The calendar says January but the PGA TOUR is already part way through their 2014-2015 schedule.
Even so, for many the Hyundai Tournament of Champions is the start of the golf calendar and it takes place this coming week over The Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort on Maui. Technically it is the 8th official event of the 2014-2015 season and brings the PGA TOUR back after a seven week break.
Among the field of 34 pros who committed to Hawaii this week will be defending champion Zach Johnson.
In 2014 Johnson closed with a 7 under par, 66, to come from two strokes behind. Five players had a chance to win as the final nine was being played on the Coore/Crenshaw design but Johnson reeled off four birdies in a five hole stretch to push ahead.
Ultimately he snuck past Jordan Speith by just a stroke to grab the $1.14 million first prize.
In eight appearances it was just his second top ten finish – indicative of how hard a test the nearly 7,500 yard course can be for a length-inhibited player like Johnson.
The winners’ cheque from the $5.7 million purse will be the same this year with 500 FedEx Cup points going to the winner.
The field is as strong as ever with the 34 players accounting for 100 official PGA TOUR victories. Zach Johnson has eleven of those on his own.
Three players in the field this week had multiple wins in 2013/2014 including Bubba Watson, Billy Horschel, and Patrick Reed.
The hilly course at Kapalua causes fits for many players, especially when it comes with club selection and dealing with the winds so don’t expect a lot from those making their first appearances. There are a dozen of those players including Canadian Nick Taylor, Steven Bowditch, Matt Every, Chesson Hadley (2013-14 PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year), Brian Harman, Matt Jones, Ben Martin, Hideki Matsuyama, Seung-Yul Noh, Kevin Stadler, Robert Streb, and Brendon Todd.
Our player to watch – Keep an eye on Billy Horschel who made his first stop at Kapalua last year and finished in 6th place. It was just a taste of his year to come when he finished with a flurry. He earned his way back to the Hyundai TOC with a victory at the BMW Championship followed by a win at the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola, on his way to winning the FedEX Cup title.