Sony Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
IT’S A HARD life being a PGA Tour player. Last week an elite group of winners took part in the Tournament of Champions on Hawaii and this week there will be a full-strength field at the Sony Open, where Patton Kizzire required 78-holes 12 months ago to outlast James Hahn and become the season’s first double champion.
Such was the drama witnessed at Waialae Country Cub that it is worth reliving. Kizzire, who won the OHL Classic in Mexicoa few weeks earlier, closed with a 2-under 68. But a brilliant Hahn shot 62 in the final round to come from six shots back and force his way into a playoff with Kizzire after both men finished on 17-under 263.
They matched two pars and two birdies on the par-five 18th. They then matched pars when they went to the par-3 17th. It ended on the par 3 along the Pacific Ocean when Hahn putted from right of the green to about eight feet, and his par putt caught the lip.
"It wasn't pretty," Kizzire said. “But I'll take it any way I can get it.”
Hahn, who won both his PGA TOUR events in playoffs at Riviera and Quail Hollow, had birdie putts from 10 feet and six feet on the par-five 18th hole at Waialae Country Club that would have won it. He made a six-foot birdie another time to extend the playoff.
Kizzire had to get up-and-down from a bunker for par on the first extra hole, making a 7-footer to stay alive. It was the longest playoff on the PGA TOUR since Bryce Molder won the Frys.com Open in 2012 in eight extra holes.
It nearly was the most exciting tournament of the year that nobody saw. Union workers for video and audio production at Golf Channel events walked out on the final day in a labour dispute, and the network had to scramble to provide limited coverage. They had enough cameras to at least cover the final three holes and the entire playoff, with commentary coming from headquarters in Florida.
Missing from the playoff was Tom Hoge, who did everything right in his bid to win for the first time on the PGA TOUR except for one swing. He had a one-shot lead when he was between clubs on the 16th hole, and opted to hit a draw to the back-left pin. He turned it too much and it found the bunker. His next shot got hung up in the rough, he chipped that to 12 feet and missed to make double bogey to slip one shot behind.
Hoge gave himself two good chances with putts of about seven feet but both burned the edge. He shot 70 and had to settle for third place, his best finish on the PGA Tour.
Defending champion Justin Thomas closed with a 68 and tied for 14th, but he will surely be the man to beat this year. There are those who believe Thomas had a poor season in 2018. You can bet your bottom dollar that just about every other player would have settled for the season Thomas enjoyed. He played 23 times and missed just two cuts. He won three times, finished second once, had 10 top-10 finishes and 20 top 25 finishes. In other words, if Thomas makes the cut, you can just about bet your life on the fact that he will be in contention. Oh yes, and did we mention that he also managed to accumulate a cool $8.7m in prize money. He is just 25 years old but has already won nine times, including a major, and banked, wait for it, almost $25m in on-course earnings alone. Since he won five times in 2017, it is understandable that some may consider last year to have been a disappointment, but eight victories in two years is impressive by anybody’s standards. To put it in perspective, Matt Kuchar is 40 and is regarded by most observers as being one of the world’s leading tournament players. He has more than $45m in prize money tucked away but has won just eight times. So that gives you some idea of just how good the likes of Thomas and Jordan Spieth are.
10 Players to Watch on the PGA Tour in 2019
It is fair to say that 2019 could be a seminal year for Spieth, who will not want a repeat of last year when he failed to win a tournament and did not make the field for the Tour Championship. Like Thomas, he is 25. Like Thomas he won five times during his best year to date, 2015. He has 11 titles to his name and $38m in career prize money. He has teed it up in 152 PGA Tour events in his remarkable career and has achieved a scarcely believable 57 top-10 finishes.
But there are some key differences between Thomas and Spieth. Thomas hits the ball a long way, and usually straight, which means he reaches par-fives in two shots as a matter of routine. Spieth is no slouch off the tee but gets nowhere near the likes of Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy. Thomas is a consistently brilliant iron player and deadly with a wedge in his hands. He is also a consistently good putter. Spieth plays a lot of approach shots from the rough because he can be so wild from the tee. When he is dialled in you can guarantee that when he pulls out a wedge the ball will finish six feet from the hole, or closer. However, when he doesn’t have his eye in, just about anything can happen. And then there is his putting. All his victories have come largely as a result of some mind-boggling performances on the greens but in 2018 he lost that magic - with the exception of four wonderful days at Augusta when he nearly won The Masters despite the quality of the rest of his game.
After failing to make the 30-man field for East Lake, Spieth announced that it wouldn’t happen again. Right now, the evidence suggests otherwise. He finished 55th at the Shriners and missed the cut at Mayakoba, which means that he heads into this week in 190th place in the FedEx Cup standings, with just $16,000 in prize money.
It was won in 2011 by Mark Wilson, in 2012 by Johnson Wagner, in 2013 by Russell Henley, in 2014 and 2015 by Jimmy Walker, in 2016 by Fabian Gomez, in 2017 by Thomas and last year by Kizzire. When Thomas won two years ago he did so with a winning total of 253 and that is why he is a no-brainer to kick off 2019 with yet another victory.
Justin Thomas. A winning machine
Jordan Spieth. On the basis that he must turn it around sometime
Hideki Matsuyama. Ready to win again
Justin Thomas. Has gone low here before. REALLY low
Jordan Spieth. Needs a confidence boost, and soon
Hideki Matsuyama. Looking for a big season
Gary Woodland. There’s more to this guy than 320-yard drives
Cameron Champ. Going to be a sensation
Daniel Berger. Coming off a disappointing year
Ollie Schniederjans. Must record his first win soon
Brian Harman. Beautiful swing, great temperament
Kyle Stanley. All depends on the short stick with Stanley
Cameron Smith. Hugely underrated Australian with a BIG game
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