With a 67, 68, 67 start, Jimmy Walker is definitely keeping the pace up in Hyundai Tournament of Champions. That sort of consistency on the Plantation Course at the Kapalua Resort in Maui, Hawaii, locked him into a tie with Hideki Matsuyama at 17-under. Matsuyama seems to have gathered some momentum starting with a 3-under 70 and then going 66, 66.
Walker talked about how his comfort in his second appearance in the Hyundai has helped with the mysteries and complexities of the course to include the ocean-side typography and the large, sweeping breaks of some of the putts:
Definitely more comfortable here this year than I was last. It’s a big golf course and it’s a lot to look at, take in, that type thing, and getting comfortable reading the greens and with the grain, the uphill, downhill, the mountains and ocean, and it’s tough.
Like I still struggled on my putt on 18 today. My caddie, Andy, said it was flat. I thought it looked a little downhill; it was down grain. The wind’s coming this way; you’re putting back up the mountain, but it sure feels — there’s some local knowledge still out there, I think, especially on some of those putts. I mean the putt on 17, you know, you’ve got this big one like this and it’s just — it’s tough, I think.
I’m a really good putter. But I had an experience playing the Alister MacKenzie gem, Pasatiempo, in Santa Cruz, California, that made me wonder if my hard wiring had fried. The course is set in the western foothills of the coastal mountains that give Silicon Valley on the eastern side its name. I had never played in mountains before and was amazed at how befuddling it could be. Jimmy Walker had the same issues in Maui:
There’s still a lot of guesswork out there. I hit the shots and you still gotta read these greens, and it’s tough. It kind of reminds me of playing in the mountains a little bit. You’re like, well, there’s a mountain over there, there’s a mountain over here; there’s a valley and a valley; where’s the uphill, where’s the downhill? So it’s tough.
Matsuyama, on the other hand, never played a course like the Plantation:
Obviously I haven’t played a golf course that has so much undulation, up‑and‑downs and where the views are so beautiful. So yeah, this is the first time playing something like this.
Neither has he ever played in a lot of wind having been twice saved from the worst the British Open has to offer. And he had a simple criteria for whether he liked the course or not:
I like the views and so I like the course.
Which led naturally, once the conversation turned to aesthetics, to asking him what his perfect day was when he wasn’t playing golf. His answer provided some insights into why he’s going to wind up the best player ever to come out of Japan if he’s not already:
There’s not that many days that I’m not playing golf, and so I don’t know.
They are two shots ahead of Patrick Reed and Hang-Moon Bae at 15-under. Reed, famous for his six successful Monday qualifiers back in 2012, managed that because of his do-or-die, go-low-or-go-home aggressive play. Because the Plantation fairways are so wide and the greens so big, it kind of seduces you into going for it all day long. But Reed, with his three Tour wins, is a little more seasoned now and he hasn’t been falling for it:
I mean the main thing is just stay patient. I felt like last year I tried to go out and make birdies and be pretty aggressive, but as long as I felt like I hit the greens this week, feel like I could get my putter to give me a chance, I’ll roll in one here and there and you keep those big numbers out of play. I’ve done that pretty well. I had two bogey‑free rounds, only two bogeys for the week. So I’m just going to stick to my game plan.
But that doesn’t mean that he’s turned to mush:
I’ve missed a lot of short putts these past three days, and just things I need to work on, and tomorrow hopefully I can put it on the right side of the hole where I have a little less break and can be a little more aggressive.
Here are the rest of the players who are in position and have a chance:
14-under – Russell Henley, Brendon Todd
12-under – Bubba Watson, Robert Streb and Scott Stallings
11-under – Zach Johnson
10-under – Kevin Streelman (along with Matt Jones and Ben Martin) Streelman’s chances are slim, but he had a string of birdies shooting 6-under on the day and he has gone really low in the past.
Finally, it must have been the day for aesthetics because Bubba Watson got a question about his shot-shaping artistry and how this particular canvas suits him. Interestingly, his answer was the exact same as Paige Mackenzie’s when I interviewed her a couple of years ago:
Well, yeah. It’s fun. It’s fun to hit — your imagination can run wild out here, but a couple of tee shots are tough. Like 18 is tough for me because I can’t see the fairway.
I like to see my landing area. I like to see the — you’re going to say artist, you’re going to say the canvas. I like to see the canvas that I can shape the shot into, and 18 is tough for me because I can’t see it. It’s just a big field out there, but we can’t see where it’s landing, so it makes it tough for me.
And then there’s a couple of other holes where you’re heading up the hill where you can’t see the flags. It makes it difficult for me as well.
But then he “says it all” about this winners-only tournament:
But overall if you’re here in Maui, it’s always a good week.