Rough start, solid ending

KAPALUA – The Kapalua Plantation Course is a giant in the golf universe – routinely bringing the best golfers on the planet to their knees – but in the 2013 Hyundai Tournament of Champions, it was the 7,452-yard layout’s turn to be humbled.

Mother Nature turned the Plantation Course into the Plantation curse – for three days high winds made for unplayable conditions.

Monday, the 20-year-old Plantation Course recovered nicely, starting a 29-hour race to a Tuesday finish after 54 holes that left champion Dustin Johnson with a 2013 Hyundai Equus and $1.14 million in his bank account.

Steve Stricker, the 2012 winner who finished second this week, said the golfers understood the three-day wind-out was an anomaly.

“Everybody took it great,” Stricker said. “And the rules officials did a great job working with us and trying to get everybody out there and around. I thought (Monday) was a great setup that they did (for 36 holes). They shortened the course, they gave us rides on some holes. I thought they did a great job so we could get around.”

Stricker was thankful to see the event result in an official finish, especially in the last year that the event will open the PGA Tour season.

“Very happy it’s an official event, D.J. got a win, and we got the season going,” Stricker said.

Stricker said the Monday-Tuesday finish, with the start of the first full-field event looming today for the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club, showed precisely what the Ben Crenshaw-Bill Coore-designed Plantation is all about.

“Oh, yeah,” Stricker said. “I mean, I don’t think this will put a damper on Maui or the Hyundai Tournament of Champions or anything. I thought everything went as well as could be expected given the circumstances with the weather.

“Guys will be itching to get back here. I’m going to work hard to try to get back here again. It’s a special place to start the year.”

Hyundai tournament chairwoman Nancy Cross has been involved in organizing PGA Tour-type events at Kapalua since 1982 when the Lincoln-Mercury International began and had never seen weather – winds gusted to 48 mph, blowing balls from their resting points on greens – like what plagued the course Friday through Sunday.

“The course took a, I wouldn’t call it a beating, but definitely faced some adverse conditions, but in the final two rounds, it played very well and was in great condition,” Cross said. “Steve Stricker came by to say goodbye and thank you for everything and for sure Dustin’s comments when he got the trophy reiterated that. Ian Poulter just said, ‘Hey, it was a tough week for everybody.’

“I think they all realized we were trying our best and they got to see, for those who hadn’t been here before, the real beauty of Kapalua and the Plantation Course. . . . Tuesday is what Kapalua is pretty much all of the time.”

Cross said she will take a couple of days off before going to work on renewing the contract with Hyundai, the tour, and Kapalua. Hyundai’s original three-year deal expired after Tuesday’s final round.

Hyundai officials would not comment on the pending negotiations during the tournament.

“We hope to hear from them in the next month or so,” Cross said. “I’m always hopeful. I know the team that is here, I’m confident in the team that’s here to run an event. We do it very well. The PGA Tour staff and the Troon Golf staff, I think we’ve done a really good job for several years and the hospitality that is shown here – hopefully that will keep the event here.”

Mark Rolfing, a Kapalua resident and an analyst for NBC and The Golf Channel, believes the winners-only tournament will set its tentative dates for next year, Jan. 3-6 at the Plantation Course.

“If you saw the telecast, Johnny Miller ended by saying ‘It’s a really fair course,’ ” said Rolfing, also a former organizer of this event and tournament chairman of the International for its run from 1982-97. “You take a look at the field and you take a look at who finished in the top five, it was effectively the five best players, or five of the best players.

“To me that’s the greatest testament you can ever have for a course – when the best players finish at the top and that is what happened. So, I think it was evidently fair, I think it did take a hit, but I certainly think it recovered.”

Over the last two years, a total of 10 top-10-ranked players have skipped the event, including the top four – Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Tiger Woods and Justin Rose – in the Official World Golf Rankings this year.

“It shows that not every tournament is going to get all the best players,” Rolfing said. “When you have got a venue where the best players play the best, to me, you’ve got a good product.”

* Robert Collias is at