by Jeff Skinner
It may not be the way the PGA Tour wanted to start their season at The Tournament of Champions with play delayed by winds until Monday, a Tuesday finish and a reduced 54 hole tournament but this is the kind of leaderboard they envisioned. Of course with all the players having won in 2012 most of the names are familiar but to have the “big guns” vying for the inaugural win of 2013 is a bonus for the tour.
One of the biggest of the big guns is Dustin Johnson who leads by three going into today’s final eighteen. Johnson is one of the longest hitters anywhere and with a vastly improved short game he has got it to eleven under par at the Plantation Course.
In contrast to Johnson is defending champion, Steve Stricker, who ranked 140th in driving distance last season but hits it straight and knows how to get the ball in the hole. Stricker is three off the lead but knows this course very well. Unfortunately, he spent much of Monday limping around Kapalua due to some severe back and leg pain. But Stricker vowed to do all he can to defend his championship.
In third place is another longballer, Masters Champion Bubba Watson who was curving and carving his ball through the ever-present winds at Kapalua. Watson seemed to have to hit into the teeth of every gust of wind but still managed rounds of 70, 69 to stay only four shots behind Johnson.
Kapalua is a long hitter’s paradise and another long driver reaped the rewards as Keegan Bradley worked his way into a tie for fourth place five shots behind Johnson. Bradley has emerged as one of the best young American players and always seems to be in contention.
Long drives may look impressive but it’s the putter that really makes the difference and Brandt Snedeker used his to climb into a tie for fourth with Bradley. Snedeker led the tour in strokes gained putting in 2012 and last year’s FedEx Cup winner continued his magic with the short stick as he was one putting with regularity.
And if you are looking for that “Dark Horse” to pull an upset, look at Tommy Gainey presently in sixth place and six back of the lead. Tommy Two Gloves uses his homegrown swing to keep up with the big boys and certainly can crash this party. Gainey may look like “a pair of brown shoes with a tuxedo” (thank you George Gobel) but he has this in common with all these players: he also won on tour last season.
The weather in Hawaii looks like it will finally cooperate; now that’s an odd phrase, and the tour will finally get to complete its opening tournament, even if it is a day late. But that’s a power packed leaderboard and the last eighteen holes should be worth the wait.