Sony Open in Hawaii Preview, Picks & Analysis
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
HOW lucky are the guys who earn their living on the PGA Tour? Sure, there is the pressure involved in trying to keep you playing privileges, and living out of a suitcase is not for everybody. But they do get to play in some places and on some amazing golf courses.
So the golfers who try to tell us that the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Hawaii is work really cannot be taken seriously. Waialae is a little piece of paradise, with many holes featuring glorious ocean views. It originally opened in 1927 and has been tweaked a couple of times over the years. The course is framed by the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Koolau mountain range on the other. It features palm trees, lush fairways, dozens of bunkers and 18 fantastic greens.
It closes with a magnificent par five measuring 551 yards. In 1983, Isao Aoki won the tournament by holing his third shot from 128 yards for an eagle, but most of today's golfers will expect to reach the green in two.
Mark Wilson won in 2011, Johnson Wagner in 2012, Russell Henley in 2013, Jimmy Walker in 2014-15 and, right out of the blue, Fabian Gomez 12 months ago. Fabian Gomez, for goodness sake! The Argentinian finished level with Brandt Snedeker on a 20-under-par total of 260 after finishing with a fantastic round of 62, and then held his nerve to beat the American at the second extra hole.
It was a win that proved his victory in the 2015 St Jude Classic was not a fluke, but it still came as a surprise for the 38-year-old, who turned professional in 2002 and struggled to make his mark until finally making that breakthrough in 2015. He is the sort of golfer who either plays well or misses the cut, and he will be desperate to make a decent fist of defending his title in such a beautiful corner of the globe.
Charles Howell III remains the PGA Tour's greatest enigma. The 37-year-old, from Augusta, has been a professional for 16 years and has earned a cool $31m in prize money. He has won just twice, and his last success was 10 years ago. But he has had 181 top-25 finishes. Week after week, he produces wonderful golf, week after week he gets himself into contention, and week after week he fails to finish off the job. There is a school of thought that a number of tour professionals are comfortable with top-10 finishes and the standard of living doing that regularly affords them. Howell is not one of those golfers. This is a man who wants to win, who works hard, really hard, and plays between 25 and 30 tournaments every year. He hits the ball a mile and, on the face of it, appears top have no weaknesses. The bottom line is that the missing ingredient for Howell almost certainly exists in the six inches between his ears.
Talking of consistency and top 10 finishes brings us to none other than Matt Kuchar. He is the same age as Howell and also turned professional in 2000. Kuchar won early in his career but then went into a slump that has been largely forgotten about. In 2003 he missed 15 cuts but kept his playing rights because he had won the previous season. 2004 and 2005 were also poor years and Kuchar ended up playing on the Web.com Tour in 2006, when he won once and finished as runner-up twice. And he hasn't looked back since then.
Kuchar has won seven times. But he has also had nine runner-up finishes, 12 third places and 85 top-10 finishes. Just stop and think about that for a moment - EIGHT-FIVE top-10 finishes. It is an amzing statistic. Last season alone, he finished in the top 10 on 10 occasions. Now that is consistency. Those are astonishing statistics and, not surprisingly, they have allowed the ever-smiling Kuchar to bank almost $38m.
Graham DeLaet, of Canada, is another serial money-winner. Unlike Howell and Kuchar, he is still looking for his first victory on the PGA Tour. For a while he was more famous for his facial hair than for his golf and said he was not going to shave off his beard until he won for the first time. The problem was that he was beginning to look more like a lumberjack than a golfer, so the fuzz has finally gone. And I have a feeling that 2017 is going to be his breakthrough year. He has a few injury problems but is now fighting fit.
Look out, too, for another big week from Jimmy Walker, who loves this place and has already won the Sony Open twice. Walker, the US PGA champion, tends to play his best golf early in the season and will be a difficult man to beat this week. He has also straightened out his driving by taking the decision to sacrifice some distance by having a couple of inches cut off the shaft of his driver. It is a trend that just might catch on. Walker did it out of necessity - last season he hit just 42% of fairways, and you can't win consistently if you do that.
Jimmy Walker. His favourite venue
Matt Kuchar. Mr Consistency
Charles Howell III. Come on Charlie, it's time to win again
Jimmy Walker. Great swing, wonderful putting touch
Matt Kuchar. A money-making machine
Charles Howell III. Top 10 finish in the bag
Scott Piercey. Played some great golf in 2016
Brandt Snedeker. Will be hard to beat if he putts well
Kevin Kisner. Time to rediscover his touch
Jamie Lovemark. Can he make a winning mark?
Jason Dufner. Finally overcoming his putting woes
Harold Varner III. Brimful of confidence
Gary Woodland. Overdue a victory
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