Cam Smith set the PGA Tour 72-hole score at the Tournament of Champions.

KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — The scoreboard was filled with red numbers below par after the first round, all hitting double digits, the best score at 59.

Soft and sweet Kapalua?

No, it was the PNC championship. The low scores were the product of a two-man scrum.

But it raised a question that only seemed futuristic. How long before it looks like after a round of move play on the PGA Tour?

Absurd?

Neither did the world No. 1 tying a PGA Tour record with 32 birdies, finishing at 33 under par and explaining how he finished second.

“A bittersweet moment,” said Jon Rahm.

By now, even the casual golf fan should recognize that when the turf is soft and the wind is on vacation, nothing stops the best players in the world – and there are more than ever these days – scores apparently more suitable for a video game.

It was no less surreal to see the scores in the final hour of the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Only three players in PGA Tour history have ever finished a 72-hole tournament at 30 under par or less. There were three players under 30 or better in Kapalua, and they hadn’t even finished.

Kevin Kisner and Stewart Cink had just signed their cards on Sunday when they looked up at a television outside the score room. Kisner had set a personal best at 24 under par. His previous record was 22 under in 2015 when he won at Sea Island by six strokes. He finished tied for eighth in Kapalua, 10 strokes behind.

Did they ever imagine seeing scoring like that?

“No wind, no defense,” Kisner said. “I just hope they don’t lengthen the golf courses because that doesn’t work.”

Cink looked at another aspect of the latest evolution of the royal and ancient game, and he found the right words from the player standing next to him.

“To quote a famous golf philosopher,” he said, looking at Kisner, “‘It’s not a hobby.'”

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Yes, the equipment is better, both the clubs and golf balls in the hands of players and the machines that keep golf courses as pristine as the weather permits. Technology improves every year, from launch monitors to instant video instructions on mobile phones.

We must not neglect the money, which attracts better athletes. And that’s what’s behind the ever-lower score as much as anything.

It had to happen, and a lot of it goes back to Tiger Woods.

“You’ve got what’s probably a lot of game purists who are probably going, ‘Oh, you gotta roll the ball back, shorter drivers, do this, do that,'” Rahm said after finishing a shot behind Cameron Smith. . in Kapalua.

“The simple fact is that since Tiger started playing golf, you get people who take this game a lot more seriously,” he said. “Everyone thinks about it more like athletes. The level of the game is therefore much higher than it was before.

Players are careful with their words when discussing how difficult it is to win in today’s game so that nothing is taken away from what Woods achieved in his prime, some of which will likely never be repeated (142 cups consecutive, holding all four major titles at the same time, 52 consecutive rounds at par or better on the PGA Tour).

But the competition is stronger. That he still won 82 times is beside the point. Woods had David Duval, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh challenging him. Now, there’s no one as good as Woods, but a dozen like those who challenged him once, and the list keeps growing.

“He was better than all of us have ever been,” Rahm said. “But overall I think the average player is a better golf player.”

Cink came to the PGA Tour around the same time as Woods, and he’s seen how the game has changed. It’s not just a game to play. It is a sport that consumes the best.

“Your ability has given you a lot more than it does now,” Cink said. “Now your ability opens the door for you. It’s a different story when you get out of here. The level of play continues to increase. The trajectory increases sharply.

Rory McIlroy once said that golf is such a nostalgic game that the earliest memories will always be the fondest, whether it’s Ben Hogan with a 1 iron at Merion or Seve Ballesteros with any club of any lie or Woods winning majors by double-digit margins.

David Hunter is a special piece of golf history. He was the first player to beat 70 in a major (68) at the 1909 US Open. Branden Grace now holds the record at 62 from the 2017 British Open. That will fall, possibly this summer, especially if St. Andrews doesn’t have his best defense: the wind.

Arnold Palmer said in 1960, “Doesn’t 280 always win the US Open?” just before edging his way from seven strokes behind with a 65 to win the Open at Cherry Hills.

He finished at 280, a score that would not have won seven of the last 10 times at the US Open.

The game evolves, and always has. As long as the lowest score wins, golf will be fine. It might not be exactly the sport as you remember it. Few sports are.