Tournament of Champions 2013: Top 10 Storylines of PGA Opener in Kapalua

Mike DudurichContributor IJanuary 3, 2013

Tournament of Champions 2013: Top 10 Storylines of PGA Opener in Kapalua

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    Get past the spectacular scenery, the whitecaps on the Pacific Ocean, the occasional whale sightings and the great golf holes on the Plantation Course at Kapalua and consider what might be the top storylines Friday through Monday in the PGA Tour’s season open at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

    Is it the emergence of the aspiring stars? How about those who’ll shine brightly and then fade? Who among the 30 champions will come out quickly in this no-cut event and set the pace for the 2013 season?

    It’s going to be an interesting season on the PGA Tour, and it all gets started Friday.

    Here are 10 suggestions to keep an eye on.

Who Will Be This Year’s "Quick Starter”?

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    In 2012, Johnson Wagner tied for ninth in the Tournament of Champions, won the Sony Open and tied for second in the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation in the first three weeks of the season.

    He earned $1,537,133 of his $2,225,007 season earnings in those three weeks.

    The rest of the year was unremarkable, obviously.

What Will Happen with the Long Putters?

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    The proposed ban is still a hot button issue as evidenced by Carl Pettersson renewing his criticism of the proposed ban of the anchored putting stroke this week, saying it felt like a “witch hunt.”

    Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley and Pettersson will have their non-traditional flat sticks in play.

    It will be interesting to see if the catcalls Bradley heard at Tiger Woods’ tournament were a rarity or something those guys will have to deal with regularly.

Bring the Binoculars

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    The Plantation Course at Kapalua is a bomber’s paradise in large part due to the dramatic changes in elevation.

    The par-five finishing hole, for example, has produced 92 tee shots of 400 yards or more since 2003.

    With that being the case, how about the pairing of Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson?

    It boggles the mind as to how far these two might hit it.

    Hopefully, it works out they’re paired together all weekend.

Just Like Being Home?

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    When you look at performances in this event, it's amazing how quickly some players have gotten comfortable with this resort course.

    Take Matt Kuchar for example. He finished in a tie for sixth the last two years.

    Webb Simpson made his debut there last year and shot four rounds in the 60s to finish in a tie for third.

    Wouldn’t be a big surprise to see them near the top of the leaderboard again.

Rickie Fowler Set to Go Off?

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    Much is expected of the most flashy, young player on the PGA Tour, Rickie Fowler.

    He recorded his first win last year at the Wells Fargo Championship in a playoff.

    That victory was supposed to be the jumping-off point for Fowler, who came to the PGA Tour as a much-ballyhooed amateur. A nagging back injury, though, slowed him considerably after he posted the win, a tie for second in the Players Championship and a tie for fifth in the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.

    That slowdown most likely kept him out of the Ryder Cup.

    A quick start might lead to big things for Fowler.

New Era for Steve Stricker

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    The defending champion is a 45-year-old who has decided to cut back his playing schedule dramatically to 10 events.

    He had a tough Ryder Cup experience and could be starting to experience a slowdown.

    But Steve Stricker will be there with his wide smile and one of the best putting strokes over the last 20 years in golf.

    How will he handle this part of his professional career?

John Huh Looks to Strike a Blow for the 20-Somethings This Year

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    He knows he belongs.

    He won the 2012 Mayakoba Classic and therefore belongs in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

    But this is a big stage, shared with 29 other winners.

    How does a supremely talented 22-year-old with great potential handle the fun—but challenging—atmosphere to kick off the 2013 season?

Charlie Beljan Has Worked Hard to Be Ready for This Week

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    How will the man who fought through panic attacks during the last three rounds of the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic to earn PGA Tour privileges for the next two years react when he tees it up tomorrow?

    Charlie Beljan became a poster boy for courage and determination by playing through those difficulties and has sought out further medical help since then.

    He now takes Xanax on a regular basis and says it has helped.

How Will Bubba Watson Handle the Pressure of Being Masters Champion?

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    Bubba Watson’s defense of his thrilling Masters victory is three months away.

    Will he get his game rolling and in the kind of shape to not only be competitive but good enough to join Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus as the only back-to-back winners of the year’s first major?

    The adoption of a baby into the Watson clan took a great deal of his attention after Augusta, and it showed at times in his play. With things settled on the home front, will this be a big year for Watson?

Ian Poulter Lacks a Major; Will He Get It This Year?

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    Ian Poulter had quite an impressive 2012 season, starting with a solid first half.

    Then he posts top 10s in three of the majors and was THE MAN for the winning European team in the Ryder Cup.

    He readily admits there’s a big void in his resume: a major title.

    How he goes about filling that void will be an interesting story to watch in 2013. As one of the best putters in the game, he should have at least one advantage.

    Turning that Ryder Cup passion into results in golf’s biggest events will be the trick.