Welcome to Inside The Tour. Australian Golf Digest’s man on the ground, Evin Priest, brings you the best stories from the US PGA Tour.
This week the US PGA Tour headed to Kapalua in Maui for the first leg of the Hawaii swing – the Tournament of Champions. Justin Thomas claimed a three-shot win over Hideki Matsuyama in the 32-man event for las year’s tour winners with no 36-hole cut.
Here’s what grabbed our attention at Kapalua’s Plantation course:
Jordan Spieth has avenged the 12th at Augusta National
Spieth’s collapse at the 2016 Masters will go down in major championship history, unfortunately for the wrong reasons. His quadruple-bogey 7 came shortly after holding a five-shot at the turn during last year’s final round. It opened the door for England’s Danny Willett to don his first green jacket.
But golf fans will be pleased to know Spieth recently returned to Augusta and banished his demons – at least in a social round:
“I went there and played there in December,” he told the media at Kapalua. “First time back. I was very nervous when I got on 12 tee, and I hit an 8-iron over the bunker to about 15 feet. Greens were a little slower, and I left a lot of putts short.
“In the group, I was like, there was no chance I was leaving this short and I hit this putt to about 15, 18 feet. I was pumped to hit the green, and then I hit my putt and it just about stopped short on the front lip and fell in for two. I probably gave like a big fist pump. I was walking around with my hands up, like demon’s gone.
“And I went back the next day. We played it the next morning and I hit a 9-iron this time to a left pin, and it landed about three feet beyond the hole and it was really, really soft, and it sucked back and almost went in, right on the lip to about this far. So I got two twos out of No.12 the first time back. Last two times I played the hole, I made birdie.”
Justin Thomas has come into his own
The 23-year-old American faced frustrating questions during the Tournament of Champions about whether he’d emerged from the shadow of his friend and junior golf rival Jordan Spieth.
But with three victories on the US PGA Tour at the age of 23 – the past two coming since October – the man from Kentucky is an established star in his own right.
Jason Day owns the Nike look – and new TaylorMade clubs
It was a case of new look, New Year for the world No.1 golfer. Day arrived at Kapalua having spent the past three months on the sidelines rehabbing a lower back injury that forced an early end to his 2016 season.
The Queenslander was also sporting his new apparel sponsor, Nike. Day blended the styles of Rory McIlroy and Thorbjorn Olesen with an Aussie twist – including several collarless polos.
A new rivalry has emerged
Justin Thomas and Hideki Matsuyama have emerged from the shadows to create a legitimate rivalry we can look forward to in 2017.
Much of the headlines leading into the year’s first US PGA Tour event were about salivating match-ups between world No.1 Day, No.3 Dustin Johnson and No.5 Jordan Spieth.
Matsuyama has won four of the past six events he’s entered worldwide, but his only two losses have come at the hands of the 23-year-old American – when he finished runner-up to Thomas at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia in October and now Kapalua. Watch these two to battle it out throughout 2017.
Just don’t expect the rivalry to be a bitter one. If Thomas’ glowing praise of Matsuyama is anything to go by:
“There’s a reason why (Matsuyama) is as hot as he is,” said Thomas. “He doesn’t really make any mistakes. He hits it unbelievable. He’s rolling it well. His short game’s great, and that pretty much covers it all. He’s a good at golf, I guess is what I’m trying to say.”
Aussies love their golf
Greg Chalmers was happy to make time for these Aussie larrikins who made the trek from Sydney to Maui to cheer on our the four-strong Australian contingent at Kapalua.
Day, Chalmers, Rod Pampling and Aaron Baddeley made extra time for their countrymen whenever fans – and not just Australians – asked for autographs and selfies.