The cream has risen to the top in Maui.
Any time you limit the field to a "winners only" club from the previous season, there are going to be some big names in attendance. But the 2013 Hyundai Tournament of Champions will begin Monday's fourth round with the star trio of Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson, and Jordan Spieth sharing the lead at 14-under. Zach Johnson, the most consistent American player in the world, opened the door in Sunday's third round and came back to the field with a 1-over 74. He's now two shots back of the three leaders, but those final two pairings will be comprised of likely 2014 Ryder Cup members and four golfers who should continue to populate the top of the leaderboard for years to come.
It's hard to choose, but the most impressive player so far might be Spieth, the 20-year old sophomore phenom who only appears to be getting better. Despite his burst from non-cardholding sponsor's exemption to PGA Tour winner and rookie of the year in 2013, this is the first time Spieth has held the 54-hole lead. At this young stage of a career, it's hard to have a better season than he did last year but a win on Maui would just keep the train rolling and probably signal that he'll be contending at the biggest events all year, including majors. Spieth made just one bogey, only his second in three days, to fire a 69 and make the final pairing, where he'll play alongside Presidents Cup teammate Simpson.
Simpson shot the low round of the leading group, moving 5 shots up with a 68. After several close calls, this past fall Webb finally broke through for his first win since his major victory at Olympic and that form has carried over into the new year. He had the belly putter working on the back nine, carding four birdies in a five-hole stretch for an inward 33.
Playing one group behind him will be the brothers Johnson, Dustin and Zach. It's no surprise Dustin, the defending champ here, is right back at the top of the leaderboard. His bomb-and-gouge style can work on this Coore-Crenshaw layout, as evidenced in last year's truncated iteration of this event. He also had a win during the fall, a WGC title in China, so he's hitting the new year in solid form too. He probably had the shot of the day as he hit the turn at the Plantation Course, dropping this dart on the flagstick of the par-5 9th hole for a tap-in eagle
In addition to those final four name players, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Dufner, and Adam Scott are all conceivably within striking distance with 18 holes to play. Kapalua's Plantation Course is susceptible to yielding a mid-to-low 60s round so a chasedown is possible, especially given the talent doing the chasing. Here's where things stand entering the Monday finish, which should wrap just before kickoff in the national title game from Pasadena:
|Place||Player||Score||Round 1||Round 2||Round 3|