Blog 86, 1/5/11 - Hyundai Tournament of Champions Preview, Shuksan Lottery Winner, Polar Bear Open

Dustin Johnson
Turnover of title sponsors may have been quite rapid over the last three years (Mercedes to Seoul Broadcasting System to Hyundai), the date of the tournament has been moved back over time from spring to January, and it has had three different homes in its 57-year history. But if nothing else ever happened to the season-opening event on the PGA Tour, no one would ever have any complaints. The tournament has been played at Kapalua on Maui since 1999 and, except for the Masters and hometown events, is surely that which the players look forward to most. Hawaii is always a very good place to play golf, especially in January with temperatures in the mid to high 70s, precious little rainfall, whales breaching in the Pacific nearby and, if you're a competitor at the Hyundai, the prospect of getting the year off to a satisfying start with a $1.12million payday and a return ticket for the following year.
The field this week comprises seven of the world's top 15 golfers and 19 of the top 40. The top-ranked player in the field is Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell who won last year's US Open and three other significant tournaments, and begins the week at number five in the world. No reason why he shouldn't win, of course; international players have won the last nine championships, after all. Plus, who better to control his ball in the trade winds than a man who grew up playing Royal Portrush?
But the Ulsterman has never been to Hawaii before, let alone Kapalua, so may take a day or two getting used to his surroundings and the Bermuda turf (there's no Bermuda in Portrush). And he plays his first event this week with his new Srixon clubs and balls (Callaway contract expired on December 31st). Club-fitting is such these days that tiny adjustments can be made to his irons should McDowell not perform well, but it's possible that, in six months' time, he still hasn't got used to the look of his new clubs and is pining for his old Callaways.
Also in Hawaii are last year's FedEx champion Jim Furyk; world number seven Steve Stricker; two-time defending champion Geoff Ogilvy who had a bit of an off-year in 2010 due, perhaps, to the birth of his third child in four years (the Aussie might be in doubt, however, after cutting his finger on a coral reef on Tuesday and needing 12 stitches); Stuart Appleby who won this tournament three years in a row from 2004, and shot 59 to win last year's Greenbrier Classic; and Ernie Els who won the South African Open the week before Christmas.
I'm not going for any of them, however. My pick for this week (if you hadn't guessed from the image at the top) is Dustin Johnson who belts it so far he'll eat up the Plantation Course's 7,441 yards with his driver and a few half-swing short irons. He finished T16 last year and 11th in 2009, and is 26-under par for his two appearances so far. With the confidence he surely built during an impressive 2010 season, and a layout that would seem to fit his particular brand of power golf, I'm predicting he'll be the first American winner of the Hyundai (or SBS or Mercedes) since Jim Furyk beat Rory Sabbatini by a shot in 2001.

Congratulations to Kirk Lyon who won a free year's golf at Shuksan when his name was pulled from the hat on New Year's Eve. Also, Scott McBeath is saying Lake Padden will be open soon, so the Polar Bear Open will be played on Saturday (8th). It's a 9am shotgun start.

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