Comeback at Kapalua

Who needs Tiger and Phil?

The Hyundai Tournament of Champions suffered in recent years when the two top draws in golf and other stars stopped going to the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

It also hurt a bit when the winners-only tournament lost its spot as the season opener in 2013-14, with the PGA Tour going to a wraparound schedule that starts in October.

Also, the golf season has grown so long that some players stay at home for extra time off with their families after Christmas because those who play into December get only a few weeks off.

However, things are turning around for the TOC, and this week top-ranked Jordan Spieth and No. 2 Jason Day of Australia will lead a field at Kapalua that includes six of the top 10 players in the World Golf Rankings.

None of them are named Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson.

“We do hope this is the beginning of a turnaround,” tournament director Nancy Cross told The Sports Xchange. “We have 32 players committed, and we’re really excited. It’s a really fantastic field.

“There’s a new wave of great players, the young millennials like Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler. Maybe we have had a little lull, but now we have these new stars coming, along with some veterans who have been regulars — plus some new guys who won for the first time last year.”

In addition to Spieth, Day and No. 6 Fowler, others from the world top 10 in the field are No. 4 Bubba Watson, No. 8 Dustin Johnson and No. 10 Patrick Reed, the defending champion.

No. 3 Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, No. 5 Henrik Stenson of Sweden, No. 7 Justin Rose and No. 9 Jim Furyk are not in the TOC.

Spieth won the Masters and the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay last year, while Zach Johnson took the Open Championship at St. Andrews and Day captured the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, so the Hyundai has the winners of all four majors for the first time since 2010.

“Between Jason, Rory, Rickie, Bubba, you name it, golf’s in a great place,” said Spieth, who finished second, one stroke behind Zach Johnson, in his only appearance at Kapalua in 2014. “Guys are playing better than ever it seems like, at least for me over the last couple years. …

“You know, everyone is pushing each other a little bit, and when that No. 1 ranking slips away, it leaves you a little — it leaves some unrest in you and you really want to get back at it. I think it’s going to be really good for us and for golf.”

Spieth also gives the tournament the No. 1 player in the world for the first time since Vijay Singh participated in 2005.

Others who make this the strongest field at Kapalua in years include Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, Jimmy Walker, J.B. Holmes, Bill Haas, Padraig Harrington of Ireland, Steven Bowditch of Australia and Brandt Snedeker.

And then there are the first-time PGA Tour champions, including Justin Thomas (CIMB Classic); Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo ( Open); Brooks Koepka (Waste Management Phoenix Open); New Zealand’s Danny Lee (Greenbrier Classic); Peter Malnati (Sanderson Farms Championship); Kevin Kisner (RSM Classic); James Hahn (Northern Trust Open); Smylie Kaufman (Shriners Hospitals for Children Open); Germany’s Alex Cejka (Puerto Rico Open); Troy Merritt (Quicken Loans National), and Mexico’s Fabian Gomez (FedEx St. Jude Classic).

“Honestly, I’m extremely excited about going to Maui,” Thomas said after his victory in Malaysia in November. “I think that’s going to be awesome. Being a small field and the few guys that are there, I think that’s really going to be a lot of fun, and I’ve heard a lot of great things about it.”

Woods, who has won the tournament twice, last played it in 2005, while Mickelson, who also was a two-time champion when the tournament was played at La Costa near his childhood home in San Diego, stopped going in 2001.

Of course, they are not even eligible for the second consecutive year, because neither has won on the PGA Tour since 2013.

This time, they might not even be missed.

–Story courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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