No rustin’ for Dustin
KAPALUA – Dustin Johnson is in position to uphold his unofficial title of king of the 54-hole tournament.
Johnson is atop the leaderboard after firing an 11-under-par 135 over the first two rounds of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Monday at the Kapalua Plantation Course.
Johnson has won the last two PGA Tour events cut to three rounds – The Barclays in 2011 and the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in 2009.
“Just happened to win those two events,” said Johnson, who carded a 7-under 66 in the second round, best so far at the season-opening event, the start of which was delayed three days because of strong winds. “You know, I’ve still got 18 more holes of golf. It wouldn’t matter if it was 72 holes or 54. Tomorrow is still the last round and there’s 18 holes to play, so got to get the job done.”
Defending champ Steve Stricker, who was limping around the course because of a left leg injury, was three strokes back at 8-under 138. Bubba Watson was third, another shot behind.
Stricker had a 67 in the second round, and Watson a 69.
“Nobody knows if it’s a muscle with pressure on the sciatic nerve or if there’s a problem with a disc,” Stricker said of his injury. “My back feels great. I don’t feel tight. Just every time I get over to my left side, I’m getting a shooting pain down my leg.”
The weather was rainy and blustery when play started at 7:10 a.m., but the sun soon came out and the wind was not as strong as in previous days. The course was still a challenge for the 30 players in the winners-only field, however.
“Today it was difficult because you had to really wait out these gusts,” said Keegan Bradley, who was tied for fourth at 140 after rounds of 71 and 69. “I got a couple gusts the last couple (holes) where you had no chance.”
PGA Tour officials believe this is the first time an event got under way on a Monday. Today’s final round is scheduled to start at 7:10 a.m.
When asked if anyone can catch Johnson, Watson said: “Yeah, for sure. Unless this wind gets crazy again, but the way he’s playing it, the way he’s striking it, the way he’s controlling his golf ball it’s pretty good right now, and I don’t see any different tomorrow for him.”
Johnson, Mark Wilson and Nick Watney were tied for the lead after the first round at 69.
“Played and putted pretty good; solid round of golf,” Johnson said after that round. “It was really tough out there, especially putting. I had three three-putts (Nos. 3, 5 and 7). It was really hard to get the speed down.”
In the second round, Johnson closed with a flourish – birdies on Nos. 14, 15 and 16, then a bogey before an eight-foot eagle putt on No. 18.
“Well, 18, I hit a good drive,” he said. “I just hit it a little too far right but it actually had a pretty good angle. I had 228 (yards to the) hole, hit 6-iron and I thought it was going to come up a little bit short but ended up fine, just perfect, and rolling down there pretty close to the hole and made it.”
Some players teed off on Friday and Sunday before play was wiped out, but Johnson hadn’t taken a competitive shot at Kapalua prior to Monday – though he did arrive in the islands before New Year’s and played six practice rounds on the course.
“I came out more just to practice for myself,” Johnson said. “I had new equipment, new driver, new irons, so (I) needed to play with those. I just needed to play because I had taken two weeks off.”
Stricker also eagled the 663-yard 18th hole in the second round, chipping in from 63 yards.
“I hit an OK drive and then I kind of fatted a utility club,” he said. “I just tried to feed it up there to the bank and get it somewhere close to the hole. A shot like that, a lot of luck is involved, too. You’re just trying to get it somewhere in the vicinity and it disappears and goes in the hole.”
If today’s 18 holes are completed, the tournament would be considered
a fully official event, meaning the winner would qualify for next year’s field. A two-round event is considered unofficial, though prize money and FedEx Cup points would count toward season totals.
* Kyle Sakamoto is at firstname.lastname@example.org