Sony Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
JUSTIN THOMAS kicked off his remarkable 2017 with a seven-shot victory at the Sony Open. He recorded a 72-hole total of 253, which was a mind-boggling 27 under par. Justin Rose finished second but may as well have been playing in a different time zone for all the chance he had of catching Thomas.
The young American crowned his season by winning the US PGA Championship and the FedEx Cup and promptly began his 2017-18 campaign with yet another victory. It seems that nothing can stop this remarkable golfer right now. He joined an illustrious roll call of winners of this tournament, which is played at Waialea Country Club in Hawaii. It was won in 2016 by Fabian Gomez, in 2014 and 2015 by Jimmy Walker, in 2013 by Russell Henley, in 2012 by Johnson Wagner and in 2011 by Mark Wilson. But no winner has dominated the tournament in the way that Thomas did, and he will return with a spring in his step, confident of retaining his title.
There is much debate as to who will be the next young player to make the breakthrough on the PGA Tour, and it has to be said that there are plenty of potential candidates. American golf is in rude health and the future looks especially bright, with the likes of Thomas and Jordan Spieth showing the young generation precisely what can be achieved if you have the talent and dedication.
Put me on the spot and I would identify Ollie Schniederjans as a racing certainty to follow a promising rookie season with his first victory. The 24-year-old is a former World No1 amateur. Back in 2015, when Paul Dunne led The Open at St Andrews after 54 holes, Schniederjans finished 15th, just weeks after making the cut at the US Open, where he ended up in a tie for 42nd. Immediately after playing at St Andrews he joined the paid ranks and enjoyed success on the Web.com Tour, where he won in 2016 and duly earned his PGA Tour card.
Last season was one of steady progress for the man from Dallas. He missed his first three cuts but went on to record five top-10 finishes, including a runner-up finish at the Wyndham Championship. He also finished third at the RBC Heritage. In his maiden season on tour he ended up in 60th place in the FedEx Cup standings, a creditable performance by anybody’s standards. And he already has three top-25 finishes from four starts in the 2017-18 season. Schniederjans is 6ft 1in and tips the scales at around 12 stones. Like so many of today’s players, he spends a great deal of time in the gym and hits the ball a long, long way. He missed eight cuts last season and will be looking to improve his consistency as the year unfolds.
Thomas will have looked at the field and noted that Spieth has entered, so he knows that he is not going to have things his own way. The Open champion continues to go from strength to strength. However, he demonstrated at the Tournament of Champions that he still has a worrying tendency to hit the odd drive miles to the right. It will be a concern for him because he has been working hard during the winter to improve his driving, which is easily the weakest part of his game. Spieth has joined Tiger Woods as the only other golfer to have won 10 times by the age of 24, and he is constantly striving for improvement. He will know that he is defending the Claret Jug at Carnoustie, which is a golf course upon which he will simply not get away with wayward tee shots.
He can, of course, always call upon that incredible putting stroke and will point to the fact that Tiger Woods won 14 majors while playing a lot of approach shots from the rough. But Spieth is a perfectionist. And he will take heart from the fact that Waialea is not a course that is renowned for its punishing rough, so he may well be the man to beat.
However, I have a sneaky feeling that Keegan Bradley may be the man to beat this week. He remains the most frustrating golfer on the planet, taking an age to pull the trigger. The former US PGA champion has taken a long time to come to terms with the ban on anchored putting but there were plenty of signs last season that he has finally come to terms with having to use a standard-length putter. He had five top-10 finishes last season and finished second at the CIMB Classic to kick off the current campaign. Bradley is a top quality golfer and you get the sense that if he can get another win under his belt then he really could kick on once again.
Jason Dufner is another who has finally overcome some serious putting woes. Even when he was winning the US PGA championship, Dufner demonstrated some serious frailties on the greens but he has worked incredibly hard to put things right and crowned his comeback with victory at The Memorial at Muirfield Village, which is one of the toughest courses visited by the PGA Tour. His skills with a wedge in his hands are well known, and Dufner remains a fierce competitor. It is said that when the putting gremlins set in you will never rid yourself of them, but Dufner is determined to prove otherwise. When you watch him stand over a putt now you see a man who no longer attempts to dribble the ball into the hole. He is the first to admit that he has had a great deal of help and that he had to work hard to convince himself that the putter is not a club to be feared. This could be another big season for him.
Keegan Bradley. Playing as well as he has ever done
Justin Thomas. Defending champion, full of confidence
Jordan Spieth. If he putts well he wins
Keegan Bradley. Coming back to his very best
Justin Thomas. Is there a better player on the planet right now>
Jordan Spieth. How can you ignore him?
Jason Dufner. Looking to kick on in 2018
Ollie Schniederjans. His time will surely come
Daniel Berger. Can win anywhere
Charles Howell III. The money-making machine
Xander Shauffele. Brilliant youngster
Ryan Palmer. Needs a big year
Gary Woodland. Better than he thinks
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