Mitsubishi Electric Championship Tees Up Tuesday
The Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai will mark its historic 25th year at the Four Seasons’ signature course when it kicks off later today. The circumstances of this year’s tournament, however, will be anything but “the usual.”
The silver anniversary of the senior PGA circuit’s tournament of champions finds itself in the same slate on the calendar as years past. But instead of kicking off the 2021 Champions Tour as would normally be the case, the event is mired in the middle of a stop-and-go season mutated by the coronavirus pandemic.
A total of 42 golfers, including some of the biggest names in the sport over the past few decades, will tee off beginning at 10 am Thursday. They will do so absent fanfare, as spectators have been barred from attendance out of concern for public health.
One power pairing features major winners Ernie Els and Jim Furyk, ranked second and sixth on the tour money list, respectively. The pair will hit the links at 1:20 pm Thursday afternoon, bringing up the rear of a powerhouse field on opening day.
Els finished tied with Fred Couples in the runner-up position at last year’s event — his debut at Hualalai as part of the Champions Tour — after falling to a 12-foot birdie off the putter of Miguel Angel Jimenez on the first playoff hole.
“(It’s) great to be back,” Els said. “(I) played here obviously for the first time last year, had a ball, couldn’t wait to get back.”
Furyk will follow in Els’ footsteps and make his first appearance at Hualalai today after turning 50 last May, the minimum age of players who qualify for a spot on the Champions Tour.
The senior circuit rookie has earned just shy of $1 million during his inaugural campaign and is one of the favorites to pick up the $310,000 prize afforded the weekend’s winner. But Furyk, who splits his time between the Champions Tour and the PGA Tour, knows that despite the high winds in the forecast, finding victory will be anything but a breeze.
“Someone always shoots 15-under in three rounds, or (better), so scores are low,” Furyk said. “There’s some misconceptions, I think, about the Champions Tour — that everyone’s having a beer, a glass of wine and no one’s out on the practice tee.”
“The range is packed, the putting green’s packed, chipping green’s packed,” he continued. “I mean, guys are working hard on their games. They’re enjoying kind of their second lease on their career.”
Simultaneously oceanside and resting in the shadow of Hualalai Volcano, the lush green of the course cuts its way through black lava rock. Open and inviting, the layout is particularly susceptible to high winds, which players say pose perhaps the greatest challenge to going low aside from firm, slippery greens that render the putter paramount to success.
“I wouldn’t come out and say (the course) favors a bomber or a real straight hitter or a style,” Furyk explained. “I would say usually when you come to Hawai‘i, it has to be someone that’s comfortable playing in the wind. If you’re not comfortable playing in a 15‑plus mile‑per‑hour wind, Hawai‘i’s usually not going to be your cup of tea.”
“And right now, the greens are really, really firm because they’re new, so that’s another dimension as well,” he added. “There’s going to be pins you just can’t get to on these firm greens.”
Els echoed his playing partner’s comments.
“Over the weekend (last year), we had probably a two-club wind and that really sets the players apart a little bit,” Els said. “The greens are really firm this year, firmer than last year and a little bit more speed, so that will also make a little bit of a difference. The course is a little different, but it all depends on the trades.”
Notable names to watch aside from Furyk and Els are Champions Tour money leader and perennial threat Bernard Langher, defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez who has played well this year and sits fourth on the money list, and Mike Weir who shot 10-under at the PGA Tour’s Sony Open in Maui last week to earn a top-50 finish.
Golf lovers unable to venture to Hualalai because of COVID-19 can catch all the action on the Golf Channel Thursday through Saturday from 2–5 pm.