There's no doubt that starting a new year with back-to-back week's in Hawaii is special for the stars of the PGA Tour, who won in the 2013-14 season.
But for those players who teed it up at Kapalua last week and are playing again this week in Oahu at Waialae in the Sony Open, they'll find a course that could not be more different than the one they played in Maui.
While Kapalua is known for it's incredible views and elevation changes, Waialae might be the flattest course on Tour. The scenes are still spectacular, but the physical demand is nothing like it is at Kapalua.
Jimmy Walker returns as the defending champion this week, fresh off a playoff loss to Patrick Reed at Kapalua.
At Waialae, birdies are a must. In the 2014 tournament, 18 of the 71 players who made the cut shot all four rounds in the 60s, including Ricky Barnes and Billy Hurley, who both tied for 38th. Imagine that -- four rounds in the 60s and not even a top-25 finish!
With that, here are the five players to watch this week in Honolulu for the first full-field event of the new calendar year.
5. Harris English
Best finish in 2014-15 season: T16 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open
Reason to watch: Each of the last two seasons have yielded a top-10 finish for English at the Sony Open -- a T9 in 2013 and fourth a year ago. English will come in well rested, too, having not played in a Tour event since mid-November. It's only a matter of time before English picks up his third PGA Tour win, so why not this week at Waialae where he's been knocking on the door the last two seasons?
4. Chris Kirk
Best finish in 2014-15 season: T4 The McGladrey Classic
Reason to watch: I'm really digging Kirk these days. On Monday in Maui, Kirk was the first off for the final round of the Tournament of Champions and playing by himself when Kevin Stadler's withdrawal reduced the field to an odd number. In a little over two hours, Kirk tied Kapalua's course-record with an incredible, 11-under 62 to tie for 14th. While 14th might not be all that impressive when you consider there were only 33 players in the field, it says a lot about Kirk's pride. Starting the round, he had nothing to play for. After the round, he nearly had himself a top 10. Kirk was the Sony Open runner up a year ago and also tied for fifth in 2013.
3. Russell Henley
Best finish in 2014-15 season: T3 Hyundai Tournament of Champions
Reason to watch: Henley has two top-4 finishes in three starts this season and won the Sony Open in 2013 -- his very first start as a PGA Tour member. With a couple of wins under his belt -- he also won the Honda Classic in a playoff that included Rory McIlroy last year -- it's time for Henley to establish himself as a more consistent contender. It looks like he's trending in that direction after the fast start this season. He enters this week with two kinds of confidence: 1. It's a course he's won on before; 2. He's coming off a T3 at Kapalua.
2. Charles Howell III
Best finish in 2014-15 season: T14 Sanderson Farms Championship
Reason to watch: I ponder this same question every year -- how is it that Charles Howell III has only two PGA Tour wins in his career, his last coming in 2007? It's crazy to me. It's also crazy to me that he's never won the Sony Open. Here's a look at Howell's eight top-10 finishes in the Sony since 2002, the first year he played the event: T4 in 2002; T3 in 2005; T2 in 2007; 4th in 2009; T5 in 2010; T2 in 2012; T3 in 2013; and T8 in 2014. He's got to win this tournament eventually, right?
1. Jimmy Walker
Best finish in 2014-15 season: 2nd (playoff loss) Hyundai Tournament of Champions
Reason to watch: Mainly, I'm interested in seeing how Walker bounces back from a tough playoff-loss to Patrick Reed at Kapalua. The reality is, that tournament never even should have gone to a playoff. Walker was leaking oil down the stretch which opened the door for Reed, who seized the opportunity. Walker has certainly established himself as a world-class player, but part of what comes along with that is dusting yourself off and moving on from a tough defeat. Can he do that this week at a place where he's the defending champ?
Here's how my five to watch fared at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions:
5. Geoff Ogilvy -- T27
4. Bubba Watson -- 10th
3. Jimmy Walker -- 2nd (lost in a playoff)
2. Zach Johnson -- 7th
1. Matt Kuchar -- T17