PGA opener brings focus back on course
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
KAPALUA, Maui — When Martin Laird and Michael Bradley open the PGA Tour season this morning in the SBS Championship at Kapalua's Plantation Course, the golf world might breathe a sigh of relief.
The offseason has been like no other, overwhelmed by stories from one end of the compelling spectrum to the other:
• Tiger Woods fell from grace with a shocking thud;
• Discussions of "grooves" put most to sleep, but kept the pros awake;
• After years of discussion, Hawai'i's most prominent golf tournaments — SBS and the Sony Open in Hawai'i — are apparently here through 2011. Then, who knows? If anyone does, they sure aren't talking despite all that discussion.
SBS bought the title rights to this event for the next 10 years, but only the next two are confirmed at Kapalua, which has hosted the tour's season-opening event since 1999.
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said Tuesday the tour "is comfortable here. We like being here and I don't see any reason why we are not going to be here hopefully."
He went on to say "Everybody involved wants the tournament to be here" and that it was likely a commercial title sponsor would join SBS in the future. If and when that happens, there would be more discussion about changing the entry requirements for the winners-only event to open it up to a wider field.
Finchem also confirmed that Sony picked up its one-year option to have the tournament at Waialae Country Club through 2011, with talks this year for a "longer term relationship as part of our broader strategic partnership with Sony."
For the golfers, the dominant topics of discussion are the USGA's new "Condition of Competition," which went into effect Friday and restricts the sharpness of grooves, and Woods' self-imposed sabbatical from the game after marital "transgressions."
The players appear as shocked about Woods — who won here in 2000 but hasn't been to Maui since 2005 — as everyone else. Punahou graduate Parker McLachlin said his first reaction was disappointment that Woods' reality was so far removed from his billion-dollar image. Then he felt sadness for Woods' wife and children. He was hardly alone.
Golfers here don't seem to have had a clue about Woods' private life, however that would be defined at this point. And they were not prepared for the story to take on a life of its own in traditional and non-traditional media.
"Two things are surprising," said defending champion Geoff Ogilvy. "One, the whole story is surprising. I don't think anybody imagined.
"But the thing that is blowing me away the most is the media coverage. The New York Post's front page had Tiger more days in a row than Sept. 11. That's a little disturbing, don't you think?"
Ogilvy also saw the irony in golf finally getting the coverage it coveted in nontraditional media such as TMZ and "Saturday Night Live."
"Golf has always tried to get (it)," he said, "but they just got it the wrong way."
The topic of grooves is not nearly as sexy, but could also impact players' finances dramatically. The new regulations, which only affect tour players for the time being, "control the cross-sectional area of grooves on all clubs, with the exception of drivers and putters, and limit groove edge sharpness on clubs with lofts equal to or greater than 25 degrees" (a standard 5-iron and above).
In hacker's English, the changes are designed to reduce spin on shots played from the rough by good golfers and ideally increase the importance of driving accuracy.
The effect on most golfers should be minimal. They rarely hit greens from the rough anyway, don't usually use golf balls designed for excessive spin and won't need conforming clubs until at least 2024. The USGA is recommending the regulations apply only to competitions "involving the highest level of expert player" until 2014, when it might be "adopted more widely" at other high levels.
TODAY'S FIRST ROUND
8:50 a.m.—Martin Laird; Michael Bradley. 9:00 a.m.—Troy Matteson; Nathan Green. 9:10 a.m.—Paul Casey; Stephen Ames. 9:20 a.m.—Ryan Moore; Bo Van Pelt. 9:30 a.m.—John Rollins; Pat Perez. 9:40 a.m.—Rory Sabbatini; Matt Kuchar. 9:50 a.m.—Stewart Cink; Mark Wilson. 10:00 a.m.—Y.E. Yang; Angel Cabrera. 10:10 a.m.—Brian Gay; Jerry Kelly. 10:20 a.m.—Lucas Glover; Retief Goosen. 10:30 a.m.—Nick Watney; Dustin Johnson. 10:40 a.m.—Heath Slocum; Kenny Perry. 10:50 a.m.—Sean O'Hair; Zach Johnson. 11:00 a.m.—Geoff Ogilvy; Steve Stricker.
Today's first round starts about 90 minutes earlier than usual (8:50 a.m.) so it can end before college football's national championship.
Foreign-born players have won at Kapalua the last eight years — Australian Geoff Ogilvy, Daniel Chopra, born to a Swedish mother and Indian father (2007), Fijian Vijay Singh (2007), Australian Stuart Appleby (2004, '05, '06), South African Ernie Els (2003) and Spaniard Sergio Garcia (2002). Nine international players are in this week's field of 28, including 2009 major champions Y.E. Yang (South Korea) and Angel Cabrera (Argentina).