KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) – The PGA Tour's 2013 season has begun in a setting that hardly feels like paradise.
Rickie Fowler hit the opening tee shot in the 30-man field of players who won last year in a strong wind accompanied by occasional bursts of rain. Fowler, whose first PGA Tour victory came at the Wells Fargo Championship, split the middle of the fairway with a 360-yard tee shot. Then again, the fairway is about 60 yards wide.
This is the 15th straight season the tour has started on the Plantation Course at Kapalua, built on the side of a mountain with severe changes in elevation. A year ago, there were 41 tee shots that traveled at least 400 yards.
Steve Stricker is the defending champion, and this will be the start of his short season that takes him to semi-retirement. Stricker, wanting to spend more time with his children and his new foundation, has said he would build his schedule around the majors and World Golf Championships and only play about 10 times this year.
The 30-man field does not include every winner from last year, and the absentees are noticeable – Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Luke Donald and Phil Mickelson, who hasn't played Kapalua in more than a decade.
It's a sign of the changing landscape in golf, with players going deep into the year – especially the European Tour – and wanting an uninterrupted break during the winter. Woods and McIlroy, for example, won't start for another two weeks in Abu Dhabi.
Kapalua is unlike any course they play all year, and the weather figures to make it a challenge. The wind was strong and steady, and the rain was a nuisance. Early in the first round, players were averaging about 350 yards off the tee with the trade wind at their backs. The average tee shot on the third hole, which goes dead into the wind, was about 215 yards.
Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw designed this course with the wind in mind, however. Webb Simpson already was 2 under through five holes, while Keegan Bradley got off to a good start with a birdie, only to lose his tee shot to the right on the fourth hole. Playing into the wind exaggerates a miss, however, and it took his ball into the deep native grass. It was never found and he had to return to the tee, umbrella in hand.