DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Tadd Fujikawa was on the leaderboard yesterday. But even without the Hawaii teen, there are several good story lines among the players in contention.
Bag full of good stories from leaders
There are a lot of interesting stories dotting the leaderboard entering today's final round of the Sony Open in Hawaii.
You have Charles Howell III trying to win for only the second time in his career after such a promising start in 2001. Then there's Luke Donald, who is attempting to become a consistent top-10 player worldwide.
Next up, Paul Goydos, who has only one win in 15 years plying his trade and that happened back in 1996 at the Bay Hill Invitational before Tiger Woods called that event his own. And don't forget Steve Stricker, who is tied for fourth behind Howell, Donald and Goydos. He hasn't finished first since the 2001 World Golf Championship and was voted comeback player of the year in 2006 for his seven top-10 finishes, including a tie for sixth at the U.S. Open and a tie for seventh at the PGA Championship.
And down there tied for sixth at this week's first full-field event on the PGA Tour is 2008 Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger, who is only five shots off the pace and looking for his first win since capturing the Sony Open in 2000.
All of those guys would love dearly to win a golf tournament and certainly have a chance before returning to the mainland and leaving behind this island paradise.
"A lot different," Stricker said when asked to compare the start of this year to last year. "I mean, it's night and day. Last year, I had all the time in the world. I tried tour school in 2005 and didn't have exempt status at the beginning of 2006 and I had all the time in the world to practice.
"Going to tour school kind of got me fired up. I don't know what happened. I just decided deep down that I needed to work on it a lot harder. Did that. Got off to a good start last year and built that confidence all through the year. This year I have a lot of confidence and am ready to play. Even though I had not played in two months, I still feel that I wasn't that far removed."
Donald appears on top of his game as well. Twice a winner on the PGA Tour, the Northwestern graduate, who won 13 events in college, is closing in on being a contender in a major. He played in the final group with Woods at last year's PGA Championship, before settling for a tie for third as Woods won going away.
He finished seventh at last week's Mercedes-Benz Championship and could be the early FedExCup leader if he manages another top-10 finish today.
"I'm in great position (for today's final round)," Donald said. "Obviously, a bit of a slow start. Last couple of days I really haven't got off to probably the start I would have liked, but I've definitely finished well. This is one of my favorite courses. I think you have to shape the ball a little bit. You have to think quite a lot around this golf course. It's not a course you just pick up your driver. I'm excited about coming out and hopefully putting together a good round of golf."
Howell is hopeful of the same thing. This is his third 54-hole lead. He has yet to win a tournament when in this position. He led Nick Price by three at the 2003 Nissan Open before falling to Mike Weir in a playoff and he finished second to Ben Curtis at last year's 84 Lumber Classic. But like Donald and Stricker, he's been playing well enough lately to be considered a contender.
"In the past, I think a lot of the new approaches to the game are sort of like New Year's resolutions in that you keep them for about a week and you hit the first bad shot and then the heck with that," Howell said. "The one thing for me, is staying patient. I think that winning in 2002, and heck, I remember thinking, 'Wow, it's taken me 60-some odd tournaments to win; what's going on here?', and now it's been four years."
Tadd playing well: Tadd Fujikawa leads the field in greens in regulation, hitting a solid 79.63 percent. It's unlikely he can make up six shots today on the leader, but in case anyone's interested, the last amateur to win a PGA Tour title was Phil Mickelson at the 1991 Tucson Open.
As well as Fujikawa is playing, even if he did manage a top-10 finish today, he wouldn't be eligible for an exemption to play in the next non-invitational tour event because that is limited to professionals. There's no chance Fujikawa will turn pro today, either. He made this event as an amateur and must keep that status, even if he won.
Passing up nearly $1 million in prize money would be tough for anyone, but fortunately for Fujikawa, he doesn't have to worry about that decision.
Rookie run: Stephen Marino, who played with Michelle Wie in the first two rounds, is the top rookie among the nine who made the cut this week. He is currently tied for 12th and stands to make a good payday if he can hang tough today.
With Wie as a playing partner, he fired a 68 on Thursday and a 71 on Friday to make the cut by one stroke. He shot a blistering 66 yesterday, one shot off Howell's best of 5-under 65.
Inside the numbers: The hardest hole yesterday was the par-4 15th with a scoring average of 4.260. There were five birdies, 47 pars, 19 bogeys, one double and one triple by David Branshaw. The easiest hole for the third straight day was the par-5 18th with a scoring average of 4.329. There were four eagles, 43 birdies, 24 pars and two bogeys by Jerry Kelly and Cliff Kresge.