Sony Open offers complete package of talent for all ages

By Paul Arnett
Published on
Sony Open offers complete package of talent for all ages

What makes the Sony Open in Hawaii a fun PGA Tour event for local golf fans is the blend of the old with the new.

Grandpa can take a snapshot of seniors Fred Funk and Vijay Singh. While his son's sons can send a Snapchat of Hideki Matsuyama and Jordan Spieth. Mom and dad can wander somewhere in between the two ends of the 144-man field as the first full-field event of the calendar year tees it up at Waialae Country Club near the crack of dawn on Thursday.

There is also a depth of field in this tournament that is intriguing for those who follow the game closely. You have Olympic gold medal winner Justin Rose, who is also one of 11 golfers in the field who have won a major. You have multiple-major champions in Spieth, Singh and Zach Johnson. The latter two are among 10 past Sony Open champions, including back-to-back winner Jimmy Walker, who won the 2016 PGA Championship as well.

SONY OPEN: Check out tee times, leaderboard from the Sony Open in Hawaii

You have Matsuyama and multiple 2016-17 tour winner Justin Thomas, arguably the two hottest golfers in the game. They are among nine players in the top 30 of the Official World Golf Rankings, as well as nine of the top 10 in the early stage of the FedEx Cup chase.

History tells us that the likely winner will be among the 23 golfers who teed it up at last week's SBS Tournament of Champions. Eleven of the past 18 Sony Open winners played on Maui seven days before. Thomas will attempt to become the first golfer since Ernie Els 14 years ago to win these two events back to back.

And don't think that's not possible. The gang of golfers in their 20s take turns beating up on each other at various stops on different continents around the globe. This is no longer just a game for Americans and Europeans. The two tours are filled with Aussies and Asians looking to leave their ball marker on the game. And this week is no exception.

As for the course, well, Waialae is old school. It's got narrow fairways and dog legs and trickeration on its Bermuda greens. It isn't particularly long, with only two par-5s that even grandpa and junior can birdie on any given Sunday. But if you aren't accurate and you're hitting a lot of flier lies, you aren't playing on the weekend. It's just that simple: Bombers need not apply.

"Here it requires a lot greater ball flights off the tee," Spieth said. "Tighter landing areas. You have to have smaller misses. I think that kind of plays into our favor. We like to think our way around the golf course a lot and miss it in the right location. Excited about this being a bit more of a challenge on approach shots, and seeing what we got."

For those feeling a bit nostalgic, Tadd Fujikawa is playing this week as one of three local golfers who made it through the Monday qualifier. The other two are John Oda and Jared Sawada. They joined three other island golfers who were already in the field. They are Manoa Cup champ Brent Grant, Parker McLachlin and Kevin Hayashi. Moanalua High has three representatives in Fujikawa, Grant and Oda. Somebody hire that coach.

As for who is the betting favorite, well, according to that would be Spieth at 13-2, with Matsuyama (8-1), Thomas (15-1), Walker (20-1) and Rose (25-1) rounding out a talented top five. Defending champion Fabian Gomez is an 80-1 longshot. His first tournament of the 2016-17 wraparound season was at Kapalua last weekend, where he finished 20th at 10 under for the event. He was 12 strokes behind Thomas.

"Last year was the first tournament of the year and I played well," Gomez said. "I hit my irons well, but I didn't make the number of putts that you need to make in that tournament. But in a way, I think that this week, with this kind of wind, I feel more confident because they are faster than the greens we played in Kapalua last week."

It doesn't end with those guys. You've got Paul Casey, Brandt Snedeker, Bill Haas and Russell Knox to consider. In all, it's one of the better Sony Open fields in recent memory despite losing a key entrant in Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, who will miss this week and next week's Champions Tour opener with a busted collarbone he broke last week while snowboarding.

Love won't be around to see fellow senior David Toms play here this week and then make his Champions Tour debut at next week's Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai on the Big Island. Singh and Funk are also playing here and there to begin their 2017 campaigns. Singh is yet to win on the senior circuit, but still plays a lot of golf on the PGA Tour. He made the cut in 14 of 22 PGA Tour events last year and teed it up in six Champions tournaments as well.

This article is written by Paul Arnett from The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.