2014 Hyundai Tournament of Champions: Soft opener

KAPALUA – The Kapalua Plantation Course is a monstrous layout – the only par-73 on the PGA Tour – but rain piled upon rain and the 30-man field in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions brought it to its knees on Friday.

The group of tour winners from 2013 played the course in a collective 89 under par as the usually hard fairways turned into sponges from the weather over the last week, including more than an inch of rain Thursday night. Only two golfers finished over par.

Webb Simpson, Michael Thompson, Jordan Spieth and Chris Kirk shared the lead at 7-under 66. Ryan Moore, Kevin Streelman, Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson were tied for fifth, one shot back.

Kirk said the conditions did toughen up as the day progressed.

“The last probably hour or so that I was out there, the wind was even different than forecasted,” Kirk said. “It was forecast to be north going to northeast and actually went to northwest a little bit. So instead of being kind of off the right on 17 and 18, they were pretty much straight into the wind which I had never seen before.”

Kirk, who played in the tournament in 2012 and finished in a tie for seventh, birdied the final five holes Friday.

“Wasn’t comfortable on the 17th tee for some reason and kind of miss-hit a little block out to the right, got up in the wind pretty good and so I had 265 to the front edge, and about 290 or so, 285 or 290, I don’t remember, to the hole,” he said. “It was a little downhill and I just smashed a 3-wood.”

He made a 30-foot birdie before doing almost the same thing after his drive on the 663-yard par-5 18th.

“Hit another 3-wood, good 3-wood out there to the right and a little 9-iron in there to maybe six feet or so under the hole and managed to roll that one in to finish,” Kirk said.

“It was a good bit softer than this the beginning of the week. It was very soft. But then there was some wet spots out there a little bit due to the rain that came through this morning but it really wasn’t too bad. It played really nicely.”

Thompson was playing his first competitive round at Kapalua.

“Pretty soft, especially into the wind,” Thompson said. “For example, on 18, hit a perfect drive right down the middle and I actually backed it up three feet. From what I understand from guys that I’ve talked to is that that ball, at least, rolls 40 yards. So it’s playing obviously very different and just everybody has to play in it.”

Thompson also noticed daily changes in the wind.

“We had three different winds in the practice rounds,” he said. “We got the trade winds one day, we got the complete opposite, I guess the Kona winds is what you call it, and one day was like no wind.

“So today was just a little bit different, not quite the trade winds, but a little bit more of the north-northwest and so I’ve really been quite flexible with what to expect. I just know it’s going to be windy and when it’s windy you have to hit really solid golf shots. So that’s kind of what I planned for.”

Simpson, the U.S. Open champion in 2012, was paired with the 20-year-old Spieth.

“Yeah, it was fun playing with Jordan today,” said Simpson, 28. “We fed off each other nicely making birdies back and forth.”

Simpson played his final 10 holes in 6 under.

“It was really soft in the fairway,” he said. “Greens were pretty soft but they were running – they were still faster than yesterday. So, you know, still the downgrain putts were really fast. But the wind today was different.”

Spieth had the only bogey-free round among the leaders.

“It was kind of a start that I’m very happy, very happy with for 2014,” he said. “Big fairways, big greens. I had control over my long clubs and my speed putting. It’s a course that I shouldn’t make a lot of bogeys on if you keep the ball in play and just think your way around the course.

“Ultimately did a lot of hard work the last two or three weeks getting ready for today and now just happy to be in good position after the first round.”

Spieth made birdie on four of the final five holes.

“It got a little windier but then for the last five holes or so, it really died down and I kind of took advantage on those holes,” he said.

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com



Today * At Kapalua Plantation Course

7:30 a.m.-Jonas Blixt, Derek Ernst

7:40 a.m.-Billy Horschel, Jimmy Walker

7:50 a.m.-Russell Henley, D.A. Points

8:00 a.m.-Gary Woodland, Woody Austin

8:10 a.m.-Boo Weekley, Bill Haas

8:20 a.m.-Scott Brown, John Merrick

8:30 a.m.-Adam Scott, Martin Laird

8:40 a.m.-Brandt Snedeker, Dustin Johnson

8:50 a.m.-Patrick Reed, Harris English

9:00 a.m.-Ken Duke, Brian Gay

9:10 a.m.-Matt Kuchar, Sang-Moon Bae

9:20 a.m.-Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson

9:30 a.m.-Ryan Moore, Kevin Streelman

9:40 a.m.-Jordan Spieth, Webb Simpson

9:50 a.m.-Michael Thompson, Chris Kirk