Friday 20 October 2017

Top Tour stars seek extra edge for Major tests in 2017

Dustin Johnson, pictured during yesterday’s pro-am, is part of the elite field teeing itup at the SBS Tournament of Champions in Lahaina, Hawaii. Photo: Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images
Dustin Johnson, pictured during yesterday’s pro-am, is part of the elite field teeing itup at the SBS Tournament of Champions in Lahaina, Hawaii. Photo: Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

The motto for the top golfers in the world has to be 'you snooze, you lose' as the action resumes on the PGA Tour with the SBS Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Hawaii today.

A dream holiday venue offers the perfect setting for a field of 32 tournament winners from 2016 to get their competitive juices flowing on the par-73 Plantation Course.

However, the best of the best are not inclined to treat this tournament lightly and have no intention of resting on their laurels.

World No 1 Jason Day, US Open champion Dustin Johnson (3), and the Tournament of Champions title holder Jordan Spieth (5), will look for evidence of improvement in their game as they gear up for the Major championship challenges to come.

Day got three victories last year, and now wants to shake off the rust of a three-month lay-off following his withdrawal because of injury from the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship last September.

"I picked up a club twice in those three months and I worked hard on my rehab, especially the back.

"Obviously that's kind of been plaguing me through my career with regards to having too many withdrawals. I feel fit and I'm looking forward to a good, solid year. Obviously the goal is always to try and better the year prior.

"Anything more than three wins would be great but obviously I've got to just stay addicted to the process of trying to get better.

"The three months was a long time to have off, especially from golf. There was a little bit of rust earlier on last week when I was practising, but I feel pretty good about how things are now," said Day.

Dustin Johnson hopes for tangible evidence that his putting has improved, as he was 36th in the 'strokes gained: putting' statistic on the PGA Tour last season, and 19th in the 'putts per round' category, averaging 28.49.

Crucially, DJ was 118th in putting from four feet, and 144th in putting from 20-25 ft in 2016.

Formidable

We know what a great ball striker he is and how much his wedge play improved, aspects which helped him make his Major title breakthrough at Oakmont, but if Johnson sharpens up on the greens, he will be a formidable threat in the biggest tournaments.

Jordan Spieth singled out approach play as the area he most wants to strengthen.

"It's the scoring irons. It's the 125 to 175 yards. That's where I was pretty solid in 2015, and then that was one area of the game that took a little bit of a hit this past season. I just wasn't as good with my wedge, 9-, 8-, 7-iron, and especially on kind of shorter par threes.

"I didn't play the short par threes extremely well, because I think I was just trying to do a little bit too much, given they were more scoring par threes.

"When I dissected the stats with Cameron (McCormick, his coach), we looked at that yardage as big room for improvement for this season," said Spieth.

The Texan, a two-time Major winner in 2015, finished 2016 in style with victory in the Australian Open in November, and has also worked hard on his full swing.

"I'm trying to just get more and more consistent with it and almost create that as a new normal.

"A lot of it's just loading into my back leg more and not being as quick in transition. Just letting it set and then from there, I can play each ball flight," he said.

Rory McIlroy, the world No 2 and FedEx Cup champion, remains in Dubai prior to setting out for South Africa at the weekend where he will play the BMW SA Open on the European Tour next week.

The Northern Irishman is reported to have sorted out his club selection following the withdrawal of Nike from equipment manufacturing, but has yet to confirm his choice.

Speculation suggests that he will go with a Callaway driver, irons, and woods; Titleist wedges, an Odyssey putter, and will play the ProV1x ball.

Claret Jug holder Henrik Stenson, fourth in the world rankings, makes his first appearance after the Christmas break in Abu Dhabi, starting on January 19.

Tournament of Champions Live, Sky Sports 4, 11.0pm

Irish Independent

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