This week sees the start of the men’s and women’s main tennis Tours and the PGA Tour schedule in the United States. There are several tennis and golf tournaments taking place this week as players return to competitive action after their mid season break.
On the US golf Tour the Tournament of Champions is a limited field event for which only tournament winners from last season are eligible. However, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald amongst others have decided not to travel to Hawaii for the first event of the 2013 schedule.
The event is being played from Friday to Monday, presumably to give players a chance to enjoy New Year celebrations before embarking on two or three days of practice. The organisers will be disappointed with the absentees and Phil Mickelson is another player to have declined the invitation.
The sponsors will be missing arguably the three most popular and charismatic players in the world game in Woods, McIlroy and Mickelson. Television ratings will no doubt be down and the event does have an ordinary look.
Ian Poulter is the only one of five of Europe’s winning Ryder Cup team eligible to play who is competing at the Plantation Course at Kapalua. The course is characterised by wide fairways and large greens so the key skills are driving distance and total putts.
Poulter’s no more than average length from the tee is offset by excellent putting, used to good effect during the Ryder Cup. He finished last year at a career high of number 12 in the world rankings. This could be a significant year in Poulter’s career if he can reproduce the form he showed in the Ryder Cup in the major championships.
Steve Sticker is the defending champion and the only former winner in the field. However, the course should suit Dustin Johnson, a player with the potential to figure in the Tour money list and add to his current tally of six PGA Tour wins.
The brief hardcourt tennis season in Australasia builds up to the Australian Open which begins in just two weeks. That event is played outdoors on hardcourts and is characterised by extreme heat. Fitness will be a key factor and that’s why most players spend the brief off-season at training camps to maintain their fitness.
Rafaael Nadal will not playing in the Australian Open due to persistent illness. He seemed to have recovered from the injury that kept him away from the game since last June but another ailment has cropped up to prevent him competing in the first Grand Slam tournament of the year.
The Australian Open is the first major since the US Open last September, won famously by Andy Murray. In theory the court conditions will be the same in Melbourne but the temperatures make this a different challenge.
Early season form in events in Australia and New Zealand can be significant and players who make a good start to the year should be followed in the Australian Open. There are more upsets in this championship than the other three Grand Slam events, due to the early date in the schedule and the relative fitness of the competing players.
Back next Friday.