The 2013 golf season gets under way with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua Resort’s Plantation Course on Friday, the first tournament of the PGA Tour’s 40-event 2013 schedule. Here are Five Things to look for heading into the tournament:
1. Expect scoring to be tougher
The par at the Plantation is 73, and birdies are always plentiful. That’s not going to change. In two of the past three years, the Plantation Course has ranked easiest among PGA Tour venues.
In 2010, for instance, the average score was 3.116 strokes below par, which ranked No. 1; it was second easiest a year ago, at 2.556. Last January, Steve Stricker won with a score of 23-under 269.
But Mike Jones, general manager/director of golf operations at Kapalua, expects winds to be a bigger factor this week than the past couple of years, with winds projected to be 18-25 mph on tournament days. It could be tough for the winner to get to 20 under.
2. Who will have the finishing kick?
Stricker played the final five holes in a combined 15 under last year, which tied Vijay Singh (2004) for best performance over that stretch since 1999. A big key to Stricker’s victory a year ago was scrambling.
The greens on the Plantation Course are generously big and easy to hit, but when he missed greens, Stricker got up and down 76.92 percent of the time, which was more than 20 percentage points better than the field average. It doesn’t hurt to putt well, either. Stricker led the field in one-putts (31) and used only 114 putts for the week.
3. Prime-time players
Hyundai isn’t listed as one of the game’s four majors, but you wouldn’t know it judging by the resources NBC and Golf Channel will commit to the telecast this week. All the big talent will be here, including producer Tommy Roy, and, for the first time in 15 years, the event will make it to network television, as NBC’s Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller will lead Sunday third-round coverage leading into Golf Channel’s prime-time Sunday night telecast.
(The tournament will finish on Monday for the second consecutive year.)
In addition, Golf Channel will debut the “Landing Zone,” a graphic that will measure the yardage of tee shots similar to the “first-and-10” lines used during NFL broadcasts. The Plantation Course’s final hole — a downhill par 5 that measures 663 yards — frequently is the site of some of the longest drives on the PGA Tour. Since 2003, competitors have hit 92 drives on the hole that have exceeded 400 yards.
4. Back in his old digs
Jerry King, a renowned instructor who ran the Kapalua Resort Academy for years, overseeing the golf instruction program from 1995 to 2012, left earlier this year to work for TaylorMade, but he’ll be on site this week at Kapalua to fulfill his traditional duties as first-tee starter.
With only 30 names to announce, he has a far better schedule than the British Open’s venerable Ivor Robson.
But there will be a new twist on Friday for the opening round of the season: Players actually will do their own introductions, NFL style. As he stands on the tee, each player will be shown on a big video board giving his name, hometown and the 2012 tournament/tournaments he captured.
5. Odds and ends
• The past three champions at Kapalua (Geoff Ogilvy in 2010, Jonathan Byrd in 2011, Stricker in 2012) did not win an event the rest of that season. However, winning the season opener usually means a fruitful year. Only once in the past 20 years has the champion of this tournament failed to advance to the Tour Championship (Daniel Chopra, 2008).
• Nick Watney and Kyle Stanley have signed with Nike and will begin the 2013 season at Kapalua on Friday with 14 Nike clubs in the bag. Watney will play a Nike 20XI ball, and Stanley the Nike 20XI-X. Both players were announced as staff additions on Tuesday. Rory McIlroy is expected to be officially added to the Nike staff on Jan. 14, the Monday of Abu Dhabi week. Nike also has signed Korean Seung-yul Noh.
• Ryan Moore and John Huh, the 2012 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, have joined the TaylorMade staff and make their debuts this week in Hawaii. TaylorMade also has signed 2009 US Open champion Lucas Glover and 2009 British Open champion Stewart Cink.
• Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson have signed deals to wear Oakley apparel.
• Caddie Adam Hayes, not regular Paul Tesori, will be on the bag for US Open champion Webb Simpson this week. Tesori recently had shoulder surgery; Hayes regularly caddies for Jonathan Byrd, who won’t play until February after undergoing wrist surgery.
• Titleist staff players at this year’s Tournament of Champions will don ribbons on their caps to honor the memory of Jaime Ramos, a Titleist club maker who died suddenly Sunday in California. Ramos had a rich history in the golf industry, having also worked at Cobra years ago, where he made clubs for Greg Norman, Hale Irwin and Seve Ballesteros. Ramos, 58, joined the Titleist Tour Department in 1996 as a master iron builder, making irons for Titleist tour staffers across the worldwide professional tours for the past 16 years.