Maui Sports

Dustin Johnson in Driver’s Seat After 36 holes at TOC

January 7, 2013, 8:54 PM HST
* Updated January 8, 10:07 AM
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Dustin Johnson lines up a putt on the 18th hole green during the replay of the first round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at the Plantation Course on Monday in Kapalua. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images.

By Rodney S. Yap

For three days Dustin Johnson didn’t swing a club. Like a passenger, he watched the weather and waited as the idle Hyundai Tournament of Champions finally got a green light in Kapalua.

Johnson wasted little time Monday morning, moving from the backseat to driver by the end of round one, tied with two others at 4-under 69. On his second lap around the Plantation Course in the afternoon, Johnson demonstrated the skills that ranked him No. 4 in driving distance on the PGA Tour, en route to a 7-under 66.

Johnson kick-started the weather-delayed PGA Tour’s 2013 season-opener with 11 under in 36 holes to grab a three-shot lead over defending champion Steve Stricker heading into Tuesday’s final 18 holes.

“A crazy past few days and I feel like I’m in cruise control,” Johnson tweeted afterwards. “Gotta stay in the driver seat!”

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With 18 holes left to play Tuesday, Johnson may have history on his side. Of Johnson’s six PGA Tour wins, two of them have come at 54-hole events — 2011 Barclays and 2009 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

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“I think it’s mostly coincidence,” Johnson said of his sprint wins versus 72-hole marathons. “I think it just happens to be that way. This is still like a 72-hole event, there are still 18 holes to play and there are a lot of great guys right behind me so I’m going to have to play really good golf tomorrow, too.”

The Plantation’s wide fairways, huge greens and hilly elevations seemed to be made for Johnson’s power and creativity.

“It’s a lot of fun, but you have to be able to hit all types of shots, low, high, you have to cut it sometimes, everything. It’s a golf course that is definitely set up well for me. I hit driver on every hole. Probably shouldn’t have hit driver on 17, but I usually hit driver on every hole. But it’s also about the second shot, there are big greens but you got to get it close to the hole… Today there was a lot of wind and we were just trying to get into the fairways.”

Dustin Johnson tees off under a rainbow Monday as the Hyundai Tournament of Champions finally got going. Photo by Christian Petersen, Getty Images.

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On 17, Johnson said his caddie Bobby Brown wanted him to hit 3-wood with the wind at his back, but he decided on his new Taylor Made R1 driver instead. He bombed it so well that it ran through the fairway and into a hazard.

“I wanted to spot it down there and I hit it a little too solid,” said the 6-foot, 4-inch native of Myrtle Beach, SC, whose 32 on the back nine was highlighted with six birdies before making his only bogey on the par-4 17th.

At that point, Johnson dropped to 9 under. But he rebounded on the next hole, hitting his second shot – a 6-iron from 228 yards – to 5 feet to set up his eagle putt at the 663-yard, par-5 18th.

“I felt like I needed to practice that’s why I came out here early to practice and get my game going. I’ve got new irons, new driver, and it has been working out pretty well. I am pleased with my new equipment and I feel pretty good about the way I’ve played so far.”

About his clubs, Johnson tweeted: “Love what @TaylorMadeGolf has done with the R1 driver and the RocketBladez Tour irons!!! LONG but accurate!”

“The way he’s playing, the way he’s striking it, the way he’s controlling his golf ball, it’s pretty good right now,” said Bubba Watson, who partnered with Johnson. “And I don’t see any different tomorrow from him.”

Severe winds made for unplayable conditions at the Plantation Course for three days, forcing PGA Tour officials to shorten the event to 54 holes in what is believed to be the first-ever Monday start for a Tour event.

“We had not played any golf at all, so I was ready to go,” said Johnson, regarded as the best American player under 30. “This course is a tough walk and it’s really windy out there, but I’m in pretty good shape. I can handle (36 in one day).”

Others, like Ian Poulter, posted on Twitter: “So painful right now I can’t feel my toes. This ice bath is no joke. I couldn’t do this all the time. 36 holes on this course it helps.”

After posting 2-under 71 Monday morning, Stricker fought his way into second place with a 6-under 66 in the second round, helped in large part by his chip-in eagle from the 18th fairway, his ninth hole in the afternoon round.

“That was a real turning point for me,” Stricker said. “Gave me the belief that I could win again.”

Stricker’s eagle at the 18th got him to 6 under and in a three-way tie for the lead with Johnson and Brandt Snedeker. Snedeker went on to make two more birdies on his back nine – at Nos. 5 and 6 – before settling at 8 under.

Stricker, the oldest player in the tournament at 45, said at the start of the tournament that he was going into semi-retirement this year, playing only about 10 events. He won’t return to the PGA TOUR after this week until the end of February at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship.”Nobody knows if it’s a muscle with pressure on the sciatic nerve or if there’s a problem with a disk,” Stricker said. “My back feels great. I don’t feel tight. I don’t feel stiff. Just every time I get over to my left side, I’m getting a shooting pain down my leg. I’m not hitting it full strength and I’m just trying to keep it in front of me and play the smart shots.”

NOTES: A tournament is considered official if 54 holes are played, with the winner getting an invitation into next year’s Hyundai TOC. If only 36 holes are played, it would be an “unofficial” win with no Hyundai invitation, but money would be included in a golfer’s total. If only 18 holes are played, the $5.7 million purse is cut in half and money is unofficial. The third and final round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions is scheduled to begin Tuesday at 7:15 a.m. local time on the Golf Channel.

Hyundai Leaderboard

1 Dustin Johnson -11
2 Steve Stricker -8
3 Bubba Watson -7
T4 Keegan Bradley -6
T4 Brandt Snedeker -6
6 Tommy Gainey -5
T7 Carl Pettersson -4
T7 Nick Watney -4
9 Scott Piercy -3

 

Tuesday’s Tee Times – All Times Local
Group Time Players
1 7:10 AM Ian Poulter Mark Wilson
2 7:20 AM Johnson Wagner Matt Kuchar
3 7:30 AM Rickie Fowler John Huh
4 7:40 AM Scott Piercy Webb Simpson
5 7:50 AM Carl Pettersson Nick Watney
6 8:00 AM Brandt Snedeker Tommy Gainey
7 8:10 AM Bubba Watson Keegan Bradley
8 8:20 AM Dustin Johnson Steve Stricker
9 7:10 AM J.J. Henry Jonas Blixt
10 7:20 AM Scott Stallings Ben Curtis
11 7:30 AM Charlie Beljan Zach Johnson
12 7:40 AM Bill Haas Jason Dufner
13 7:50 AM Ryan Moore Hunter Mahan
14 8:00 AM Marc Leishman Ted Potter, Jr.
15 8:10 AM George McNeill Kyle Stanley
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