By Alex Myers
Welcome to a New Year's edition of The Grind, where we almost enjoyed watching golfers over the holiday break as much as we enjoy watching them on the golf course. Among the highlights: Ian Poulter live-tweeted Christmas, Rory McIlroy got engaged, and Luke Donald attended an ugly Christmas sweater party. Speaking of those, why are we confined to Christmas for ugly sweater parties? Just a quick glance around the Golf Digest office confirms that plenty of people have everyday ugly sweaters as well. But enough about my boss . . . The big boys kicked off 2014 in Hawaii, where extra layers weren't necessary. We'll start there.
Zach Johnson: Only Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh have more PGA Tour wins in the past decade than Zach Johnson. Let that sink in. Johnson's win at Kapalua to kick off 2014 -- just a month after his magical holed wedge shot on his way to topping Tiger at his own tournament -- reaffirmed his status as one of the game's elite players. And his post-round TV interview reaffirmed how (rightly) confident he is in his game. When asked how he handled such a big course, Johnson said, "I picked it apart." Yes you did, Zach. Yes you did.
Zach Johnson. Professional BALLER.
Tournament Of Champions: Everything about the Hyundai-sponsored event was great, from the star-studded leader board to the Monday night finish to the creepy/goofy guy stalking the leaders after the round. Oh, and Hawaii looked pretty nice, especially for people in the Northeast who experienced sub-zero temperatures, a semi-blizzard, torrential rains and more sub-zero temperatures during the tournament's span.
Jordan Spieth: If he's going to have a sophomore slump, it's going to have to wait. Spieth's latest runner-up gives him four, along with a win, in his first 25 PGA Tour starts. It also keeps the 20-year-old well ahead of the pace of just about everyone in golf not named Tiger Woods.
Slow play: It's a new year, but it's still a problem. President Obama's pace on the course was recently criticized and then there was Johnny Miller calling out PGA Tour players. "Guys aren't exactly, pardon the pun, breezing around the course at the five-hour mark for twosomes," said Miller toward the end of the final round. We'll pardon you, Johnny, but not the players holding things up, especially with guys like Auburn fanatic Jason Dufner freaking out about potentially missing the kickoff of the BCS National Championship Game.
Derek Ernst: Even with a three-under-par 70 in the final round, Ernst was the lone man over par at Kapalua, finishing nine shots behind anyone. More and more, it's looking like Ernst's win last year at the Wells Fargo Championship -- where he was the fourth alternate and the 1,207th ranked player in the world -- ranks among the biggest upsets in recent memory.
GWAA POY fuss: Adam Scott narrowly edged Tiger Woods for the honor, re-opening the POY debate and bringing charges of writers playing favorites into the discussion. For the record, this writer voted for Woods, but I don't think Scott winning is as much of an outrage as many do. That being said, Adam, you could only manage a T-6 this week? In a 30-man field? C'mon, you're better than that!
Jack Nicklaus' grandson: You'd have to not follow golf or college football to be unaware that Jack's grandson, Nick O'Leary, was a star tight end for Florida State. But even if you knew that, you may have forgotten during the BCS National Championship Game, which the Seminoles won 34-31 despite O'Leary not catching a single pass. Maybe it's time to take grandpa up on those golf lessons.
The PGA Tour stays in Hawaii for the Sony Open, aka that other event they play in Hawaii. Only 18 of the 30 who played at Kapalua will tee it up at Waialae CC, but don't worry, ladies, Adam Scott will be one of them.
Random tournament fact: Russell Henley's 256 aggregate score last year was the lowest in event history. The University of Georgia product seemed like a lock to win Rookie of the Year. Then Jordan Spieth happened.
THIS WEEK IN DUSTIN JOHNSON-PAULINA GRETZKY PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF AFFECTION
Golf Channel's Jason Sobel also reported that the two will get married sometime in the fall, though a date isn't set. Just a reminder, I took on the difficult task of compiling highlights of Paulina and DJ's magical 2013 together. Anything for our readers. And then there were these solo pics posted by Paulina:
We get it, Paulina. Hawaii has great weather this time of year. No need to rub it in.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK (NON-PAULINA/NATALIE CATEGORY)
Rory McIlroy bumped into Will Smith on a golf course in Dubai and tweeted this pic, along with the caption: "Met the fresh prince aka Will Smith today at the golf course. Great guy and a good golf swing!" And how about that outfit? Smith looks more like a tour pro than McIlroy in that photo. Wait a minute, was McIlroy even alive when "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" was on TV? Speaking of that legendary show, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the sad passing of James Avery, aka "Uncle Phil," last week. Every kid growing up in the 1990s learned life lessons from that guy.
RANDOM PROP BETS OF THE WEEK
-- Derek Ernst will win a PGA Tour event this year: 1,207-to-1 odds
-- Zach Johnson will win another PGA Tour event this year: Even odds
-- Zach Johnson will continue to "pick apart" courses: LOCK
VIRAL VIDEO OF THE WEEK
Nothing really stood out, but that's OK. Instead, we present our special top-25 countdown of the best viral videos from 2013. Enjoy!
THIS AND THAT
Phil Mickelson went to Ohio instead of Hawaii to watch his beloved San Diego Chargers defeat the Cincinnati Bengals in the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs. Now that's a devoted fan. . . . Justine Reed isn't caddying for her husband, Patrick, while she's pregnant. Good for her. . . . Speaking of significant others, sad news from the world of skiing as Tiger's girlfriend, Lindsey Vonn, announced she won't compete in the upcoming Winter Olympics. Someone at NBC must be really busy changing all those promos.
RANDOM QUESTIONS TO PONDER
Is Tiger's majorless drought actually a contagious curse?
Is Jordan Spieth really only 20?
How much is a ticket to Hawaii?