This week on PGA Tour: Sony Open
It’s a quick turnaround for the PGA Tour pros this week as less than 48 hours after the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions concluded, the Sony Open will tee off Thursday at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu. It’s the first full-field event of the PGA Tour season, although Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson aren’t playing.
Opened in 1927 to help entice travelers to the islands, designers Seth Raynor and Charles Banks borrowed liberally from signature ideas from other courses for Waialae. The 13th green is bisected by a deep “Biarritz” gully; No.8 has a “redan” green that slopes sharply back-to-front and right-to-left. The Hawaiian Open has been played at Waialae since its 1965 debut on the PGA Tour schedule.
Defending champion Johnson Wagner, U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson, Hyundai winner Dustin Johnson and former PGA Champion Keegan Bradley are among 19 participants at Kapalua who are scheduled to play both ends of the Hawaiian double. Last year Wagner, who began the final round two shots off the pace, claimed a two-shot triumph after emerging from a Sunday pack that at one point found 11 players within a shot of the lead. Wagner fired nothing worse than a 68 at Waialae, capping the week with a 67 included no bogeys over the final 12 holes. It was Wagner’s third career victory. Charles Howell III, Carl Pettersson, Sean O’Hair and Harrison Frazar tied for second.
Howell has been runner-up each of the past two years at Waialae — three times overall — but remains in search of his first Sony Open victory. He has three other top-5 finishes in the event. : Since the Hyundai Tournament of Champions came to Kapalua in 1999, just one man has captured both ends of the Hawaii double: Ernie Els in 2003. Wagner was the ninth of the past 14 Sony Open winners to take the trophy after playing the Tournament of Champions the previous week.
Johnson is the WagerWeb.com favorite to win back-to-back. He is making his third appearance in this event. He tied for 10th in 2008 and logged a T16 in 2010. He’s already crafted a reputation as one of the best wind players in the game.
Twenty-three of this year’s class of 31 rookies are scheduled to compete this week. That includes five that will be making their PGA Tour debuts. Of the 67 to tee it up at Waialae in the previous three editions, only 37 made the cut (55.22 percent) and just six posted top 25s, none of which went for a top 10.
So why is Waialae so demanding? After all, it lists at only 7,044 yards. Well, it’s always windy along with southern shore of Oahu. Combine that with fairways that annually measure among the most difficult to find off the tee, and it’s no wonder the field of 144 goes into self-preservation mode. Waialae CC is one of the few courses this year that will not demand length off the tee from those hoping to be in contention on Sunday. Four of the last six Sony Open champions averaged less than 290 yards per drive during the event.
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