PGA Tour back at it to open '11 campaign
With holiday decorations nationwide finding themselves back in crawl spaces, attics and storage centers, the end of the nearly non-existent golf offseason is upon us. Already.
Trivia questionWho was the last winner at the now-named Hyundai Tournament of Champions to go on and win a major championship? (Answer below.)
The NFL has its Pro Bowl the weekend before the Super Bowl. Major League Baseball, the NHL and the NBA break up the regular season with an all-star game and corresponding festivities. Golf's equivalent kicks off the season, the field consisting entirely of PGA Tour winners from the prior season. So, while Tiger Woods has passed on playing in the tournament in recent years (missed it from 2005-2010), in 2011 he doesn't have the option.
A name change is in the cards this year: the previously named Mercedes-Benz Championship has been redubbed the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Apparently even the names of golf tournaments have been impacted by the recession.
Success at Kapalua has certainly not been a harbinger for a great season on the PGA Tour recently. Do players get complacent after picking up a victory so early on the calendar? Each case can and should be judged independently, but we at Numbers Game have scrounged up some facts about the recent champions at the season's first event:
-- No winner at the Mercedes (err, Hyundai) has gone on to win more than one other tournament in a PGA Tour season since Tiger Woods in 2000. Only four of the past 10 winners have gone on to win another tournament at all in that calendar year.
-- Over the past three years, the event has been won by Daniel Chopra, and two-time defending winner Geoff Ogilvy. Those two men have gone on to win again just once in their respective winning seasons combined, with just five top-10 finishes in 63 tour starts.
-- Over the past seven years, no winner of the event has gone on to finish in the top-10 in a major in that season. Last year, Geoff Ogilvy's best finish in a major was a tie for 26th at Augusta (he missed the cut at the next three majors). In 2009, it was a T-15 at the Masters. Chopra's T-36 at the U.S. Open in 2008 was his best finish that year.
-- Trivia answer spoiler alert: You might remember Tiger's year that followed his season-opening win in 2000: Eight more tour wins, 16 more top-10's, and three major championships en route to the Tiger Slam.
-- With all the European and otherwise non-American success on the global golf stage in 2010, American golf fans will hope for a fast start to the season. Don't expect it here, though. No American has won this event since Jim Furyk in 2001. An Australian player, though, has won five of the past seven years. Adam Scott, anyone?
How about the other event in Hawaii? It's pretty remarkable to note that despite Australian players' success at Kapalua, none has won the next event -- the Sony Open, also in Hawaii -- since Brett Ogle in 1995.
Not that Aussies haven't been in the mix, though. Robert Allenby finished second last year while Adam Scott was T-2 in 2009. Allenby was T-8 in 2007 and Appleby T-7 in 2006. The lack of American success at Kapalua is reversed Waialae, as well: American players have won four of the past five Sony Opens.
Golf fans will sit, many embedded in the months of frosty weather, envious of the spectacular views this weekend at Kapalua. If it's anything like last year, they could be treated to some low scores in addition to the beautiful landscape.
The Plantation Course at Kapalua featured the lowest to-par average score on the PGA Tour in 2010. Only six courses on the PGA Tour posted an average score to par of 2-under or lower -- Kapalua was one of just two at 3-under or lower.
The other five courses on the 2-under-plus list are tournaments with a reputation for being easy tracks: three of them are involved in the revolving-course pro-am Bob Hope Classic, and the other two are the Justin Timberlake event and the Children's Miracle Network Classic.
An elite field like this one will undoubtedly foster red numbers, but the other element to keep an eye on this weekend is the wind. High winds will make things a bit tougher, but low winds could mean extremely low numbers in Hawaii.
Question: Who was the last winner at the now-named Hyundai Tournament of Champions to go on and win a major championship?
Answer: Tiger Woods in 2000. He won three of them. Pretty good year.
Another trend to make note of: For four straight years, the average score for the field has gone down. From 74.892 in 2006, the number dropped nearly two full strokes in 2007. That number fell to just lower than 71 in 2008, 70.515 in 2009, and lower than 70 last year.
That number in 2006 was good enough for fourth-highest on tour that year -- two of the courses in front of Kapalua were Winged Foot (U.S. Open) and Augusta.
Justin Ray has been a studio researcher for ESPN since June 2008 and is the lead researcher for "The Scott Van Pelt Show." Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.