KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — The players sat around all week waiting for the wind to relent so the PGA Tour season could finally get going. Once it did, the Tournament of Champions shifted into overdrive. It was the opening round and "moving day" in a span of 10 hours at Kapalua.
Dustin Johnson was in high gear for the entire ride.
He showed up on the west coast of Maui a week before the tournament was supposed to start, wanting to shake off whatever rust had accumulated in the last month and try out some of his new equipment. He played six practice rounds, none in the kind of wind that scrapped the opening round twice — Friday and Sunday — and was so bad on Saturday that no one hit a shot.
Johnson had to wait four days to hit a shot on the Plantation Course. Once he got started, he hardly missed a shot.
In 36 holes on Monday, he had seven putts at eagle. He made the last one from about 6 feet to polish off a 7-under 66. Combined with a 69 in the morning — another solid round that included a pair of three-putt bogeys and a three-putt par over five holes — he had a three-shot lead over defending champion Steve Stricker.
"I hit the ball really well this afternoon," he said.
Johnson is the master of the understatement, but only when he knows his game is working as well as he can expect. He was at 11-under 135, and it took only one day and two rounds for him to separate himself from the 30-man field of PGA Tour winners from last year.
Stricker holed out from 67 yards for eagle on the 18th hole and added a pair of birdies on the front nine for a 67, putting him in the final group for a chance to become the first American to win back-to-back at Kapalua.
The only other players within five shots of Johnson were Bubba Watson, who was four shots behind after going 70-69; Keegan Bradley (71-69) and Brandt Snedeker, the FedEx Cup champion who posted a pair of 70s.
That sets up an 18-hole finish on Tuesday, with a forecast for slightly diminished wind.
Stricker normally would be a tough guy to have at your side on this golf course, particularly the way he putts. But a strange week took on another bizarre quality with this development — after waiting all week for the event to start, Stricker didn't think he could finish.
He began feeling pain in his left side about a month ago, and it won't seem to go away. Stricker limped badly down the hill on the 18th — right before his pitch shot rode the slope and the wind to perfection for an eagle — and the pain never went away. The good news for Stricker is that it never got worse.
"It felt as crappy on the first hole as the last hole," he said.
Stricker doesn't know the cause of the pain that shoots down his left side. He doesn't know how he will play Tuesday, and the prospects of making up a three-shot deficit against Johnson on this golf course are stout even in the best of health.
"You've just got to go out and play, and play your hardest and see what happens," Stricker said. "I've been in that position where he's at now. It's a tough spot. It's tough to win in front. We've got really nothing to lose tomorrow and it makes it a little bit easier for us, but tougher on him."