ben Curtis with a laugh.
With bogeys at the first and third holes of the Plantation Course, Curtis was part of the crowd that was struggling mightily with this big and expansive layout that features dramatic elevation changes. Of the 20 players who had finished at least one hole, the field was a cumulative 27 over, with only Webb Simpson (3 under through seven) and Jonas Blixt (1 under through five) in red.
So when after two hours conditions were deemed unplayable – a decision that ultimately led to a brief delay before the decision to scrap the round completely – Simpson seemed to be in position to voice criticism. But he did not.
“It stinks for me,” he said, after three birdies got wiped off the record books. “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.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Scott Stallings wore a big smile.
“I’m pumped,” he said after going 7 over for four holes. “But it’s probably the best thing to do. At what point do you say enough is enough?”
For the record, that decision came at about 2:15 local time.
“We have decided to scrub this round, wash it out completely,” said Slugger White, vice president of rules and competition with the PGA Tour. “No shots count.”
And so a “breakfast ball,” if you will, was given the PGA Tour. Instead of opening its 2013 season on Friday, Jan. 4, it will do so a day later. The only thing is, the challenge becomes even greater because officials have decided to start at 7:30 a.m. in twosomes off of two tees, attempting to play 36 holes.
Wish them luck, for two reasons.
One, “I can honestly say the forecast isn’t real good, but maybe we’ll get lucky,” White said.
And two, the Plantation Course is a grueling walk as it is, never mind trying to do 36 in a day.
“I think Carl Pettersson asked the best question,” Stallings said. “He wanted to know if we get to use carts. I think it’s a valid question.”
Of course, it’s also a no-brainer for an answer. Emphatically, no.
It’s the first time a round has been scrubbed since the Players Championship in 2005, when play was stopped after only 30 players began.
From the opening tee shot, it was a precarious endeavor. Matt Kuchar, in the second pairing, double-bogeyed the par-3 second when he landed beneath the lip of a bunker and couldn’t get the ball out. It rolled back into one of his footprints, perhaps a 6-inch hole. By the time four or five groups had played the 368-yard, par-4 third, it was clear that this was a day unlike any this tournament had seen.
How crazy was it? Well, chew on this, all you moaners and groaners who think the ball goes too far: The driving average for 16 players at the third was a robust 221 yards.
“I hit mine 215,” Rickie Fowler said. “And I hit it good.”
J.J. Henry heard that and laughed. “I couldn’t even sniff the bunker,” he said, a reference to the fact that it was about 210 to clear it and not worth the gamble. Players simply stayed left of it, not that it helped because 150-yard approaches required full 5-iron shots, and nothing on this abbreviated day was easy. Of the 16 who played the third, there were seven bogeys and the quad by Stallings, whose drive went left, hit a cart path, and was never found. The scoring average was 4.44 – and again, it’s a 368-yard hole.
Tough? Demanding? Borderline impossible? Yes to all of that, and for proof, consider that in just 87 holes played by 20 players there were 19 bogeys, 7 doubles, and 2 “others,” against just 12 birdies.
Just don’t think that everyone was miserable.
“For me, the wind was the fun part of it,” said Fowler, who was 3 over in his eight holes, but still buoyant. “We’ve been in it for eight holes. I don’t know why they’re stopping it now.”
The decision to stop it can be traced to what happened to Pettersson at the par-3 second. With a green that slopes severely from left to right and the wind howling left to right, Pettersson knew he had issues with a 40-foot putt just off the front of the green. He seemed to have judged it beautifully, however, and it appeared that the ball was going to come to rest within 2 feet. Only it kept rolling . . . and rolling . . . and rolling. As if it had hoisted its sails and caught a blast of wind, the ball picked up speed at the hole, turned right, and came to rest 30 feet away.
Pettersson spread his arms in disbelief. So did playing competitor Scott Piercy, and the fact that rules official Jon Brendle was watching greenside was even more emphatic.
“I just asked (Brendle), ‘Are we trying to identify the best player this week, or are we just trying to finish?” Pettersson said.
At that point, the decision was made to suspend play. Within an hour, play was called. In truth, when play was halted, it wasn’t any worse than it had been at the start, and that makes you wonder about the decision to start at all. But nobody seemed to have a problem with that end of things.
“They’ve always got to try it,” Pettersson said. “I don’t blame them for trying. It’s just unfortunate we’re on the side of a cliff and it’s blowing 40 and we’ve got some slopey greens.”
Neither was White going to apologize for giving it a shot.
“We weren’t really looking for these gusts up to 40 miles an hour,” he said. “(But) I don’t think you can just not try to play.”
So give them an “A” for effort.
But then ask them to come back Saturday morning and give opening day another try.