Excuse Me Sir, Where’s the First Tee and What’s the Course Record?
And now for our “virgins”, the first tee is over there and the course record at Kapalua in this event is 62 by Graeme McDowell and K.J. Choi. They’ll have to learn quickly that putts will break toward the big mountain. Well, that’s what I learned from Mark Rolfing last year! Not many inexperienced players win here.
Jason Dufner: If anyone first-timer has a chance here, it’s Dufner. He’s shown over the last two years that his game translates on multiple courses on multiple continents. A three-week run in Australia and Asia saw him finish second, T16 and T2 in his final events over 2012. Do you think his personality and Hawaii will mesh? I just hope he’s not toooooooooooooooo mellowed out that he forgets to go low and get after it. I’m expecting big things from Dufner in 2013 and I think he could be this year’s Webb Simpson (-19, T3 in 2012 in his first appearance).
Rickie Fowler: 2012 saw him take his first of many (in my opinion) victories on TOUR. His playoff win at Quail Hollow over Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points brings Fowler to Kapalua for the first time. Fowler had a stellar stretch of events starting with the Zurich Classic (T10) that cemented his status as a big-time player on TOUR. He followed that with a win at Quail Hollow, T2 at THE PLAYERS, T5 at Colonial and he was playing in the final group on Sunday at the Memorial with Tiger Woods before an 84 knocked him all the way to T52. I’m glad I projected him as my winner that week…Anyhow, he faded down the stretch and into the playoffs but he seems to be over his October back injury evidenced by his T4 finish at the Tiger Woods World Challenge. I wish he would have been T4 at the Memorial…
John Huh: The 2012 Rookie of the Year won in his fifth pro event on TOUR defeating Robert Allenby in an eight-hole playoff at Mayakoba to gain entrance into the HTOC. Huh had three top 12s in his first six events as a pro and ended up with 12 top 25s in 28 events. The rookie even made the TOUR Championship. Not a bad year! He can really stripe his driver and is a very solid putter. His lack of length here shouldn’t bother his ability to make birdies. Just ask Steve Stricker!
Jonas Blixt: A rib injury derailed the most positive part of his 2012 rookie season but the former FSU Seminole rallied in the Fall Series to finish third (Timberlake) and WIN (Frys.com) in consecutive weeks to claim his card and an exempt status for the next two seasons. One of the great scenes of the Fall Series is when his family doused him with Champagne after sinking the winning putt on hole No. 72 at the Frys.com. He’s a great putter and should enjoy his chances on these huge greens this week.
Kyle Stanley: You saw what he was made of early in 2012 after he blew a huge lead to Brandt Snedeker in the final round of the Famers at Torrey Pines. He rallied the next week by overcoming his own huge deficit on Sunday to claim his first WIN on TOUR at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Unfortunately for Stanley, he had no other finishes better than T19 in his 22 final starts of 2012. He played the CIMB and was T41 (of 48 players) and he finished T65 (of 78) players at the WGC-HSBC Champions in his final two events of the calendar year. The talent is there but he went through three caddies last season and he is now changing equipment as he moves to Nike in 2013. I’ll need to see some positivity before jumping on this year.
Marc Leishman: The Aussie’s 2012 was punctuated by his first career WIN on TOUR when he fired a sweet Sunday 62 at The Travelers. He finished his round a good two hours before the leaders and he waited patiently as they all fell apart down the stretch to guarantee his place in Maui this week. He made 19 of 23 cuts last year and also had a T3 at the Byron Nelson. He was one shot better than Kyle Stanley at the CIMB but was T18 at the WGC-HSBC Champions. If the wind is up this week, Leishman won’t be bothered, so keep that in mind!
Ted Potter, Jr.: The rookie won at The Greenbrier Classic by firing 64-64 on the weekend to book his HTOC spot. Sadly for Potter, his only other top 25 finish in 25 events was his season opener (T13) at the Sony Open. His best finish in nine events after his win in July was T56 (twice). I can’t see him being a factor this week.
Tommy Gainey: He’s the iron man of this group as he logged 32 events in 2012. He enjoyed his first career WIN at The McGladrey as he fired a final round SIXTY to catch and pass the leaders. He made 18 cuts and also was third at Colonial. Everyone loves “Two Gloves” but his penchant to fire in the low 60’s is as frequent as his trips to the low 80’s. He’ll be interesting to watch regardless!
Charlie Beljan: What a story this was! Beljan had to be hospitalized after the second round Friday of the CMNHC but still found a way to persevere and win his first career event on Sunday. The CMNHC saw Beljan make the cut for the third straight event for the only time in 2012 so to say he ended the year with on a high note is completely understating his struggles earlier in the season. Sure he finished solo third at The Greenbrier but he only made NINE of 22 cuts in his rookie year. He hits it a mile and hits plenty of GIR but his putter is balky.
“Young” Guns versus “Middle” Guns versus “Old” Guns
In 46 events on TOUR in 2012 the “Young” guns knocked out the “Middle” and “Old” guns, 25-18-3.
"Since 2011 52% of the PGA Tour winners have been 32 years old or younger." - Billy Schroeder, PGA Tour VP Player Relations.
Well, that means just under half have been OVER 32 years of age!
Last year’s winners:
For the “Young”, age during their victory in ( ), Johnson Wagner (31), Brandt Snedeker TWICE (31), Kyle Stanley (24), Bill Haas (29), John Huh (21), Hunter Mahan TWICE (29) Rory McIlroy FOUR times (22), Justin Rose (31), Rickie Fowler (23), Dustin Johnson (27), Webb Simpson (26), Marc Leishman (29), Ted Potter, Jr. (28), Scott Stallings (27), Keegan Bradley (26), Sergio Garcia (32), Nick Watney TWICE (31),Ryan Moore (29) and Jonas Blixt (28) were your winners.
The “Middle” guys were Mark Wilson (37), George McNeill (36), Luke Donald (34), Tiger Woods THRICE (36), Bubba Watson (33), Carl Pettersson (34), Ben Curtis (34), Matt Kuchar (33), Jason Dufner TWICE (35), Zach Johnson TWICE (36), Scott Piercy (33) J.J. Henry (37), Tommy Gainey (37) and Ian Poulter (37).
Steve Stricker (44), Phil Mickelson (41) and Ernie Els (42) are the only “Old” guys to hit the board in 2012. At least 33% of their wins were majors! Stricker is the only “Old” dude teeing it up this week, although Wilson, McNeill, Henry, Gainey and Poulter are closing in on the big 4-0.
The Winning Formula
There’s no big secret that you need to go low at Kapalua to have a chance to win. As we have seen on TOUR over the years, there are many ways to achieve this and Kapalua has shown us that over the years.
The last two winners, Jonathan Byrd and Steve Stricker aren’t exactly the first guys on the “longest drive” stats at the end of the year but they found a way to navigate and win at Kapalua.
The fairways are more than generous but the rough is not penal so the guys who bomb away won’t worry about getting in much trouble.
The greens are quite large as well so putters that get it rolling can also make some noise. Also, rolling at only 9.5” to 10” on the stimpmeter will allow players to give putts a run at most pin placements.
In 2011, Jonathan Byrd made four bogeys en route to victory. In 2012, Steve Stricker made three.
This isn’t the week to not hit GIR and this isn’t the week to have a cool putter. Birdies, not pars, are the order of the day!
Back in the Saddle Again
I’m a little rusty from having five weeks off since the last column so just for you I’ll rank all 30 players in the field this week.
Best of the Best
1) Dustin Johnson
2) Webb Simpson
3) Jason Dufner
4) Matt Kuchar
5) Keegan Bradley
6) Steve Stricker
7) Ryan Moore
8) Nick Watney
9) Brandt Snedeker
10) Scott Piercy
In with a Shout
1) Ian Poulter
2) Bubba Watson
3) Jonas Blixt
4) Hunter Mahan
5) Zach Johnson
6) Carl Pettersson
7) Bill Haas
8) Johnson Wagner
9) John Huh
10) Ben Curtis
1) Rickie Fowler
2) Tommy Gainey
3) Charlie Beljan
4) Scott Stallings
5) J.J. Henry
6) Kyle Stanley
7) George McNeill
8) Mark Wilson
9) Marc Leishman
10 )Ted Potter, Jr.