KAPALUA – It’s time to play. A year after the worst weather the PGA Tour has had in 16 events at the Kapalua Plantation Course, a 30-man field of winners from 2013 is ready to roll today in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. “All the guys that play out here won an event and if you won an event you get to come to Maui for a week and compete,” PGA champion Jason Dufner said Thursday. “Great way to start 2014 for me.”
The event is, for the first time, not the season opener, and is instead the seventh stop on the 2013-14 schedule – but first since the HSBC Champions ended on Nov. 3.”Haven’t played much of the wraparound schedule,” Dufner said. “So, looking forward to playing here and (the) Sony (Open on Oahu) next week and kind of getting my season started.”
With a Friday start on Maui, Dufner will not be able to attend Monday’s Bowl Championship Series title game between Auburn, his alma mater, and Florida State. “I think we’ll finish in time to watch some of it,” Dufner said. “So just head back to the hotel room and watch the game. Defending champion Dustin Johnson did not play in Thursday’s pro-am because of what he called a “tweaked” neck. “Just slept on it weird and then tweaked it,” Johnson said.
“I went and got some strong anti-inflammatory and it definitely helped. It was a little better this morning, but this afternoon, it’s gotten a lot better.” At 20 years old, Jordan Spieth is the youngest player ever in the Kapalua field – his John Deere Classic victory made him the youngest winner on the PGA Tour since 1931.
“I didn’t see it at this time last year,” Spieth said. “I was just hoping to make a start next week actually, as kind of a debut for 2014. All in all, extremely excited to be here.”It was one year ago when Spieth decided to turn professional, after just a year and a half at the University of Texas.
“This is my first time to Maui, just a beautiful place, one of the coolest places I’ve ever been,” said Spieth, one of 13 first-time winners in the field. “I’ve had an awesome time the last few days on the golf course and off the course. It’s been top-notch. There’s a reason everybody wants to be here, not just because you won, but because of the way everybody’s treated and the views.” Spieth went through orientation for new tour members this week. “There definitely was still some things that I had questions about, regarding FedEx Cup, regarding whatever – all kinds of stuff,” he said. “There’s still quite a bit of that (which) I don’t understand, that I’m not worried about right now, like the pension program and all that.”
Adam Scott, the reigning Masters champion, is at the Plantation Course for the first time since 2011, and sixth overall. His was the runner-up in 2007. Scott is ranked second in the world and is one of three players in the field in the top 10, along with No. 7 Matt Kuchar and No. 9 Zach Johnson. Top-ranked Tiger Woods is one of five eligible players to skip the event, along with Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, Graeme McDowell and Justin Rose. “Obviously, it’s always good to qualify for this event and a couple times I have qualified and decided not to come and I’ve ended up regretting it because I like coming here so much,” Scott said. “It was nice that I got in here this year and I definitely made room for it in the schedule. I like both this event and the one next week, but certainly I think (to) come and play with only the champions in the field is an honor.” Scott was named Male Player of the Year by the Golf Writers Association of America, which took into consideration his two PGA Tour victories as well as a recent stretch in Australia during which he won the Australian Masters and Australian PGA, teamed with Jason Day to win the World Cup of Golf and was second in the Australian Open. “Well, it was all a lot of fun, because everyone kind of praised me wherever I went with the green jacket, and then I played good on top of that, so I had a good month,” he said. Scott said the weather this week has been good. “I’ve been here since Sunday and we’ve had nice days to practice every day,” he said. “However, the course is a lot softer than I remember it. And maybe we had no rain that year. But just the fairways are quite soft. “There’s not a lot of roll and the greens are very soft. It’s an interesting kind of soft, but they are holding the golf ball very well. So if the wind gets up, that’s going to help us a little bit. But it’s not quite as fiery as what I’d like to see it.”
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January 3, 2014; By ROBERT COLLIAS – Staff Writer- Maui News