KAPALUA, MAUI » Graeme McDowell had just completed his second round on Friday at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions with a nifty 68 when he decided to amble over to appease the autograph hunters near the fairway ropes.
Two Americans in their 30s were among the fans who tried hard to get McDowell’s attention.
"You caddied for us at Portrush in 1999," they said in unison.
They showed a photograph of McDowell as a lad standing between the two of them. The two golfing friends, Sam Pratt and Tom Herrick, were barely out of college when they decided to play golf in Ireland. Little did they know that one day their caddie would be a U.S. Open champion.
"Because of that trip, we followed Graeme’s career through college over here and then when he went on tour," Pratt said.
"We watched last June’s U.S. Open together at my home here in Kauai. And when Graeme came up the 18th in the lead and went on to sink the winning putt, we just sat there with our mouths open, unable to speak. Imagine it, being able to claim that a U.S. Open champion had actually caddied for us. Golf doesn’t get better than that."
McDowell enjoyed the meeting and was taken aback by the chance encounter. "Though I caddied for quite a few Americans, meeting these guys again like this is a first for me," McDowell said. "I would have got about 50 pounds plus a tip for carrying those two bags, which probably represented my pocket money back then for playing in an event like the Leinster Youths. An occasional caddying job in between practice. Now I’m playing here for more than a million dollars."
But for twists of ugly fate, Dustin Johnson and Charley Hoffman would be on the first page of the leaderboard.
Hoffman was 8 under for his round and 11 under for the tournament yesterday after 16 holes. An errant tee shot followed by a three-putt on the 18th knocked him back into a tie for 13th going into the final round.
It was Hoffman’s fourth double bogey of the week. He had one at the par-3 eighth both of the first two days and is 5 over at that hole after yesterday’s bogey. Friday he also took double at the 17th.
Johnson also doubled No.17, on Thursday. Friday, a double bogey at No. 14 ended a streak of five straight birdies.
Yesterday, one of the tour’s longest hitters bogeyed the par-5 fifth, double-bogeyed the sixth then bogeyed the next two.
SONY PRE-QUALIFIER SET
The field for this morning’s Sony Open in Hawaii pre-qualifier is up to 56, with the top 42 moving on to tomorrow’s main qualifier at Turtle Bay’s Palmer Course. Thirty pros will join them for that Monday qualifier.
Tadd Fujikawa, Ayaka Kaneko and Alex Ching are among those in the pre-qualifier. Tomorrow’s field includes Parker McLachlin, Kevin Hayashi, Scott Simpson, Jason Gore, Frank Lickliter, Len Mattiace and Joe Ogilvie.
The Monday qualifier will start at 7:30 a.m., with golfers going off Nos. 1 and 10. The top four get the final slots in the Sony Open, which starts Thursday at Waialae Country Club.
LITTLE TIGER IN HOUSE
Kota Kagasaki, a 14-year-old amateur from Japan known as "Little Tiger," has been added to Tuesday afternoon’s King Auto Group Pro-Junior Skills Challenge at Waialae. He will play with pro Steve Stricker.
The other teams are Ricky Barnes and Ryan Kuroiwa, Fred Funk and Allisen Corpuz, Zach Johnson and Scotty Yamashita, Jerry Kelly and Cyd Okino, and Matt Kuchar and Alex Chiarella.
The Challenge benefits the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association. It begins at 2:45 p.m. on the 18th hole.
HYUNDAI GLAD TO BE HERE
Hyundai Motor Company had been eyeing golf sponsorship for a long time before beginning negotiations with the TOC in September and signing a three-year contract in October.
Then reality hit.
"We were thrilled to get the opportunity," said Dave Zuchowski, Hyundai’s executive vice president for sales. "Then we said, ‘Oh my God, what have we done and how do we get ready for January?’ and here we are and it’s worked out great."
Zuchowski, whose company is also involved in the Super Bowl, Academy Awards and FIFA soccer, calls golf "something we want to get big in."
Hyundai calls this "not an interim type of deal" and Zuchowski promised growth in the future. Maybe even a car for the winner.
Freelance writer Dermot Gilleece contributed to this report.