KAPALUA, Hawaii – On the first day of the new year, World No. 1 Jason Day spent nearly an hour on the practice range at the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort to get the kinks out of his game after a three-month layoff. Too bad he hit less than a dozen balls.
No, the sore back that prompted his competitive sabbatical wasn’t acting up. But the weather sure was. Day was among 10 or so players who attempted to get some early work in for this week’s SBS Tournament of Champions, but persistent rains hovered over the iconic course in the West Maui Mountains and turned the big ballpark into a water park.
Day still was all smiles, though, as he sported his new Nike golf attire. The back problems that forced him to withdraw from the final two events of the FedEx Cup Playoffs in September and shut down his 2016 season have subsided. He should be fresh, given that he had a club in his hands just twice since the Tour Championship.
“It was all good. I needed that time [off],” Day, 29, said while peering out from underneath an umbrella. “I got my mind refreshed as well. I was a bit stale.”
Winner of three events in 2016, including a wire-to-wire triumph in the Players, Day is one of 32 players in the $6.1 million tournament that resumes the PGA Tour’s wrap-around calender year after a brief slumber. Thirty-eight men qualified for this winners-only tournament, but six are taking a pass, all of international heritage: Adam Scott, Danny Willett, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel and FedEx Cup champion Rory McIlroy.
First-time qualifier William McGirt was among other players stymied by the weather for much of Sunday. But he was on a roll, of sorts. The winner of the Memorial Tournament stopped in Phoenix for four days before heading to Maui, and it rained each day, thwarting his practice plans. Since he arrived at Kapalua last Thursday he’s gotten in only nine holes.
He hardly looked glum, though, as he sat in front of his locker. He was outwardly enamored with his nameplate, which listed the event he captured to punch his ticket to paradise, soaked as it was. McGirt expressed a desire to take the plate with him at week’s end. And why not? It’s not like they don’t disappear anyways. Locker-room attendants reported that Jordan Spieth’s nameplate disappeared within 30 minutes of his wrapping up his eight-stroke victory last January.
There wasn’t much more to report during the mostly soggy day (skies finally cleared in the late afternoon), except that Bubba Watson had to use a fairway metal into the green at the long par-4 17th. This was news. He regularly hits 8-iron on the 549-yard hole. The wet turf and the Kona winds—which turn long holes like 1, 17 and 18 into half-marathons—were certain to make the Plantation Course rather cumbersome when play begins Thursday.
“They might have to get creative with course setup this week,” said Watson, the two-time Masters winner.
Creativity is usually a requirement at the quirky layout that Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore designed. Local knowledge helps, too. But the newbies here early hadn’t been able to perform much reconnaissance. Brian Stuard was one exception. He refused to let intermittent monsoons derail his appointed rounds. He wore a rainsuit and a smile.
“I couldn’t wait to get here,” he said. “I’ll dry out later.”