The PGA Tour Hawaiian swing continues this Thursday with the 51st edition of the $5.5 million Sony Open Tournament from the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, Hawaii. The par-70, 7,068-yard-long course will serve as the host for the 2012 season's first full-field tournament.
While the course provides the opportunity to hit long drives, the one caveat this course has is that its fairways are hard to hit, thus making accuracy from the tee a premium in this tournament.
One important detail is that for this tournament, the two nines are reversed. The ninth hole becomes the first hole to be played here. This means the players open with two of the toughest holes on the course.
The opening hole ranks third-toughest, and the second hole is the toughest hole on the course. At least they will make the turn playing two of the easiest holes—the ninth (ranked 18th) and 10th (ranked 16th).
The Sony Open is notorious for giving Michelle Wie sponsor's exemptions to play against the boys from 2004 through 2007. She will not be making headlines here this year, but we will see the previous seven champions back attempting to get their second title.
But, what most of the players are looking for is to get an early jump on the FedEx Cup standings
For defending champion Mark Wilson, last year's win—along with the win a couple of weeks later at the Waste Management Open—propelled him to lead the FedEx Cup standings for 12 weeks.
The field is headlined by Steve Stricker—fifth-ranked player in the world—and Webb Simpson—seventh-ranked player in the world.
5. Steve Stricker
Steve Stricker will be trying to emulate Ernie Els as the only other player to win the Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open in consecutive weeks. Els did it back in 2003.
If someone can replicate Els' achievement, it is Stricker. He has all the momentum coming off from his three-shot win at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and has four Top-10 finishes in the past five editions of this tournament—including three in the Top 5.
7. Webb Simpson
Webb Simpson has played the last three years here, and after finishing T9 in 2009, he finished T77 in 2010 and T46 last year. But, he is coming off a T3 in the TOC and off the best season of his career.
14. K.J. Choi
K.J. Choi is the only other player ranked in the Top 20 in the world presently. He won here back in 2008 and just finished T5 in the TOC after having the lowest final-round score.
Choi has not fared well the past two years here—he missed the cut last year. But, he comes in playing steady golf and finished 2011 with four Top-10 finishes in his last six tournaments.
30. David Toms
David Toms won the tournament in 2006. That was the same year when he established the course record in the third round with a 61.
He is not playing at his best right now, as he only has one Top-10 finish in nine tournaments since finishing T4 at the PGA Championship. But, he was sixth in driving accuracy last year and could use his success here to jump-start his season (also finished T2 in 2009).
31. Keegan Bradley
Just like Choi, Keegan Bradley is a winner of the PGA Championship and Rookie of the Year who finished strong at the TOC and could carry that momentum into this tournament.
He was playing around the greens and barely missing before breaking through in the last round. Bradley is one of the players to watch this year and could show up and contend here.
42. Zach Johnson
2007 Masters Champ Zach Johnson won here in 2009. He finished T57 last year, but in 2010, he was T12.
He was eighth in driving accuracy and fourth in scrambling last year and comes off a close-call, second-place finish to Tiger Woods at the Chevron World Challenge. He definitely has the tools to be successful at this course.
Other notable top-ranked players in the field are Bae Sang-Moon (34th), Jason Dufner (35th), John Senden (43rd) and Ryo Ishikawa (48th).
The Dark Horses
Chris Kirk had only three great showings last year—Viking Classic win, a T2 and a T7—but started this one on fire. He played the last three rounds at the TOC better than anyone else, finishing at 16-under par.
The key for him in those last three rounds was that he was the best in driving accuracy and scrambling, which is exactly what he needs at a course that has many similarities to Kapalua. If he can replicate it, he could win this tournament.
I picked the Japanese veteran here based solely on his history here. Shigeki Maruyama has four Top-10 finishes and an additional Top-5 finish here. He can call himself the only player to ace two holes on this course. If anyone knows how to play here, it is him.
Another player that seems to love the Hawaiian Islands is Rory Sabbatini. He plays great at Kapalua and here. At Kapalua, if you take away his tough-luck start with the two-points he was penalized at the opening hole, he could have had another Top-5 finish at the TOC.
He has two second-place finishes to go with two additional Top-15 finishes here and comes off a strong finish at the TOC. Good odds to play on him.
Steve Stricker's win last week and his success in this tournament makes it a no-brainer to favor him with the betting odds for this tournament. Here are the top betting choices for the Sony Open according to Ladbrokes:
|Charles Howell III||25/1|
Play starts from the first and 10th tees at 7:10 a.m. local time. Following are some of the notable pairings and their tee times:
From Tee No.1
7:50 a.m. - Lucas Glover, Rory Sabbatini and Ryan Palmer. Glover's participation is still in doubt due to his paddle-board accident last weekend. Sabbatini has been successful at this tournament before, and Palmer won the tournament in 2010.
8:30 a.m. - Shigeki Maruyama, Bobby Gates and Tadahiro Takayama. Trio of dark horses who can show up and contend.
12:00 p.m. - Bud Cauley, Tommy Gainey and Bae Sang-Moon. Awaited season debut for Cauley. Up-and-coming Korean Sang-Moon finished last year strong, and he's worth a look here.
12:10 p.m. - Kevin Na, Michael Bradley and Matt Bettencourt. Na showed flashes of his improved play at Kapalua, and he's also worth a look.
12:20 p.m. - David Toms, Mark Wilson and Zach Johnson. Trio of former champs paired together.
12:30 p.m. - Steve Stricker, Sean O'Hair and Davis Love III. All eyes will be on Stricker, the tournament favorite and man of the moment. Love is a Ryder Cup Captain and 1999 PGA Championship winner.
12:40 p.m. - Paul Goydos, Jim Carter and Brendon de Jonge. Goydos won the tournament in 2007.
From Tee No. 10
7:50 a.m. - Keegan Bradley, Stewart Cink and Vijay Singh. A threesome of major winners. Bradley comes off a strong finish at the TOC, and the veteran Singh won here in 2005.
8:00 a.m. - Webb Simpson, K.J. Choi and Ryo Ishikawa. Simpson and Choi are two of the top players in the tournament and paired with young Japanese rising-star Ishikawa.
12:20 p.m. - Chris Kirk, Johnathan Byrd and Robert Allenby. Kirk is one of my dark horse picks. Byrd won the TOC last year and finished T3 this year. Allenby's mixed success here is worth watching.
12:30 p.m. - Scott Stallings, Jerry Kelly and Charles Howell III. Kelly was third in accuracy and 15th in scrambling last year. Along with Howell, both have played very well in the past here.
For a complete listing of the official tee times, click here.
Golf Channel (TV)
Thursday, Jan. 12: 7:00 p.m. - 10:30 p.m. EST
Friday, Jan. 13: 7:00 p.m. - 10:30 p.m. EST
Saturday, Jan. 14: 7:00 p.m. - 10:30 p.m. EST
Sunday, Jan. 15: 7:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. EST
Thursday, Jan. 12: 5:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m. EST
Friday, Jan. 13: 5:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m. EST
Saturday, Jan. 14: 5:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m. EST
Sunday, Jan. 15: 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. EST