Notes: Molder making good first impression
And the last shall be first?
Well, not likely, since Bryce Molder is five strokes behind Steve Stricker headed into Monday’s final round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
But for a guy who is the last qualifier from the 2011 winners’ list to tee it up here at the Plantation Course, Molder is surely enjoying his position. Having earned his first PGA Tour victory last fall at the Frys.com Open, this trip to Kapalua is an appreciated perk.
His play, while somewhat surprising given his rookie stature at the Plantation Course, is also appreciated as a third-round 6-under 67 got him to 11 under, tied for fifth. Granted, there was a bogey at the par-4 third and another at the par-4 17th, “but the meat of the sandwich there was pretty good.”
Molder was 8 under on a 10-hole stretch starting at the par-5 fifth. It culminated with a wedge that he holed from 77 yards to eagle the 299-yard, par-4 14th. He was not about to claim a textbook shot, however.
“I actually kind of pulled it and hit it a little harder than I wanted to,” said Molder. “It happened to go in. You hit a lot of good shots you don’t get rewarded for; that was a decent shot that I got extremely rewarded for.”
At a venue where veterans will tell you local knowledge is crucial, Molder is one of six first-timers to the Plantation Course sitting within the top 11. While he doesn’t deny that his play has been sharp, Molder said he would give more credit to the fact that the wind has been from he same direction every day since Wednesday – two practice days and three in competition.
“It makes it a little easier for guys like me,” Molder said.
• • •
Jhonattan Vegas had a smashing rookie season last year, winning a PGA Tour event in only his fifth career start when he captured the Bob Hope Classic. He became the first Venezuelan to win on the PGA Tour, and in December, he traveled home for the first time since becoming a Tour champion. He said the reception he received was amazing.
“It was a little crazy, to be honest,” he said.
Vegas was the centerpiece of a golf outing (“There were so many people that came out to the course, just going nuts,” he said. “I was really surprised. We’re not a golf country”), and was guest of honor at an All-Star baseball game, where he threw out the first pitch. When a stadium filled with baseball fans cheered loudly for a golfer standing out on the mound, that’s when it hit him how much his celebrity status has blossomed.
“The main thing was, pretty much everywhere I go, people now recognized me,” he said. “I wasn’t really ready for that. In the past, I could go anywhere and people wouldn’t know me. Now I can’t go anywhere. It’s chaos. It was fun, but a lot of signing, a lot of pictures. I was ready to come back (to the U.S.).”
The most fun he had was playing golf with a bunch of the Major League standouts, a group that included current and former players Omar Vizquel, Andres Gallarraga, Carlos Zambrano and Ozzie Guillen.
“I really gave them hell,” said Vegas. “They think they’re big, but come hit a golf ball and see how good you are. We had a blast.”
Vegas isn’t batting so well himself in his first trip to Kapalua. He shot 76 on Sunday and is ahead of only one player (David Toms) in the 27-man field.
• • •
Wishing to not run up against the NFL playoffs for its finish, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions decided to experiment with a Monday finish. Today’s final round will be played earlier, with a finish time slated for 3 p.m. local time, or 8 p.m. EST, which will lead in nicely to the BCS Championship Game in New Orleans.
Tim Finchem said there were two main factors: One was the NFL; the other was Hyundai’s wish to move the tournament one day farther from the holidays, a business-to-business move that helps out the company’s dealers and customers who want to attend the tournament. Will the event finish on Monday next year, too?
“I wouldn’t assume necessarily we’ll do any particular thing next year,” Finchem said, “but we’ll take a look at it and (talk to) our television partners and see what they feel about it.”
• • •
Eyes on Augusta
In all due respect to Lord Tennyson, a young man’s fancy in spring may turn to love, but in January, a golfer’s fancy turns to that April gathering in Augusta, Ga.
And if you just happen to be qualified for the Masters, well, it’s not too early to start making plans.
Scott Stallings, in fact, has used his Masters invite as a way to soften the disappointment his parents may have felt when they didn’t make the trip to Maui for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Winner of the Greenbrier Classic, Stallings thought of bringing parents and some other guests with them to Kapalua, but he and wife Jennifer opted to treat it as a second honeymoon.
“We just wanted it to be special,” Stallings said.
If Tim Stallings was disappointed, it was only short-lived, because Scott Stallings told his father he’d accompany him to Augusta National for a practice round sometime during Honda Classic week.
“When I told him, he forgot about Maui and said, ‘Well, that’s OK then,’ “ Stallings said.
• • •
Through eight holes of his second round Friday, Kevin Na was level par and well down the leaderboard. He then played the final 10 holes in 9 under and continued that stellar play by shooting 2-under 34 on his outward nine in Round 3.
If he continues to ride a wave of good play, Na, who is tied for fifth, is ready to give credit to his new swing coach, Dale Lynch. Already heralded for his work with Aussies Geoff Ogilvy and Aaron Baddeley, Lynch was brought in by Na last year.
“Honestly, I was tired of driving it poorly and Dale, I met him at the Masters, he helped me out,” Na said. “I really liked what he had to say.”
In the past, Na was that worst of combinations – short and crooked. But he loves the adjustments Lynch has made.
“I think my backswing is in a different position and I think my game is getting better.”
• • •
SHORT SHOTS: After two days without a birdie at the 520-yard, par-4 first, three players – Kevin Na, Ben Crane, and Chris Kirk – came through in the third round . . . . . Michael Bradley registered five birdies in a first-round 68, but he’s made just two over the last 36 holes . . . . . Jhonny Vegas has played the par-4 13th in 7 over, two doubles and a triple . . . . . Gary Woodland’s outward 35 featured three bogeys, four birdies, and just two pars . . . . . Brendan Steele holed a pitch from about 30 yards to record the first eagle of the tournament at the 431-yard, par 4 12th . . . . . Scott Piercy knocked in a wedge from 90 yards to eagle the par-4 16th, which eased the pain of taking 29 putts Sunday after needing 36 Saturday. “I’ve only missed two greens in two days, but I have to make shots like that at 16, apparently,” Piercy said . . . . . Steve Stricker stretched his streak of sub-par rounds at the Plantation Course to 10 . . . . . David Toms (76-74-75) is the only player in the field of 27 to not record a round of par or better.