Finally, after a long entracte the latest PGA Tour season seems to be gathering pace. College and professional football have held a great deal of sporting attention since Thanksgiving or so, but now that only two more rounds of NFL playoffs remain, it is time for golf to take a more visible role in the sports scene.
The first two weeks of 2014’s side of the PGA Tour schedule have certainly whetted the appetites of golf fans, with two events that have been close until the closing holes. Two Sundays ago, it was Zach Johnson closing out a one-stroke victory in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
Kapalua Resort’s Plantation Course was playing longer than usual, due to significant rains preceding the event, and more difficult than usual because of the winter winds blowing in the opposite direction to that to which players are normally accustomed. These conditions helped pave the way toward victory for the humble, gritty Johnson, whose game concentrates more on accuracy than power. The Iowan shot a four-round total of -19-under par 273 on the par-73 course. He bested Texan phenom Jordan Spieth by a shot and Kevin Streelman and Webb Simpson by two shots. On a course whose enormous fairways and greens give a larger-than-usual advantage to longer hitters like past champions Dustin Johnson, Geoff Ogilvy and Stuart Appelby, Zach Johnson’s victory raises the eyebrows more than usual, showing him to be a tough competitor who can compete anywhere. It is all but guaranteed that he will be a factor in a major or two in 2014.
More recently—already!—the Tour has its first two-time winner of the season, as Jimmy Walker held off an initially bunched leaderboard and captured the Sony Open by a shot over Chris Kirk and two over Tour veteran Jerry Kelly. After winning the season-opening Frys.com Open in October for his maiden Tour victory, Walker confirmed his status as an up-and-coming player at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu with a four-round total of 17-under par 263. Walker birdied four of his last six holes en route to a final-round 63 and the victory.
Walker now holds a lead in the FedEx Cup of just more than 300 points. He has also vaulted to first on the Ryder Cup points list for the American side. There is a lot of golf to be played between now and then, but with a few more high finishes and a good showing in a 2014 major championship or two, Walker is poised to be a lock for Tom Watson’s squad.
The Tour now turns toward the Continental U.S. for the six-week West Coast Swing.