Golf’s marquee talents, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, will be absent, but Masters champ Bubba Watson and U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson lead a fairly stalwart winners-only field into this week’s 2013 PGA Tour season-opening Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.
The 30 golfers who won at least once last year will feature three of the world’s top 10 at the Plantation Course at Kapalua starting January 4. FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker headlines a roster of four multiple 2012 winners, including Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, and Hunter Mahan. Joining his Ryder Cup teammates Watson and Simpson will be America’s rookie star at Medinah, Keegan Bradley, and European MVP Ian Poulter.
Steve Stricker, who announced recently that he would play a truncated schedule in 2013, hopes to defend his title in the start to the tour’s own compressed campaign of only 40 events before next fall’s inaugural wrap-around season.
In the meantime, officials with title sponsor Hyundai remained upbeat about prospects for extending its ToC backing beyond January, which will mark the final phase of a three-year contract between the car manufacturer and the tour.
“We don't have anything to announce today, nor will we at the tournament here in a couple weeks,” Hyundai spokesperson Steve Shannon said last month. “But I can say that we are having very, very optimistic, very fruitful discussions with the PGA Tour....Nothing to announce, but a lot of good discussions with the PGA Tour.”
As contract talks continued, Shannon was encouraged by the level of talent slated to launch the abbreviated 2013 season on Friday (the Tournament of Champions and the Deutsche Bank Championship are the only tour events with scheduled Monday finishes).
"With some of the new winners, we couldn't be happier. Terrific-looking field, some  of the top  players on the Official World Golf Rankings. That's really exciting to see,” he said. "We like this tournament a lot, we like this golf space a lot. So all things look good."
Things would look a lot brighter if event officials could attract the needle-movers to Maui. Tiger Woods, a two-time winner (1997, 2000) of the event that has opened the tour season each year since its inception in Las Vegas in 1953, has bypassed Hawaii since 2005.
World No. 1 Rory McIlroy has qualified for Kapalua each of the past three seasons but has taken a pass on the tournament altogether. Also MIA this year are second-ranked Luke Donald, fourth-ranked Justin Rose, and the ever-popular Phil Mickelson. Lefty has not participated in the event since 2001, even though he posted Ws in 1994 and 1998 when La Costa, near his San Diego home, hosted the contest.
Nevertheless, event officials were cheerful about the future and pleased with the current crop of champions in Hawaii this week.
Watson qualified by capturing his first major title at the Masters in April. The four-time tour winner also garnered six additional top 10s and will make his third consecutive Kapalua start.
Bradley made it to Hawaii on the strength of his Bridgestone Invitational win in August. The 2011 PGA champ and Rookie of the Year, who rolled to a 3-0 record with partner Mickelson in the first two days of team competition at the Ryder Cup, will compete at Kapalua for the second time.
Poulter enters the event after a strong close to his 2012 season. He followed his remarkable performance at Medinah with his second career World Golf Championships win at the HSBC Champions at Mission Hills in Shenzhen, China.
A little-known fact about the flamboyant Poulter: he was one of just six players on tour to go all of 2012 without missing a putt from inside three feet. The 36-year-old Englishman was a perfect 391 for 391 from that distance and wasn't too shabby from another foot away. He missed just two of 474 putts from inside four feet.