KAPALUA, Hawaii — For those who think the PGA Tour season never ends, here’s a new twist: This one can’t get started.
The season-opening Tournament of Champions was postponed for the second straight day because of gusts that topped 40 mph and made it impossible to play golf. Unlike the previous day when 24 players managed to tee off, no one hit a shot Saturday on the Plantation Course at Kapalua.
“We tried as best we could,” said Slugger White, the tour’s vice president of rules and competition. Play was delayed three times before it was called for the day.
The season now starts Sunday — that’s when most tournaments end — with hopes of playing 36 holes, followed by an 18-hole finish Monday.
It will be the first time the Tournament of Champions is reduced to 54 holes since 1997, when Tiger Woods hit a 7-iron to a foot to beat Tom Lehman in a playoff when a par 3 at La Costa was the only hole that could be used because of so much rain.
Players arrived in darkness and never got farther than the practice range. The wind has been relentless for two days, and it was clear early on there would be trouble. The back nine of the Plantation Course is higher up the mountain and more exposed. White and the rules officials found that golf balls kept moving on the 10th, 11th and 13th holes.
“On the 10th hole, we dropped a ball on the back of the green and it rolled 20 yards off the front,” White said.
He said the wind caused another ball to roll uphill.
The forecast is slightly better for Sunday and Monday, with strong wind in the morning gradually abating through the day. Even so, the Plantation Course is a long walk with severe changes in elevation, which figures to be brutal on the caddies. White said they were considering offering more shuttle rides on portions of the course to help.
“It’s just a little too windy out there for us to play,” Brandt Snedeker said. “If the course wasn’t so exposed, it wouldn’t be a problem. But you have a lot of greens exposed to 40 mph wind gusts. It’s tough to make that call. They did the right thing. We had to try to play today if we wanted to try to get 72 holes in.”
The PGA Tour has weather guidelines with an emphasis to play 72 holes, even going a fifth day provided the forecast allows for it.
But this is different.
The tour opted last year for a Monday finish to try to stay away from NFL playoffs, and finish before the BCS championship game. The Sony Open in Honolulu starts on Thursday, and it’s no small task to get the television and other tournament equipment to another island.
If the tournament doesn’t end by mid-afternoon on Monday, the Sony Open would have a limited TV operation for its opening round on Thursday. The only way the Tournament of Champions would stretch into Tuesday would be if 54 holes could not be completed. Then, there would be no television coverage.
“It’s a unique situation,” said Andy Pazder, chief of operations for the tour. “It’s a 16-hour barge trip, in good weather.”
Pazder said the tour would not be inclined to follow its weather guidelines for a 72-hole event “because of the impact of next week’s tournament.” But he said the tour was not inclined to go back to a Sunday finish for Kapalua.
Meanwhile, the seven players who chose not to play in this winners-only event were feeling much better about the decision. Luke Donald, who typically takes a long break over the winter, said in a tweet to Ian Poulter, “give me a call — I’ll tell you how calm and sunny it is over here on the East Coast! Haha.”
Poulter’s reply: “missing you.”
The weather was as fickle as ever. One moment, photographers stood behind the first tee under clearing skies to capture idyllic images of the blue Pacific, filled with white caps, and a hint of orange around the puffy clouds. Five minutes later, everyone was scrambling for cover as another rain shower moved in and cut off any view of the water.
But this isn’t about the rain.
“With these gusts, the ball is basically moving on its own,” Hunter Mahan said. “It doesn’t make for good golf, good scores. It’s not fun for anybody out there.”
Mahan has hit three shots this year, and they don’t even count. The scores of the 20 players who finished at least one hole Friday were wiped clean. Mahan was playing with Zach Johnson, whose first putt went 10 feet by the hole. Mahan began to settle over his putt and the wind blew it a few feet closer to hole.
“I knew we were in trouble then,” he said. “I was watching on TV, and I can’t believe we got on the tee box.”
The forecast provided enough optimism that the first round of the year would be completed — finally — on Sunday, and as long as the wind died, there should be enough time to get in 36 holes and head for the Monday finish.
Perhaps that bodes well for Dustin Johnson. He has won the last two 54-hole events on the PGA Tour, at The Barclays in 2011 and the Pebble Beach National Pro-am in 2009.