Miami---Top-ranked Dustin Johnson, third-ranked defending champion Justin Thomas and US Open winner Bryson DeChambeau will lead a record 42 starters when the US PGA Tournament of Champions tees off Thursday.
The traditional first tour event of a calendar year at Kapalua, Hawaii, opened its field to players who reached last season’s Tour Championship as well as event winners after a season disrupted by a two-month Covid-19 layoff.
PGA Player of the Year Johnson captured his second major title in November at the Masters after winning the Tour Championship in September. The 36-year-old American also won the Hawaii champions event in 2013 and 2018.
Thomas won the WGC St. Jude Invitational as well as the Tournament of Champions last year while fifth-ranked US compatriot DeChambeau won in Detroit last July before taking his first major crown at Winged Foot.
Fourth-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and Britain’s 10th-ranked Tyrrell Hatton are skipping the Hawaii event after qualifying, while American Jim Herman, ranked 96th, announced he will not play after contracting Covid-19.
“Some lousy news to end the year - I’ve had CV19 for the last couple of days and therefore will not be playing Kapalua,” Herman tweeted.
Meanwhile, one of golf’s ‘Mr. Nice Guys’, Rickie Fowler American this month dropped out of world’s top 50 for the first time since his rookie season in 2009.
Fowler failed to register a top-10 after the June resumption, but nothing summed up his abject year more than a tiny putt on the sixth hole of his second round of the US PGA Championship in August.
Four inches for a tap-in par, easy right? But no. His putter struck only thin air and the whiff cost him a bogey. He missed the cut by one, in a major. Ouch.
Fowler will, like many, be glad to see the back of 2020.
Lawrie signs off
Paul Lawrie retired from the European Tour in October at his home Scottish Open, with no fans and little fanfare.
Lawrie’s sole major win, the 1999 Open Champion at Carnoustie, is forever remembered for Jean Van de Velde’s water-wading antics that blew a three-shot lead at the last.
But the 51-year-old has never let the lack of recognition bother him, and was typically modest as he hung up his clubs.
“To have played 620 events is not a bad innings, considering I turned pro with a five handicap and didn’t think I’d play any,” said Lawrie.
“I haven’t been a great player. But I’ve been decent. And that’s all you can ask for.”
‘McDonald’ is not loving it
The first tee announcer at the Honda Classic in February committed the verbal equivalent of a three-putt when introducing former world number one Luke Donald.
First he managed to turn Donald’s home town in England, Hemel Hempstead, into a tongue-twister by horribly mispronouncing it. Then he told the crowds at the pre-shutdown event that Donald had won the tournament in 2016 instead of 2006.
But the worst was yet to come as he cried: “On the tee, Luke McDonald!”
You had one job...
Poults slaps down zinger
Three days later, player-turned-commentator Paul Azinger was labelled as “embarrassing” after saying Tommy Fleetwood had choked in the Honda Classic final round as he missed out on the chance of a first PGA Tour win.
“You can win all you want on the European Tour,” said former US Ryder Cup captain Azinger. “But you have to win on the PGA Tour”. AFP
Fellow Englishman Ian Poulter led the backlash. “Paul, please do not condescend or disrespect the @EuropeanTour and our players like that,” he tweeted.
“We have slapped your arse in Ryder Cup for so long... seriously that was embarrassing.”
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