A dif­fer­ent look at Sony Open

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - SPORTS -

HONOLULU — From a golf course on the side of a moun­tain to one along the shores just east of Waikiki Beach, the 21 play­ers at both PGA Tour stops in Hawaii will never see two tracks more dif­fer­ent in con­sec­u­tive weeks.

Walk­ing is much more en­joy­able at the Sony Open, where the only el­e­va­tion is walk­ing up a few steps to the tee box.

Keep­ing it in play? That will re­quire a lit­tle more skill.

“Fair­ways are nar­row, It’s a lot shorter. It’s an easy walk; not go­ing to be as tired at the end of ev­ery day,” Justin Thomas said Wed­nes­day as he out­lined the dif­fer­ence at Wa­ialae Coun­try Club com­pared with last week at Kapalua. “Just a lot of 2-irons and more po­si­tion­ing.”

And if his­tory is any in­di­ca­tion, there will be just as many birdies.

Fabian Gomez of Ar­gentina last year ran off seven straight birdies in the mid­dle of the fi­nal round and had 11 birdies in 20 holes to beat Brandt Snedeker in a play­off. The year be­fore that, Jimmy Walker shot 62-63 on the week­end for a nine-shot vic­tory.

So while the fair­ways are tight, wind­ing and lined with royal palms, the small and rel­a­tively flat greens lead to plenty of op­por­tu­nity.

The Sony Open is the first full-field event of the year on the PGA Tour. It is the ninth event of a sea­son that be­gan in Oc­to­ber, even though it feels like a fresh start who those who didn’t qual­ify for the win­ners-only event last week on Maui.

Thomas will try to be­come the first player since Ernie Els to sweep Hawaii, and he’s rid­ing plenty of con­fi­dence. He will be joined on the open­ing two days with two other 23-year-old play­ers, Jor­dan Spi­eth and Daniel Berger.

Spi­eth is play­ing the Sony Open for only the sec­ond time. He missed the cut in 2014, stayed home in 2015 when he wasn’t el­i­gi­ble for Kapalua, and didn’t play last year be­cause he went on a global tour of Sin­ga­pore and Abu Dhabi. It’s a course he be­lieves should fit him.

“You have to have smaller misses,” he said. “I think that plays into our fa­vor. We like to think our way around the golf course a lot and miss it in the right lo­ca­tion. Kapalua, it didn’t re­ally mat­ter. There are a few holes that are tight. But for the most part, mas­sive fair­ways, mas­sive greens, and the way it played this year, was just kind of tar­get prac­tice with it be­ing softer.

“I’m ex­cited about this be­ing a bit more of a chal­lenge on ap­proach shots and see­ing what we got.”

The field fea­tures eight of the top 20 in the world, which in­cludes Olympic gold medal­ist Justin Rose and Paul Casey. After this week, the PGA Tour heads to Cal­i­for­nia and stays on the U.S. main­land for the next six months (ex­cept for a de­tour to Mex­ico and Puerto Rico).

YOUNG AND OLD: Fred Funk is back at the Sony Open for the 24th year, a relationship that be­gan in 1989 when it was called the Hawai­ian Open. The 60-year-old will be head­ing over to the Big Is­land next week for the start of the PGA Tour Cham­pi­ons sea­son.

Funk says this prob­a­bly will be his last PGA Tour event.

He said he asked for a spon­sor’s ex­emp­tion and told the tour­na­ment it was fine if it went to some­one else, and here he is.

Also in the field is Tadd Fu­jikawa, who made it through Mon­day qual­i­fy­ing. Fu­jikawa made news at Wa­ialae 10 years ago when he made the cut at age 16, the youngest in 50 years to do that. He tied for 20th, and didn’t make an­other cut the rest of the year.

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