Cumberland Times-News

Local Sports

January 6, 2013

PGA Tour opener delayed again by wind

KAPALUA, Hawaii — On the third attempt at starting the PGA Tour season, Matt Kuchar stepped to the 10th tee at Kapalua and could barely hear his name through the wind. When he finally steadied himself, a gust blew his golf ball off the tee. And then it happened again.

"We had a powwow and took us five or six minutes to laugh it off and say, 'We're really going to go through with this?'" Kuchar said. "Made the best of it."

But not for long.

Just more than one hour after the Tournament of Champions finally got under way, it was scrapped again with all the scores erased.

Most golf tournaments end on Sunday. This one couldn't even get started Sunday.

The wind came roaring down the Plantation Course at Kapalua again, and it left officials no choice but to stop play and try to start again. With more manageable wind in the forecast, the plan was to play 36 holes Monday and finish with 18 holes Tuesday.

That was good news for Ben Curtis. He had birdie putts on the first two holes and was 5-over par.

"It's crazy. That's the only way to describe it," Curtis said. "I've never hit two greens in regulation at the start and walked away at 5 over. But hey. At least we had to try."

And they will try again.

Rickie Fowler will hit the opening tee shot of the 2013 season on Monday — for the third time this week.

For those wondering why this tournament keeps getting postponed, an hour of television Sunday was all the evidence they needed.

Ian Poulter posed over his 4-iron shot to the 13th green and was so stunned to see it come up short that he looked at his small gallery for the longest time, repeating loud enough for them to hear that he was only 138 yards from the front of the green. Off to his right, Charlie Beljan had a search party stomping through high grass to the right of the 10th fairway looking for both his tee shots. He had a 15-foot putt for triple bogey when play was stopped.

Moments later, a call came over the radio for a ruling on the 12th green. Scott Stallings was trying to tap in a 2-foot putt when a gust blew his ball 8 feet away.

"We need to try to put the show on," Poulter said. "Hyundai spent a lot of money. We want to play. Fans want to see us play. TV wants to see us play. We're backed into a corner. I don't think they understand how windy it really is. Now they've seen it."

It was comical from the start, with Kuchar having to tee it up three times before he could hit, and removing his cap the rest of the way. Jonas Blixt had a 1-foot par putt on the 10th hole and took about two minutes. He had to wait as a cup and someone's hat blew across the green.

Blixt has played 10 holes over two days in these conditions in 1-under par. None of it counts, but the Swede learned one thing.

"There's no instruction book for this," Blixt said. "You just go by instincts."

The Tournament of Champions was supposed to finish on Monday, the day it now hopes to start. The tour insists on a 54-hole tournament, no matter how complicated that will be with the next tournament, the Sony Open, starting on Thursday in Honolulu.

Andy Pazder, the tour's chief of operations, said television and operational equipment can only be transported to Oahu on a barge that takes 16 hours on a good day. The plan was to televise the final round at Kapalua, and go with a limited TV production for the opening round of the Sony Open.

Defending champion Steve Stricker lounged on a sofa in the dining room watching the NFL playoffs with Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker. Along with Bubba Watson, they have yet to tee off all week. Fowler made it through eight holes Friday and five holes Sunday.

But what a wild hour of golf that turned out to be.

"It seems like the first day was a cake walk compared to today," Webb Simpson said. "But you know, they're trying to get us to play some golf. Matt and I were hanging in there, and it was fun. But you don't want to see stupid things happen. I think that was what they were starting to see."

Carl Pettersson began his round by hitting his tee shot into the native grass for a lost ball and a triple bogey. Kyle Stanley had 88 yards to the 10th green and went with a punch 9-iron that sailed over the green. Curtis felt hopeless from the start.

After a four-putt double bogey, he hit the green on the par-3 11th.

"We're walking halfway down and my caddie said, 'Hey, your ball is moving.' And it rolled about another 5 feet," Curtis said.

Before he had a chance to putt, a gust blew the ball to the left some more and went down a slope. He chipped up to about 15 feet and four-putted again.

Poulter had to back off six times on a 10-foot birdie putt at the 11th hole. Two holes later, he had hit a beauty of a 4-iron, starting out to the right as the wind brought back toward the flag — and it landed short.

"That's not golf," Poulter said. "I don't know what that is. You saw it. You can't pull a trigger. You're taking 20 practice swings because you can't stand up. I guess what we've done is shown everyone it's unplayable. In some respect, at least we hit a couple of shots. Three days of sitting in the hotel is not good. At least I've warmed up for something. I'm just not sure what I've warmed up for."

Beljan is one of the biggest hitters in golf who never hits a hook, unless the wind blows him off the ball as he says it did on the 10th hole. At least he found his second shot. After the five-minute search ended, a woman found his original tee shot. When she went to show him, she couldn't find it — that's how deep the grass was. Beljan played his provisional, took a whack and whiffed. He hammered at it again and moved it back to the fairway, then hit 8-iron from 102 yards.

"I hit it 170, 175 on a normal day," Beljan said.

This was not a normal day. And when they headed back to the hotel on a gorgeous day in Maui, it wasn't even an official round. So they will try again on Monday. When asked the possibility of 36 holes on Tuesday if the wind doesn't cooperate, Pazder paused and said, "Can we save that question for tomorrow?"

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