Golf: US tour reopens with Tournament of Champions

Reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson (above) tops a field of 34 players at this week's US PGA Tournament of Champions in the first event of 2015 after a seven-week holiday break. -- PHOTO: AFP
Reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson (above) tops a field of 34 players at this week's US PGA Tournament of Champions in the first event of 2015 after a seven-week holiday break. -- PHOTO: AFP

KAPALUA, United States (AFP) - Reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson tops a field of 34 players at this week's US PGA Tournament of Champions in the first event of 2015 after a seven-week holiday break.

Seven events have already been completed in the 2014-2015 programme, the second such wrap-around schedule in US tour history, but players open the calendar year Friday on Kapalua's 7,452-yard, par-73 Plantation Course for the 17th time in a row.

Watson has won three times since playing in last year's event, including a world Golf Championships victory last November at Shanghai that has helped him stand fourth in the world rankings, best of this week's entrants in the US$5.7 million (S$7.6 million) tournament, which has a Monday finish.

South Korean Bae Sang-Moon, Canada's Nick Taylor and Americans Robert Streb and Ben Martin have already won in the start to this season to book their first berths in Hawaii.

Also among the 13 first timers at Kapalua is Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, who won the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix event last November.

Australian Geoff Ogilvy, paired with Matsuyama on day one, won his two prior Kapalua starts in 2009 and 2010 but an injured finger thwarted his bid for three titles in a row.

The 2006 US Open winner has not been back until this year, thanks to a victory last August at Reno, Nevada.

An Ogilvy victory would give him the most money from the event of any player and match him for the most titles with countryman Stuart Appleby, who has US$3.52 million in eight appearances to US$2.44 for Ogilvy in four prior starts.

"People can say what they want about the schedule but the tour season starts at Kapalua," Ogilvy said.

"It's such a good feeling there and a great reward."

Aussie Jason Day shared ninth in 2011 in his only prior start in the event, while countryman John Senden is at Kapalua for the first time since 2007.

American Matt Kuchar has finished no worse than ninth in his past four trips to Kapalua but has yet to walk away with the title.

Billy Horschel, the 2014 US PGA playoff winner, and defending champion Zach Johnson are paired together for the first round.

South African Tim Clark, who won last year's Canadian Open to book his trip to Hawaii, missed out on the 2013 Presidents Cup after being in an automatic qualifying spot two weeks before the cutoff, is hoping to make the Internationals squad for this year's showdown against the Americans in South Korea.

"It's one of those things that takes care of itself if you play well," Clark said.

"I was kind of in and then just fell out and didn't get a pick, and when it comes down to that, what can you do? You're either going to get a pick or you're not. The best thing to do is play well and get yourself some points.

"I always enjoy playing those tournaments and would like to be there. So for me, particularly the way I finished last season, I mean my game is there. So I need to look at now winning tournaments. That's always the bottom line."