Hyundai Tournament of Champions: Beware the sick golfer

Christian Petersen

54-hole maestro Dustin Johnson takes three-shot lead in PGA Tour’s season-opener.

Mother Nature finally gave the PGA Tour a break, as golfers actually played some golf Monday -- 36 holes, in fact -- at Kapalua, but at least two of the players in the winners-only field were in contention despite having to contend with more than blustery conditions.

Though searing pain down his left leg hindered defending champ Steve Stricker and reigning Masters champ Bubba Watson battled the flu, both were in the thick of things as the tour season got under way after three days of washouts. Watson, who may have picked up a bug from son Caleb, went 21 holes before carding his first bogey and will head into Tuesday’s finale at 7-under -- four shots behind 36-hole leader Dustin Johnson.

Stricker, meanwhile, hobbled his way to a second-round 67, which included a chip-in for eagle from about 68 yards out at the par-5 18th, after an opening-round 71 on the Plantation Course -- all while dealing with a sore leg that’s plagued him for a while. Stricker, who’ll turn 46 in February and will semi-retire by playing fewer tourneys this year, said he may be battling sciatica or a disc problem and had no idea whether he would make it through the day.

“I didn't have any expectations today. I didn't know if I was even going to finish 36 holes,” he told reporters after completing two rounds. “I told one of the rules officials that I didn't know if I was going to be able to make it all the way around.”

Fortunately for the 12-time tour winner, he did, and he hoped to be back on Tuesday, when he’ll start out in solo second at 8-under. Stricker’s comfort at Kapalua may have helped him overcome his bad wheel, since he has now gone 13 consecutive rounds under par on the Plantation Course.

Comfort, however, was not what he was feeling on Monday, as his bow-legged gait was more befitting a jockey than a golfer and he spent much of his second 18 trying to stretch out the kinks.

“Beware the sick golfer,” NBC’s Dan Hicks remarked during Golf Channel’s wall-to-wall coverage of the tour’s long-anticipated and much-delayed kickoff to the 2013 season. “Sometimes crazy stuff happens when you don’t have all of your faculties.”

Someone in complete control of his faculties was DJ. The 54-hole maven grabbed the lead with an eagle at the 18th to close out a second-round 66. Of the big-hitter’s six career tour wins, two of them (the 2009 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and 2011 Barclays) have come in weather-shortened tourneys, and he seemed well on his way to yet another.

Johnson’s power was on display all day. In 60 tee shots from the 30-player field, Johnson was the only golfer to drive the green on the 292-yard par-4 14th, which he did in the afternoon session. He slugged his second shot to the green on the par-5 15th some 290 yards uphill and into the wind, and knocked a 6-iron to the 18th green and tidied up by draining the eagle putt.

Indeed, last year’s St. Jude Classic winner hit 33 greens in regulation through two rounds -- the most ever in his career. He also had four putts for eagle on the back nine in the second round, after three-putting three times in the morning.

“I was pretty frustrated,” he said about his early woes with the flat stick. “You've got a putt downhill, downwind and you leave one 4 feet short and miss that one, and then the next time you've got one downhill, downwind from the same distance, you hit it 8 feet by.

“Just it was more frustration,” said Johnson. “But luckily it was my last couple holes and I was able to make birdie on nine, and then I ended the day on a good note.”

Keegan Bradley and Brandt Snedeker shared fourth place, at 6-under, while for Tiger Woods’ new Nike teammates, Nick Watney and Kyle Stanley, it was the Tale of Two Golfers. Watney played his new sticks to a 4-under on a day that included an eagle on the par-5 18th in the morning.

It was the worst of times, however, for Stanley, who may need some time to adjust to clubs and balls not called Titleist. After starting his season with four dropped strokes in his first four holes -- including a double-bogey on the par-4 12th -- last year’s Phoenix Open titleholder will head into Tuesday DFL at 12-over (78, 80).

The third and final round of the Tournament of Champions is slated to start Tuesday at 7:15 a.m. local time (12:15 p.m. ET) and Golf Channel will broadcast live from Kapalua frp, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET.


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