A Season Underway: The Hyundai Tournament of Champions

For those of us who have grown weary of watching rerun after rerun on the Golf Channel the past several weeks – we’ve finally made it. The PGA Tour season kicks off this week in real-time, as the season opener begins Friday (yes you heard that correctly – meaning a Monday finish) in Maui, at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. It should prove to be an exciting start to the 2012 season, a season that we can only hope is as interesting and entertaining as was 2011.

More than Just a Tournament

The Hyundai Tournament of Champions does have some significance, despite it being a limited field event. As the title of the tournament suggests – this event is only open to the prior season’s players who won an official PGA Tour event, meaning that if you’re one of the 28 players in the field this week – you obviously stand a much better chance at winning the $1.1 million 1st place prize money as you would a normal 120+ player field event. So not only does $1.1 million give a player a huge head start in the FedEx Cup points race (500 points), it also buys them another exempt season on tour the following year. And, of course, who would sneeze at the opportunity to spend a couple hundred grand celebrating their first victory of the season in Maui?! So as this season plays out and you hear the traditional “You’re going to Hawaii in January” congratulatory remarks to each tournament winner in the post-tournament interviews, it represents more to these players than just an opportunity to take the family to Hawaii for a few days of R&R while much of the country is covered in snow. In essence, the Tournament of Champions guarantees one of these 28 players the chance to win tour events in back-to-back seasons, not to mention the opportunity to get their seasons jump started on a winning note.

The Field

The Hyundai Tournament of Champions, by virtue of limiting the field to only those who won an official PGA Tour event the season prior, essentially creates one of the stronger fields of any early-season tournament. Five of the players in this week’s field rank inside of the top-25 of the Official World Golf rankings: Steve Stricker (#6), Webb Simpson (#10), Nick Watney (#12), K.J. Choi (#15), and Bubba Watson (#25). One of the most promising younger players in the field this year is Keegan Bradley, who is coming off of one of the most impressive rookie seasons by any former tour rookie in recent memory. Keegan is the only major winner in the field this week, but he’s not the only player in the field who enjoyed multiple wins last season. In addition to Bradley in that department is: Mark Wilson (2), Bubba Watson (2), Nick Watney (2), Steve Stricker (2), and Webb Simpson (2).  For a complete rundown of this week’s field in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, click HERE.

The Venue

This week will mark the 13th consecutive season that the Plantation Course at Kapalua has hosted the PGA Tour’s Tournament of Champions. The layout is the only course on the PGA Tour rotation that plays to a par of 73, and is also the only

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layout that boasts 7 holes with more than 500 yards of length. At 7411 yards, the Plantation Course is just slightly longer than the average tour layout, but the changes in elevation and the prominent trade winds blowing off of the nearby ocean can and often do make some of the longer holes play shorter with the wind. The most difficult hole is in fact the starting hole, a par4 that stretches 520 yards, and the easiest hole is the par5 5th, which at 532 yards is only a mere 12 yards longer than the opening par4.

What to Expect

It’s difficult to pinpoint precisely which type of player that the Plantation Course will favor. Zach Johnson led the field in driving accuracy last year in this event, hitting 90% of his fairways for the week, but finished well back at T23. Per usual, Dustin Johnson led the field in driving distance last year in this event with an average of 308 yards, but would go on to finish 10 shots back of the eventual winner. To make matters even more confounding – Robert Garrigus hit more greens than anyone else in the field, averaging an astounding 91.67 GIR percentage. Quite often the guy who hits the most greens each week comes away the victor, and Garrigus did eventually make it into a playoff, but would lose in heartbreaking fashion by missing a putt of such an insignificant length that the television announcers had already conceded him the short one. And therein lies the key ingredient required at the Plantation Course, which is home to some of the largest greens complexes that these players will putt on all season: the ability to make putts. And in this tournament last year, despite being one of the shortest hitters in the field, that’s something that the eventual winner – Jonathan Byrd – did better than anyone else. So the player that comes into this season with reasonable form and a hot putter will certainly be in the running come the final day.

Historical Fun Fact

Jack Nicklaus is the only player who has won the Tournament of Champions on 5 occasions (1963, 1964, 1971, 1973, and 1977).

Televised Coverage: The Golf Channel will be airing all four rounds, with coverage starting at 5:30 p.m. and ending at 10:00 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Monday coverage begins at 4:00 p.m. and concludes at 8:00 p.m. EST.

All of the official tournament news and updates pertaining to this week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions can be found HERE.



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