Published November 20, 2014
Another PGA Tour season got under way at Kapalua with chatter about who and what was missing at the Tournament of Champions, only this time it didn't involve Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson.
Significant this year was the absence of Geoff Ogivly, the first defending champion in 50 years to not play in this winners-only event. A freak accident in the ocean, where he sliced his right finger on coral reef, left him with 12 stitches and unable to swing a club.
Strange was the missing putter of Stuart Appleby. It wasn't in his bag when he arrived Thursday morning, and after trying to figure out who left it where, he dispatched his caddie to find a replacement. For such a key club, the Australian handled it with surprising peace.
"You can kick and scream, but there's no way that's going to help you get to the first tee," he said.
Jim Furyk was left without a playing partner when Ogilvy withdrew. Instead of going it alone, he summoned Plantation Course head pro Scott Carroll to be his marker, and Carroll received the loudest ovation on the first tee.
The biggest absence, though, was the wind.
After a week of blustery conditions and warm sunshine, opening day featured a light rain that gave way to clouds and barely enough breeze to make the flags ripple.
That was just fine with the 33-man field, particularly the co-leaders, Jonathan Byrd and Carl Pettersson.
"It's quite an adjustment going out there with no wind," Byrd said.
Byrd lit up the front nine with a 31 to build an early lead, and if that wasn't enough, he holed out from the 10th fairway for eagle. It slowed from there, but not until he had a 7-under 66.
"I was a little nervous starting the year," Byrd said. "You never really know what to expect."
He felt good enough after his round that he agreed to become the first player to wear a microphone for the Golf Channel telecast. The network has been approved to do that all year, as long as the players go along with it.
Petterson, coming off a two-month break in which he played golf just about every day to tune his swing, twice ran off three straight birdies. He finished with one more and joined Byrd atop the leaderboard.
"The game felt good in practice, but you never know how it's going to be in the tournament," he said. "And it seems to be good so far."
Ben Crane was a stroke behind the leaders. He played bogey-free in the calm, overcast conditions with the sun trying to break through the clouds but never quite succeeding.
Furyk, one of only three players to have won at Kapalua still in the field, also got off to a quick start before he stalled and had to settle for 68, leaving him tied with Bill Haas and Charley Hoffman.
Appleby did well enough with his new putter to shoot a 69. He was tied with Anthony Kim, determined to plot his way through each round at each tournament, and doing a pretty good job of it except for the par-3 eighth. He chose a 4-iron, then changed his shot at the top of his swing and pulled it into the high weeds to take a double bogey.
"All of a sudden, I decided to try to make birdie — from 215 yards away," Kim said. "Mental error. I committed to every shot I hit today except for that one."
Bubba Watson hit the longest tee shot on the 18th during a long drive competition Wednesday, and his driver again was the key club on the finishing hole Thursday — only this one was a driver off the fairway, setting up a 10-foot eagle putt for a 70.
The conditions were so serene that a dozen players shot in the 60s, and only two players failed to break par. One of them was Rocco Mediate, who made the turn in 41 and shot 79. The other was Justin Rose at 75.
Ernie Els, who set the tournament record in 2003 with a 31-under 261, opened with back-to-back bogeys and rallied to get back into the game until a three-putt bogey on the final hole for a 72.
Pettersson qualified by winning the Canadian Open, but he wasn't satisfied with the way his year ended. Instead of shutting it down when he returned from the HSBC Champions in China, he went to work. Pettersson spent the last two months playing golf just about every day, whether that meant practicing for one hour or five hours, playing with buddies in North Carolina or taking golf trips to Florida.
"Probably worked harder on my game this offseason than I've done any other offseason," he said.
The course can play a little longer without wind. Pettersson usually hits a 6-iron into the 554-yard 17th hole, which is downhill with the trade wind typically helping. He had to hammer a hybrid Thursday, an example of how different Kapalua felt.
Even so, not many were begging for the wind to return.
"I've been here since Sunday, and every day it has blown a little bit different direction, which messes with you a little bit," Haas said. "But I'm happy. I hope it stays like this all week."