The stars have returned to Kapalua

By Doug Ferguson
Published on
The stars have returned to Kapalua

KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — The stars are back at Kapalua, and perhaps this is where the brightest will shine again.

The Hyundai Tournament of Champions first moved to the Plantation Course on the western tip of Maui in 1999, and while the tournament was lacking in Sunday drama at times, it served as a harbinger in the early years for great seasons that followed.

David Duval began his final climb to No. 1 in the world with his landslide win at Kapalua. A year later, Tiger Woods won an epic battle with Ernie Els to start the 2000 season, still considered one of the greatest in golf history. Els won six times in 2003, starting with a record victory at Kapalua.

Jordan Spieth might be next.

The memories from 2015 are still fresh for the 22-year-old Texan — the Masters, U.S. Open and pursuit of the Grand Slam, followed by the FedEx Cup title when he won the Tour Championship, and the No. 1 ranking that he held the final two months of the season.

With natural dialogue about an encore, he made good on his reply that an encore means the show is over. Through three rounds, Spieth has made only one bogey while posting rounds of 66-64-65 to build a five-shot lead over Brooks Koepka going into the final round Sunday.

His 24-under 195 is one shot shy of the 54-hole record Els set at Kapalua in 2003.

Spieth had a seven-shot lead at the Hero World Challenge to end his 2014 season at Isleworth and won by 10 shots. He had a four-shot lead at the Masters and won by that same margin. He turned a one-shot lead in the Tour Championship into a four-shot victory.

He has won the last four times he's had the 54-hole lead, all of them last year.

These are building blocks.

"I think each time you can close one out ... when you're in contention again, people are thinking, 'OK, he knows how to close, right? He can close the deal.' And it just puts a little bit more pressure to be more aggressive and have to do more than maybe you really have to," Spieth said. "When Tiger is in contention, why is his record so phenomenal? Well, sure, he played the best golf and he was the strongest mentally. But everyone else knew that he could do it and maybe tried to do a bit too much."

Spieth did not invite comparisons with Woods. He just believes that the more he wins, the harder it makes it on everyone else.

That could be one of the perks Sunday. It seemed to work that way for some other great champions at Kapalua:

DAVID DUVAL IN 1999: Duval won four times — once in each season — in 1998, captured the money title and the Vardon Trophy and would have won PGA Tour player of the year except for Mark O'Meara winning two majors.

When he got to Kapalua, he was riding a big wave even by Maui's standards. He rolled to a nine-shot victory that week.

A few weeks later, he shot 59 in the final round to win the Bob Hope Classic. And when he won The Players Championship two months later, he replaced Woods at No. 1.

TIGER WOODS IN 2000: Woods ended the 1999 season by winning his last five stroke-play events, including his second major at the PGA Championship. He wound up in a spectacular battle with Els at Kapalua, with both players making eagle on the par-5 18th, both making birdie on the 18th in a playoff, and Woods winning with a 40-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole. Els was runner-up to him four times that year.

For Woods, that was the first of nine PGA Tour victories. He won the final three majors, two of them by a combined 23 shots. He completed the career Grand Slam. And he won or finished second in 13 of his 20 events on the PGA Tour.

SERGIO GARCIA IN 2002: The 22-year-old Spaniard was coming off a three-win season, including his first PGA Tour victories at the Colonial and Buick Classic. He won at Kapalua in a playoff over David Toms and talked about winning the money title on the PGA Tour and European Tour.

It didn't pan out that way. Even so, Garcia had two more victories worldwide that year, and he finished in the top 10 in all four majors.

ERNIE ELS IN 2003: The Big Easy put the big hurt on Kapalua, finishing at 31-under 261 to win by eight shots and become the first — and still only — player to complete a 72-hole PGA Tour event at 30 under or better. And he was just getting started.

He swept Hawaii the following week by winning the Sony Open. He was runner-up in Singapore, and then won in back-to-back weeks in Australia. Through five tournaments, starting with Kapalua, he was 100-under par while traveling 38,000 miles.

Els went on to win six times around the world that year, still the most of his career. He also finished in the top 10 at three of the four majors.