KAPALUA, Hawaii – Then again, experience can be overrated. That’s one way to look at how the first round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions unfolded at the Plantation Course high above the majestic Pacific.
With winds swirling from a direction that at times confounded veterans of this tournament, newcomers seemed hardly befuddled. Michael Thompson and Jordan Spieth, making their debuts here, each shot 7-under 66, as did Chris Kirk, who is here for just the second time.
The fourth player to shoot 66 was Webb Simpson, a grizzled veteran of this winners-only tournament, given that he’s here for the third time.
“Big fairways, big greens,” said Spieth, who earned his spot in this field with his triumph at last summer’s John Deere Classic. “It’s a course that you really shouldn’t make a lot of bogeys on, if you keep the ball in play.”
No surprise, but most players did. By day’s end, four others (Ryan Moore, Kevin Streelman, Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson) had shot 67s, and Matt Kuchar added a 68. In all, 27 of the 30 competitors broke par.
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2. WORLD TRAVELER: When his PGA Tour season ended at the BMW Championship in early September, Michael Thompson and wife Rachel went off on a vacation to Italy.
The international trip was merely a warmup to what would follow, however. When he returned, Thompson packed his clubs and passport and journeyed to Malaysia, China and India for three consecutive tournaments. He came home to Birmingham, Ala., but a few weeks later returned to the global golf scene for a tournament in Thailand.
Easily, the most intriguing stop was the India Open, part of the Asian Tour and where Thompson finished T-45.
“Very different, very interesting,” Thompson said. “The food was good, but the pollution was terrible.”
After Thailand, where he missed the cut, Thompson had a few weeks off, but he’s in the Hyundai field by virtue of his win at the Honda Classic and no complaints about his start. With five birdies over his final eight holes, Thompson opened with a 7-under 66 to get into a four-way tie for the lead.
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3. SPOTLIGHT WAS ON, GAMES WEREN’T: Closing birdies at the par-5 18th at least put a positive finish on a lackluster day, because the marquee pairing of Dustin Johnson and Adam Scott just never got untracked.
Johnson, the defending champion, erased a bogey at the fourth with a birdie at the fifth, but he missed a handful of birdie putts inside of 10 feet over the next five holes to lose any semblance of momentum. He did birdie the 11th, 15th and 18th, however, to shoot 70 and get within four of the lead.
For Scott, a promising start quickly soured. He birdied from 30 feet at the par-3 second and two-putted for birdie at the par-5 fifth. But a sloppy bogey at the par-4 sixth where he had but a wedge from 117 yards seemed to take the steam out of him and he added another bogey at the par-3 eighth.
But, like his playing competitor, Scott steadied the ship and played the final 10 holes in 3 under to at least finish on a positive note.
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4. WEATHER WOES: Not that folks in the midwest and northeast will feel the slightest bit of sympathy, but a torrential downpour overnight left the Plantation Course velcro-like.
“It was really soft in the fairway. The greens were pretty soft, too,” said Simpson, who pointed to a drive he hit at the par-4 17th that plugged in the fairway.
So ferocious was the storm that power was knocked out at the Ritz-Carlton, where many of the players and guests are staying.
Ah, but paradise being paradise, by the time the first tee time rolled around at 10:30 a.m., you could see Molokai off in the distance and a warm sun had broken through.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: As is the norm at the Plantation Course, red numbers were plentiful, with all but three of the 30 players breaking par. Jimmy Walker finished at par 73, but Jonas Blixt (76) and Derek Ernst (79) struggled. Blixt’s woes came late, a double-bogey, double-bogey finish ruining his day. As for Ernst, he doubled the par-4 third, went out in 2-over 38, and made just one birdie . . . . . Bubba Watson’s caddie, Ted Scott, is here working for Webb Simpson, whose regular caddie, Paul Tesori, is home with his wife awaiting the birth of their first child . . . . . Dufner went out in 6-under 30, then recorded nine consecutive pars to shoot 6-under 67 . . . . . Dufner and Spieth had the only bogey-free rounds . . . . . There were six eagles – all on the front. Streelman made the only one at the third, and he, Moore, and Dufner made them at the par-5 fifth. At the par-5 ninth, Zach Johnson and Brandt Snedeker did the honors.