Date: Jan. 12-15, 2012
Inside the Ropes
Waialae Country Club, Honolulu, Hawaii
Par 70 (35-35)
Bermudagrass greens, fairways, rough
Rough: 2.5 inches
6500 square foot (on average) greens
Stimpmeter rolling 11 feet
Four water hazards
Course Architect: Seth Raynor (1927)
FedExCup Points: 500 (winner’s share)
Winner’s Share: $990,000
Defending Champion: Mark Wilson 16-under par 264
Notes: First full-field event of 2012. 144 players
In the Bag
Waialae Country Club in Honolulu is known for tight fairways and below-average size greens. Developed in 1927, Waialae has been a haven for accurate drivers of the golf ball. The greens here are firm and undulating but birdies will have to be made to contend and win. The last 10 tournaments here have produced an average winning score of nearly 15-under-par so players will be forced to go low again this week.
The Winning Formula
Driving Accuracy: Four of the last six winners were in the top 20 in 2011: Defending Champion Mark Wilson (20th), 2009 Zach Johnson (8th), 2007 Paul Goydos (15th) and 2006 David Toms (6th). Fairway bunkers, out of bounds and water hazards are in play this week.
In 2010, Waialae ranked as the number-one toughest course on Tour in fairways hit. In 2011, it was 12th.
Birdie or Better Percentage-Rough: If Waialae has some of the toughest fairways on Tour to hit, yet the winning score is on average 15-under par, birdies are going to have be made from off the fairway.
Approach Shots 50-125 yards-Rough: In 2010, Waialae ranked second most difficult in proximity to the pin from the rough under 100 yards. Guys who can get it on and get it close from the long stuff will prosper this week.
Trends: Paul Stankowski, in 1997, was the last golfer to win this tournament while in his 20’s. That’s 15 years of “aged” golfers winning here.
This will be the first event for the majority of the field. Remember this: Eight of the last 13 Sony Open winners have played the week before at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
The last player to have the Sony Open as his first career win was Jerry Kelly in 2002. Winners are welcome again this week.
My top five projected finish for Waialae, in order:
Zach Johnson: Only two rounds in his last 14-over-par here. 2009 winner. Top 10 in driving accuracy. Top five in approach shots from the rough within 125 yards. Top five in putting. Went toe-to-toe with Tiger before signing for a second-place finish at Sherwood Country Club in December his last time out. Also won the ADT Skills Challenge in November.
Steve Stricker: Hits tons of fairways and holes tons of putts and birdies. Finished 4th, 4th, 23rd, 3rd and 9th in his last five trips. And he won last week. And he has the most wins on Tour since 2009. And he’s healthy. Hard to lay off him this week but Ernie Els is only player to win the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open in same year.
Webb Simpson: Per his caddy Paul Tesori on Twitter the golfer struggled last week on the greens at Kapalua and…still finished 19-under. Think about that for a second. Can’t leave him out.
KJ Choi: Finished with nine birdies to shoot 65 in the final round at Kapalua. He’s made eight of 10 cuts here with a win in 2008. “The Tank” brings momentum to Honolulu.
David Toms: History here is amazing. Worst finish in six tournaments was 43rd in 2010. Before that: T2, T13, WIN, T2, T4. With that track record, no way I’m throwing out this past champion even though he was 26th out of 27 golfers last week. Could be depressed after his alma mater LSU lost in the BCS Championship game Monday night…
I look to these players to flow into the Top 25:
Jerry Kelly: In seven of eight appearances since his 2002 win, Kelly’s worst finish is 23rd. He has four top nines in that same stretch. Second in driving accuracy on Tour has contributed to those successes for this past champion.
Rory Sabbatini: Seven straight cuts made here including four top 13’s in his last six. Assessed a two-shot penalty for being TWENTY SECONDS late in round three at Kapalua. Kept his head together and finished T9. Did I mention he was only TWENTY SECONDS late? The two shot penalty for being late cost him T5 and over $80,000. They should put guys like Sabbatini ON THE CLOCK and penalize guys for slow play ON THE COURSE.
Keegan Bradley: Had an excellent finish at Kapalua with six birdies, eagle and no bogeys in the final round. Shot 70-69 here last year so he should have a handle on what he needs to win here.
Charles Howell III: Ten straight cuts made at Waialae. Driving accuracy has struggled, but 20th on tour in GIR from other than the fairway has helped. Hasn’t won since 2007 at Riviera.
Mark Wilson: Defending champ loosened up at Kapalua. Three top- 25 finishes in four events here.
Chad Campbell: Three top 13’s in his last three starts at Waialae. Made eight of nine cuts here. Fantastic iron player. Hasn’t won since 2007 Viking Classic.
Brian Gay: Has made 10 consecutive cuts here. Top 10 in driving, scrambling and putting but GIR (145th) have been an issue. Hasn’t won on Tour since doing so twice in 2009.
Jason Dufner: Steady player off the tee and with his irons. Extremely solid play from the PGA Championship through T3 at Nedbank Challenge in early December. Winless on Tour.
Ryan Palmer: 2010 champion at Waialae. Top 30 in all four majors in 2011.
Steve Marino: Has finished T2, T7 and T4 in his last three visits to Waialae. Will his knee give him any trouble in his first start of the season? Might be worth a late gamble with a record like that.
Trade Winds Blowing the Wrong Direction?
Jonathan Byrd: Plays better on Maui. Best finish here is T34 in last four starts.
Robert Allenby: Some of this and some of that. Great record here every other year but his personal life has me looking elsewhere this week.
Paul Goydos: Per Goydos on Twitter, the golfer is struggling to beat younger players, male or female at this time. Cut three times and T39 in his last four here since his win in back in 2007.
Vijay Singh: Not sure what he has left in the tank at 48. Good to hear he’s pain free but I’ll wait for more results before pulling the trigger.
Parker McLachlin: Sentimental, local favorite. Let someone else take a flyer here.
Rookies: Best rookie finisher in 2010 was Chris Kirk T30. Experience pays here.
Harrison Frazar: As I mentioned in my Hyundai Tournament of Champions recap here, Frazar is healthy again and has been able to refine his game and practice. Good start last week and he’ll try to keep riding this early wave.
DL III: Four top fives here in 12 career starts. Still long and still dangerous on this track.
Bud Cauley finished strong in 2011. Third at Frys.com and 15th at McGladrey were plenty enough to avoid Q School and to earn FULL Tour membership straight out of college. Keep your eye on this 21-year old down the road but history doesn’t favor the youth here.
Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge: Sony Open Waialae Country Club
Team Name: Mike Glasscott
Group 1: Zach Johnson
Group 2: Rory Sabbatini
Group 3: Chad Campbell
Group 4: Bobby Gates
Ned Said, “…
Steve Stricker-- He is looking to sweep both Hawaii events and he might do it. Stricker has a very strong recent record at the Sony with four top 10s in his last five starts.
Webb Simpson--Normally, I would use Charles Howell III in this spot; however Simpson is playing so well right now that he is hard to fade. Simpson did have a T9 finish in his first career start at the Sony but has finished well back in the field his last two starts.
Charles Howell III, K.J. Choi, Kevin Na, Zach Johnson
Steve Marino-- Marino is still looking for his first win on the Tour and it wouldn't be a surprise if it was at the Sony Open. He has three top-seven finishes in a row at the Sony including a tie for second place last year.
Chad Campbell-- The Sony Open is one of his best events. He has three top-10 finishes in his last five starts here, plus last year he tied for 13th place.
Robert Allenby-- A true home-run pick. In his last six starts he has finished in the top 8 three times and has missed the cut three times. He looked good at the Australian PGA where he tied for second place, so I feel he’s worth a roll of the dice.
David Toms-- Normally, Toms is almost an automatic pick for the Sony Open; however he finished last week in 26th out of 27 players. I reserve the right to audible to Mark Wilson, who is the defending champion at the Sony.
Mark Wilson, Ryan Palmer, John Rollins, Chris Kirk, Michael Thompson
Jerry Kelly-- Like Steve Stricker, he loves to leave the usually frozen tundra of Wisconsin to play a little golf in Hawaii. He has six top 10s in 14 career starts at the Sony, including a championship in '02.
Jason Dufner--I'm picking him because he played well at the end of last year's Tour, with a T6 at the BMW and a T13 at the TOUR Championship. He played two tournaments in the offseason, with a T10 at the CIMB Asia Pacific Classic and a T3 at the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
Jonathan Byrd, Jeff Overton, John Senden, Vijay Singh
“And Another Thing”
The analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat with GolfChannel.com's Ryan Ballengee on Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. ET. They will be breaking down the field at Sony and answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter.