IT CAN BE tough coming back from a holiday period, even if it’s woefully too short, to face the prospect of (watching) big time golf again.
The 2017 year opening event was the limited field Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua Resort on Maui and was a reasonably painless way to ease into the new season.
The tournament, which features the winners on the tour for the previous 12 months, does have its positive aspects but there were a couple of tricky moments there.
One of the good things about the tournament being located in Hawaii – apart from the stunning backdrops – is that it takes place in very viewer friendly television times in Australia. The first round live coverage started at 10am on Friday on the east coast and the final round Monday began at 7am. As the year progresses live tournament coverage will start popping up pre-dawn – though that does give you plenty of time later in the day to do all the vacuuming … or whatever takes your fancy.
One of the initial tricky moments of the event was the first tournament appearance of Jason Day in his new Nike clobber.
I’m not sure if we should describe it as being “shocked”, or maybe just “momentarily taken aback” by the outfit.
It wasn’t so much the bright orange pants and hat, but more the white “muscle” shirt that looked more like a baseball top. It didn’t really have a conventional collar and we mused that even just a few years back there would be many golf clubs that would have deemed it inappropriate wear for their course.
The 29 year old world number one had arrived in Maui after his three month enforced layoff to recover from a back injury and generated a number of storylines.
Among the storylines were that he was shortening his backswing to protect his back, (disturbing to some) was that he was going back to his former slower, more deliberate (some claim “glacial”) pace of play, and (disturbing to others) that he was working with Nike to make his shirts fit more snuggly.
Jason reckoned fellow Nike brand ambassadors Tiger Woods preferred his shirts looser, Rory McIlroy a bit tighter; but he wanted his shirts really tight. (A little advice for Day: You just “buy” a reasonably loose fitting shirt now… and wait 20 years.)
“I have some ideas I’d like to throw Nike’s way about style,” Day said during the week. “Obviously I like tighter-fitting stuff while Tiger likes the more traditional golf clothes. Rory likes it a bit tighter but still looser than mine. I want things painted on me even though I don’t have the right body for it yet (laughs). So I have some ideas and hopefully I can change the way golf is looked at.
Despite the long layoff, the Aussie golfer said he was at the event with the sole intention of winning it. Thankfully his golf, and the outfits, improved as the week progressed.
In the end, he played the par 73 Plantation course in 70-69-70-70, finishing on 13-under tied for 12th in the 32 man field.
The putter seemed the main thing holding him back and he missed so many of the inside 12 foot putts we are all accustomed to seeing him make so often.
After closing out with an inspiring eagle on the par five last hole, he commented it was the rusty putting and a number of “soft errors” that had held him back.
The back, by the way, he said was fine, and if it and any other health issues leave him unmolested in 2017 he should have another great year.
Justin Thomas holds out over Matsuyama
Winner of the event was 23 year old American Justin Thomas, an amateur buddy of defending champion Jordan Spieth. It was Thomas’s third TOUR win but the first on home soil ( he recently won the CIMB Classic in Malaysia).
In their amateur days apparently many predicted Thomas and Spieth would go far but felt the former had the most potential.
Thomas’s career still lags well behind Spieth’s at this stage and his win was far from perfect (he was leading by five with five holes to play but hit it in the bushes for a double bogey on the 15th and ended up scraping home) but obviously he still has that great potential.
Thomas closed with a 4-under 69 to finish the tournament on 22-under, three in from of the Japanese (70 and 19-under), who livened things up with an eagle on the 14th but then missed a couple of crucial putts.
Despite being beaten twice recently by Thomas, Matsuyama remains the hottest golfer on the planet. He has an incredible four wins and two seconds in his last six tournaments worldwide.
As for Spieth, he also gave a portent of the year to came. He surged home with a blistering 8-under 65 to finish tied third with Pat Perez (67) and Ryan Moore (71) on 16-under.
The other Aussie to do well was 47 year old Rod Pampling, who carded a final round 69 to finish on 11-under and tied 17th.
Interviewed during the event Pampling agreed he had been showing some good form but said he was just delighted to have a two year exemption on the tour and be able to concentrate on his golf rather than worrying about where his next start would be.
The US PGA TOUR stays in Hawaii this week for the first full field event of the year, the Sony Open.