HONOLULU — Hawaii brings out the highest level of optimism because it hosts the opening events of the new year, even if the season started three months ago.
Sergio Garcia won at Kapalua in 2002 and talked about winning the money list on both sides of the Atlantic, a bold plan that went awry when he finished 12th on the PGA Tour money list. Justin Thomas, Tiger Woods and David Duval are the only Kapalua champions who won multiple times on the PGA Tour the rest of the year.
So the idea that someone could have an eight-win season — done three times by Tiger Woods, once by Vijay Singh in the last 40 years — doesn’t seem as unlikely now as it might be at the end of the year.
“I definitely think I can,” said Dustin Johnson, who has won eight times in the last 30 months and will never say he can’t do anything. “There’s a lot of really good players out here on tour, and for me to do that, I’m going to have to play some really good golf. But I’m definitely capable of it.”
Thomas, coming off a five-win season (and five wins in the calendar year) isn’t one to shy away from a monumental task, either. He also offered some perspective when looking at the schedule of top players.
“There’s a handful of guys capable of a huge-win season like that,” he said. “But that being said, with some of the bigger names — or guys playing less — it’s going to be more difficult. Guys playing 17 to 22 events, I mean that would be pretty strong. Tiger did it, but I think he’s in another realm when it comes to that conversation.”
Woods won eight times in 21 events in 1999, nine times in 20 events in 2000 and eight times in 15 starts — a winning rate of 53 percent — in 2006.
Six players won multiple times in 2017, which makes it even tougher.
Rickie Fowler won’t say it’s impossible, though he felt the tour was simply too deep.
“I don’t see that separation between the top 10, 15 players in the world,” Fowler said. “Obviously you’re seeing guys — it doesn’t matter their ranking — show up at a tour event, anyone can really win. And it shows you how much better Tiger really was than the majority of players in the early 2000s. I don’t see it being very likely, but it’s definitely not impossible to have an eight- or nine-win season.”
Thomas, Jason Day (2015) and Jordan Spieth (2015) are the only players besides Woods, Singh and Nick Price to win five times in a year over the last 25 years.
“Five and six is a pretty special year,” Fowler said. “You get past that mark, just go hang up the clubs and go hang at the beach.”
HOUSE GUESTS: Marc Leishman watched his tee shot on the 14th hole at Kapalua sail to the right and figured he was headed for a big number.
He didn’t expect to be playing from someone’s backyard.
One of the peculiarities of the Plantation Course came into play last week at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, and its history involves a stubborn homeowner. The 14th hole is a reachable par 4, with knee-high native grass to the right that swallows up errant shots. The PGA Tour inserted white out-of-bounds stakes at the edge of a home beyond the native grass. It was just hard to keep them there.
Turns out the homeowner didn’t want them lining his yard and kept removing them. The tour would put them back. The next day they would be gone.
Some six years ago, a key Kapalua executive took tour officials to discuss this with the homeowner. He wouldn’t answer the door. So the tour decided to let players hit from his backyard if it came to that.
And that’s what Leishman did in the opening round. Jordan Spieth played from there, too.
“It was a terrible tee shot. I thought it was out-of-bounds for sure,” Leishman said. “And then we called a rules official just to be sure, and he said I could play it. I left a big hole in their backyard, so when they get home, they’ll be surprised.”
It probably was a bigger hole than a stake would have made.
Slugger White, the tour’s vice president of competition, says the backyard most likely will be marked out-of-bounds next year by using white paint to mark the boundary.
FRITSCH FORTHCOMING: Brad Fritsch of Canada has been suspended by the PGA Tour for three months for violating the anti-doping policy. He told the tour a supplement he had been taking included a banned substance, and under the policy, admission is the same as a failed test.
Most remarkable about this suspension — the fifth since the policy was enacted in 2008 — is how forthcoming Fritsch was in a Facebook post to explain what happened and why he has no one to blame but himself.
Fritsch was on a diet program when a text exchange with one of his brothers made him realize he had not thoroughly checked what he was taking. The last supplement contained DHEA, which is on the banned list.
He immediately texted Andy Levinson, who is in charge of the anti-doping program.
Fritsch said he supports the policy, especially its transparency, and he wasn’t about to think otherwise because it happened to him.
“I just wish I had paid attention to the details,” he said.
AILING KOEPKA: Brooks Koepka said at the Hero World Challenge that one goal for 2018 was to get healthy. It was then that he revealed a mysterious pain in his left wrist that surfaced on Dec. 2, the weekend before he went to the Bahamas.
“I can’t grip anything strong with the left hand,” said Koepka, who wound up finishing last in an 18-man field.
Asked how he felt two days before the Tournament of Champions, which is reserved for players who won on the PGA Tour the previous year, he said he was fine but displayed a look that wasn’t all that convincing. The score spoke volumes. Koepka was the only player in the 34-man field who was over par all four rounds. He finished last, 39 shots behind good friend Dustin Johnson.
Koepka’s manager said more tests were planned. Koepka, who won the U.S. Open at Erin Hills last year, is off for the next three weeks before his next scheduled start in Phoenix.
DINNER HOUR: Jon Rahm has been living in Arizona for five years, long enough that he feels Americanized. Maybe the best proof of that came in December when he went home to see his family in Spain for nearly a month before Christmas.
It wasn’t just the food. It was meal time. Rahm said he doesn’t eat dinner until 8 p.m., mainly because “there’s nothing open until 8.”
“When I go back, it takes me a while,” he said. “Spain is the only country where you start dinner one day and finish it the next.”
DIVOTS: The Golf Writers Association of America has voted Justin Thomas, Bernhard Langer and Lexi Thompson as their players of the year for 2017. Thompson was the only one who didn’t win a major. … The CareerBuilder Challenge has given a sponsor’s exemption to Charlie Reiter, a senior at Palm Desert (California) High School who made the cut at the Australian Open last month. … Ten of the previous 19 winners at Kapalua didn’t win a PGA Tour event the rest of the year. That wasn’t the case the last two years with Thomas (who won four more times) or Jordan Spieth (who won Colonial). This year it falls to Dustin Johnson. … Brooks Koepka, coping with a mysterious wrist ailment, has earned $160,000 in his last two starts while finishing last against an 18-man and 34-man field.
STAT OF THE WEEK: All but seven players in the 34-man field at Kapalua had at least one drive hit 400 yards or longer.
FINAL WORD: “We’d tie, right?” — Dustin Johnson, when asked the challenge he would face if he had to play against himself.