G.O. time at Kapalua
For the first time in a long time, there is actual golf to talk about this week.
Not much golf, but golf nonetheless.
Defending champion Geoff Ogilvy will lead a field of 28 pros at the season-opening, 2009- winners-only SBS Championship at hilly Kapalua — once a pineapple plantation, now a par-73. Steve Stricker, who lost to Daniel Chopra here in sudden-death in 2008, is the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 3, but Ogilvy, 14th, will be the only past champion.
This year’s field will tie the 2006 record for the smallest ever at this event, thanks to the multitude of multiple tournament winners in 2009, including Brian Gay, Zach Johnson, Ogilvy, Kenny Perry, Stricker and Y.E. Yang.
Players champion Henrik Stenson opted not to play, as did Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, as usual. (Hawaiians Tadd Fujikawa and Parker McLachlin were scheduled to help the SBS fill out its pro-am Wednesday. What, no Barack Obama?)
Speaking of Phil, a member of Mickelson’s camp reports the lefthander has been hitting the gym in his Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., home, and looks fit to begin the season at San Diego’s still sponsorless event at Torrey Pines, Jan. 28-31.
Among the mini-dramas within the SBS will be whether seventh-ranked Paul Casey can actually go all four rounds. He hasn’t been able to do so in an official tournament since straining a rib muscle last July.
Nothing, of course, compares to the DEFCON 1 Tiger story, well into its second month. Woods remains in hiding, and tabloid “sightings” have been so all over the map as to recall Robert De Niro in the 1988 film Midnight Run: “Where am I? I’m in Boise, Idaho; no, no, no, wait a minute: I’m in Anchorage, Alaska. No, no, wait: I’m in Casper, Wyoming; I’m in the lobby of a Howard Johnson’s and I’m wearing a pink carnation.”
The absence of Woods has led to speculation not only about his whereabouts but also about something that was previously unthinkable: a changing of the guard at the top.
“I think it’s an interesting time, obviously,” Ogilvy said. “Number one in the world might be up for realistic grabs this year” depending on when/if Woods returns.
At the very least, Ogilvy has a clear path toward a repeat victory at Kapalua. Three-time champion Stuart Appleby went winless in 2009 and didn’t make it to Maui. Nor did Anthony Kim and Davis Love III, who finished T2 at Kapalua last year, six shots behind Ogilvy.
Love, an avid snowboarder, is enjoying the last of his family vacation in Sun Valley, Idaho, this week. He plans to make his 2010 debut at the next week’s Sony Open.
Kim is again trying to bounce back from a year in which he admittedly lost focus and struggled with injuries.
News and Notes
• This is the first week players will compete with V-grooved wedges as opposed to their preferred U-grooves, in compliance with a rules change that may be much ado about nothing but is sure to dominate the Golf Channel’s telecast whenever a player is shown chipping around the green.
• There are seven Kapalua newcomers this week, including Casey, Yang, Nathan Green, Martin Laird, Ryan Moore, Pat Perez and Bo Van Pelt.
• Although the SBS sponsorship announced last May runs through 2019, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said earlier this week that Kapalua is contractually set to host the event only through 2011. After that the SBS could find itself elsewhere.
• Danny Lee, 19, headlines the Africa Open, which will be without its defending champion Retief Goosen, who is in the field at Kapalua. This will be the Africa Open’s first year as an official event on the European Tour.
Others in the field include former Ryder Cup stars Thomas Bjorn, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley.
Lee, the Korean who moved to New Zealand at age 8, flamed out of Q-School last fall and has no status on the PGA Tour. But he has full privileges in Europe after winning the 2009 Johnny Walker Classic as an amateur, becoming the Euro circuit’s youngest ever winner.
• The Champions Tour’s season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship, Jan. 22-24, will feature “rookies” Fred Couples and 2010 U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin. The newly minted 50-year-olds were given sponsors exemptions and will make their Champions debuts at Hualalai, in Hawaii, the Tour announced Wednesday.
• The Nationwide Tour will begin its season in Panama, Feb. 5-8, and also will visit Australia, New Zealand (two tournaments) and Mexico in 2010.
• The LPGA will open in Thailand on Feb. 18, further highlighting golf’s global expansion. The sport won inclusion last fall into the 2016 Olympics.
Here is to our Hometown hero! Go Phil!
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