LAHAINA, HAWAII – It’s been gorgeous this week at Kapalua even by Maui standards.
Temperatures in the mid-70s, most of the clouds have been hanging around the top of Molokai several miles away and what wind there is has been refreshing more than bothersome.
It’s enough to lull someone with a guaranteed paycheck in a 32-player, no-cut field into a serious island vibe.
But Ryan Moore decided five years ago he wouldn’t take any more working vacations and Justin Thomas didn’t want to waste his two-week Hawaiian excursion like he did a year ago.
Consequently – or perhaps coincidentally – Moore and Thomas share the 36-hole lead in the SBS Tournament of Champions, sitting at 12-under par 134 at Kapalua’s Plantation Course.
“I made a very conscious decision five years ago that if I’m at a golf tournament, I’m at a golf tournament,” said Moore, who said he still can fit in a few minutes of beach time with his young son while maintaining his work mentality this week.
Moore has five Tour victories but changed his career storyline last fall by making – and playing a major role on – the victorious U.S. Ryder Cup team.
He went from being “a guy that was a really good amateur 10 years ago” to being “a Ryder Cupper.”
Same guy. Same player. New star.
In September, Moore lost the Tour Championship in a playoff to Rory McIlroy but his gritty play through the FedEx Cup playoffs and his run in the 30-man finale earned him the last spot on the Ryder Cup team.
This is another small field but feels different, starting a fresh calendar year rather than ending a long season.
“At that point (last fall), we were playing a lot into form, and here, there might be 10 people in the field that haven’t played golf in a month and a half,” Moore said. “Honestly, I haven’t played a lot coming into here. I kind of came early to get some rounds in and it rained over the weekend and I didn’t really get anything in.
“But I’ve been doing other stuff to prepare. It might be a third of the field that haven’t really done a lot of golf since the middle of November.”
Thomas was one of those guys at this event last year. He was never in contention, finishing 21st here then missed the cut at the Sony Open and the Waste Management Championship in Phoenix.
What changed this year?
“I just prepared, actually, this year,” Thomas admitted, sheepishly shrugging his shoulders. “I obviously practiced and prepared last year, but I just didn’t as much as I should have. I didn’t take it like a normal event. This is a great, great opportunity to win a golf tournament.
“This is your best chance, you would say. You only have to beat 30 people or however many people it is. Obviously the winners, they are all great players, but I’ll take my chances over 32 versus 144 every single week.”