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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sony Open - Preview

It's rare that I pen a preview for a golf tournament before the third round of the previous tournament is in the books (or underway, for that matter), but such is the case for the Sony Open preview.

As I type this, Zach Johnson is waking up at Kapalua with a 36-hole lead in the HTOC. While I'm not surprised to see him with a 36-hole lead in Hawaii, I would have found it much more likely that would have come at the Sony Open on Waialae Country Club rather than the Plantation Course.

So, what's the story with Waialae CC? The course itself is short, to the tune of a 7,044 par 70 with just two par 5s. Both of those par 5s are under 550 yards, so reachable by virtually everyone with a drive placed in the fairway. It's viewed as a pretty tight course, where length off the tee is secondary to accuracy and scoring opportunities await aggressive approaches.

Historically, Waialae has been a haven for veteran players. That changed last year when Russell Henley won in the first start of his rookie year and another rookie, Scott Langley, was in the hunt all week. This week will serve as a bit of a learning experience in determining if 2013 was an aberration or a trending new norm.

Here's a quick glance at the winners in this event dating back ten years: Henley (2013), Johnson Wagner (2012), Mark Wilson (2011), Ryan Palmer (2010), Zach Johnson (2009), K.J. Choi (2008), Paul Goydos (2007), David Toms (2006), Vijay Singh (2005), Ernie Els (2004). The runners-up over that span are Tim Clark (2013 & 2011), Charles Howell III (2012 & 2007), Carl Pettersson (2012), Sean O'Hair (2012), Harrison Frazar (2012 & 2004), Steve Marino (2011), Robert Allenby (2010), David Toms (2009), Adam Scott (2009), Rory Sabbatini (2008 & 2006), Luke Donald (2007), Chad Campbell (2006) and Ernie Els (2005).

Several things stick out when looking at that list:

  • There are several course horses over that span with a combination of multiple wins / runner-up finishes. Included are Ernie Els (1 win, 1 runner-up), David Toms (1 win, 1 runner-up), Tim Clark (2 runners-up), Charles Howell III (2 runners-up), Harrison Frazar (2 runners-up) and Rory Sabbatini (2 runners-up).
  • That list includes many guys who would have been among the field's elite in the year they placed 1st or second. 
  • There is some crossover with success in this event and the RBC Heritage. Possibly not so coincidentally, there are also some noted wind players in the group. 
  • While putting is always important, the list above suggests ball-striking and proximity may be an even bigger premium. 
Depending on how the next 36 hours play out, I may be back with a power ranking on Monday evening or it could be Tuesday. With the HTOC set to end around 8pm (ET) Monday night, it may be too quick of a turnaround for an update tomorrow, but we'll see.

Until then, happy research!

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