Jordan Spieth opened the 2016 calendar year right where he left off, winning the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in dominant fashion. The World No. 1 entered Sunday's finale with a five-shot advantage over playing partner Brooks Koepka and fired a 6-under-par 67 to claim his seventh TOUR victory in his 77th start as pro. The 22-year-old's final margin was eight over defending champ Patrick Reed, who finished solo second on 22-under 270. Spieth's 72-hole aggregate of 30-under 262, was just one shy of Ernie Els' tournament record set in 2003 and featured a field-leading 28 birdies, two eagles, and just two bogeys. He's now five-for-nine when holding the 54-hole lead/co-lead converting five consecutive victories and ties Tiger Woods for the second-most wins on TOUR prior to the age of 23. Perhaps more than anything, the Dallas native brought star power back to Kapalua in what had increasingly become a bye week for the game's elite.
Spieth culminated his historic five-win season in 2014-15 with a four-shot triumph at the TOUR Championship, becoming the youngest champion at East Lake GC as well as the youngest winner of the FedExCup at 22 years, 2 months. In total, the eventual PGA TOUR Player of the Year posted a jaw-dropping 15 top 10s on 21 made cuts; claimed his first major with a four-shot wire-to-wire win at the Masters, tying the tournament record of 18-under 270 (Woods, 1997); won the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay GC, becoming just the six player in history to win the Masters and the U.S. Open in the same year; and set a PGA TOUR record for most money won in a season with $12,030,465. Elsewhere, he picked off his first international victory with a six-shot win at the Emirates Australian Open and chased the very next week with a record-breaking 10-shot romp at the unofficial Hero World Challenge. The superlatives to describe Spieth's ascent to the top of the golf world are too bountiful to post here, but perhaps the Texan explained it best when asked in his Hyundai TOC pre-tourney presser what would he do for an encore to last season, he coyly replied, "Doesn't encore mean that the show was over?"
What We Learned:
Patrick Reed:The defending champ gave chase early on Sunday with opening birdies at Nos. 1 and 2 and added two more circles on the par-5 fifth and ninth, respectively. His charge fizzled with an even-par inward half, exchanging bogey-6 at 15 with birdie on the par-4 16th to complete his scoring. Nonetheless, the 25-year-old added his second career runner-up finish on TOUR in 98 starts (P2, 2015 Valspar) and his seventh consecutive worldwide top-10 finish, including three runners-up in his last four starts. His 22-under 270 was actually one better than his winning total here last year, but in the end, was no match for Spieth. The Augusta University product collected 31.20 Official World Golf Ranking points to maintain his place as the 10th-ranked player in the world.
Brandt Snedeker: Teamed with Jason Dufner to win at the unofficial Franklin Templeton Shootout five weeks ago and chased with joint third on Maui, his first top 10 since T10 at the Travelers back in June. The 35-year-old began his final frame on 15-under (T4) after opening in 67-72-65, and smothered a lone bogey at the par-3 second with seven birdies the rest of the way. He ended his fourth appearance T2 in total birdies with 24, T4 in bogeys with three, and T1 in greens in regulation with 64/72, an 88.89 percent clip. Sneds heads to the Sony Open for his first visit to Honolulu since 2008 after vaulting 16 places in the Official World Golf Ranking to No. 34.
Brooks Koepka: The 25-year-old played out of the final pairing on Sunday with the would-be-champ but exited from contention right out of the gate with back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 1 and 2. To his credit, he bounced-back with three straight circles on holes 3-5, but squared another bogey on the sixth following an errant tee shot, eventually posting a less-than inspiring 2-under 71 for joint third. Koepka entered the finale four adrift of Spieth and needed something more on the lines of his career-best 63 that he posted in the third round if he were to contend for his second TOUR title. At day's end however, he, as well as the rest of the field on Maui were no match for Spieth, finishing a distant nine shots in arrears. On the plus side, Koepka put to bed the many naysayers who felt he would struggle in his first start with his new Nike clubs/ball and took top honors of the 14 first-timers at Kapalua.
Rickie Fowler: The World No. 6 entering the week began his final frame a distant 10 shots back of Spieth after opening in 69-67-69 and concluded his second appearance on Maui in 6-under 67 for solo fifth. Fowler was just 1-under thru his first 12 holes, slightly outpacing bogey-4 at the 12th with birdies at the par-5 fifth and ninth, respectively, but similar to his torrid finish to claim THE PLAYERS back in May, he raced to the finish line with five birdies over his final six holes. The 27-year-old wrapped the week third in strokes gained: tee-to-green, but 16th in strokes gained: putting and T17 in putts per GIR.
Padraig Harrington: The 44-year-old polished off his Hyundai TOC debut with a bogey-free 6-under 67 to vault six places on the leaderboard into a three-way T6 with fellow first-timers Peter Malnati and Fabian Gomez. It was his first top 10 since his playoff win at The Honda Classic back in March and jumps 21 places to No. 120 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Some Questions Answered, Some Not:
Everyone has a theory when it comes to fantasy golf. These golfers populated lineups across all formats and some surprised, while others fizzled.
Jason Day: Day entered the week as World No. 2 and stayed there with his five-way T10 at Kapalua. He hadn't teed it up in a stroke-play event since T10 at the TOUR Championship 15 weeks ago and for the first three rounds this week it showed. However, he awarded gamers who stuck with him firing a bogey-free 8-under 65 in the finale which featured six birdies and an eagle. The Aussie's 65 was the low lap of the day and catapulted him up 10 places on the final leaderboard for his seventh top-10 finish on TOUR in his last nine starts.
Bubba Watson: The World No. 4 entered the festivities off his three-shot win at the 18-man Hero World Challenge but was never in contention this week on Maui. He did manage a final-round 6-under 67 but despite dropping seven birdies, finished DFL in strokes gained: putting for the week. Gamers will leave with a bad taste in their mouth considering he finished the 2016 lid-lifter ranked second in strokes gained: tee-to-green, but alas, his woes with the flat stick were too much to overcome. The 37-year-old managed a back-door T10 despite four three-putts on the week, but on the plus side, none in the final round on Sunday.
Dustin Johnson: The 2013 HTOC champ entered the week with the third-best outright odds (7/1) and had posted a pair of T5s in his last two starts on TOUR, including at the season-ending TOUR Championship, closing in 6-under 64. A five-way T10 on Maui this week left gamers with more questions than answers. On the good, he wrapped his sixth appearance ranked fifth in strokes gained: tee-to-green, but on the quite bad, finished 28th in strokes gained: putting
The PGA TOUR makes a short trip to Honolulu for this week's Sony Open in Hawaii where Jimmy Walker defends his title for a second straight year. Stay tuned to this space for all the latest player news and opinions as the 2015-16 season plays its second consecutive tournament following a seven-week break for the holidays.