FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Former Sony Open champion Jim Furyk never misses a PGA event at Waialae Country Club.
Sony field deep despite MIAs
STORY SUMMARY »
The first full-field event on the PGA Tour begins today with eight of the top 20 golfers worldwide scheduled to challenge the narrow fairways and high rough of the Waialae Country Club.
When: 7 a.m., today and tomorrow; 8 a.m., Saturday; 8 a.m., Sunday.
Where: Waialae Country Club
TV: The Golf Channel, 2-5:30 p.m., today, tomorrow and Saturday; 2-5 p.m. Sunday.
World No. 3 Steve Stricker may be the early favorite in this field of 144 touring professionals after his performance at last week's Mercedes-Benz Championship, where he lost to Daniel Chopra after four playoff holes.
This is only his fourth appearance here, but the 2007 comeback player of the year began his about-face at Waialae last January by finishing in a tie for fourth. Chopra is also in the field, but only Ernie Els has turned the trick of winning the Mercedes and Sony in the same year since they became the first two events in 1999.
You can't forget about past Sony champions Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh when you're filling out your fantasy golf ballot, either. Furyk had a 7-under 63 in yesterday's pro-am and is coming off a strong finish at the Mercedes last week. So is Singh, who won here in 2006, edging Els by one shot with a birdie at the final hole.
"It's obviously a whole different ballgame," Furyk said. "A different style of course, very narrow, very tight. It's been raining a lot, so it has slowed down. It may be a little less difficult to get the ball in the fairway because the course is playing slower, but that being said, the rough is more penal than I've seen it in a long, long time, maybe ever."
The local contingent is strong as well. With tour pros Dean Wilson and Parker McLachlin, as well as 17-year-old Tadd Fujikawa, fans have a chance to see how they fare against the best golfers in the world.
"I'm feeling really good about my game," Fujikawa said. "Of course, I know this course pretty well. I've been trying to get out here and play as much as I can and get ready for this tournament."
STORY SUMMARY »
Being sandwiched between the Mercedes-Benz Championship and the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic leaves the Sony Open in Hawaii in an unusual spot.
It's difficult to open the season playing three tournaments in three weeks on six different courses -- the Hope has four -- and two different time zones. Going from the Plantation Course to the Waialae Country Club is such a jarring experience, many don't even bother to try it because it requires such an adjustment.
"They don't look anything like each other," Fred Funk said. "There's really no golf course like Kapalua that we play anywhere on tour. But I think the more I play it -- and I've played it a lot, I think (Ben) Crenshaw did a phenomenal job with the land that he had.
"You do have to figure out how to putt those things, but there's a lot of room to hit it, and it does favor long hitters, but you don't necessarily have to be long to play well there I think."
This year, nine golfers in the Mercedes-Benz field skipped the Sony Open, for a variety of reasons, but the most likely is it's tough to play three in a row in such a short time frame.
With the 90-round Bob Hope Chrysler Classic as the next event on tour, it leaves golfers here at the Sony Open in a bind. Instead of starting the tournament on Thursday, it begins on Wednesday, leaving little time for preparation.
You don't get in to Palm Springs, Calif., until Monday late, are shot with jet-lag that day and wake up Tuesday with the daunting task of having to prepare for four different courses used in this popular tournament. Imagine if you're defending Hope champion Charley Hoffman. No way are you going to open the season at the Mercedes, then play the Sony, then go defend at the Hope. Something's got to give -- and of course -- it's the Sony Open.
Anchor suspended for comments
HONOLULU » Golf Channel suspended anchor Kelly Tilghman for two weeks yesterday for saying last week that young players who wanted to challenge Tiger Woods should "lynch him in a back alley."
Tilghman was laughing during the exchange Friday with analyst Nick Faldo at the Mercedes-Benz Championship, and Woods' agent at IMG said he didn't think there was any ill intent.
But the comments became prevalent on news shows yesterday, and the Rev. Al Sharpton joined the fray by demanding she be fired immediately. Golf Channel didn't know who would replace Tilghman in the booth this week at the Sony Open or next week at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.
"There is simply no place on our network for offensive language like this," the Golf Channel said in a statement.
Faldo and Tilghman were discussing young players who could challenge the world's No. 1 player toward the end of Friday's broadcast at Kapalua when Faldo suggested that "to take Tiger on, maybe they should just gang up for a while."
"Lynch him in a back alley," Tilghman replied.
With that in mind, Sony folks have to be pleased that the four golfers here this week ranked in the top 10 -- Steve Stricker (No. 3), Jim Furyk (No. 4), K.J. Choi (No. 9) and Vijay Singh (No. 10) kept the Sony Open in their plans. Other past Sony winners Jerry Kelly and Jeff Sluman are also here, so lack of recognizable faces is not a problem.
But what the Sony Open doesn't draw is golfers like Scott Verplank or Justin Leonard; quality players who still have drawing power, but don't consider playing here because they like the Hope. It's almost as if the tour is forcing the players to choose -- leaving all three tournaments hurting in a way -- when there are already enough scheduling problems to go around.
Mercedes-Benz champion Daniel Chopra usually takes a couple of weeks off after a win to soak up the experience. But because the Sony Open was his first tournament as a member of the PGA Tour, this one holds a special place in his heart. Furyk is another who holds this course near and dear.
He has played in this event every year since it became the Sony Open in 1999. Singh only missed 2002. Rory Sabbatini is another top-flight golfer who has played here the entire decade. So for some of the game's best, it's a can't miss event.
"Yeah, I don't think I've missed an event here," Furyk said. "I think this is my 15th year on tour and 15th Sony Open (five of those were the United Airlines Hawaiian Open). It's a golf course I like playing.
"When I come back here, I've got good memories, and I think when I'm playing well, it's a course that suits my style of game. I'm actually surprised at some of the guys that played the Mercedes and then did not choose to come to this event, because there's some guys I really feel like the course suited their game, and I'm really not sure why they didn't come."
But with that said, it's not as if the past winners' list here is bereft of big names. Singh, Kelly, Ernie Els, David Toms and Paul Azinger make up a modern-day wish list for most tournaments scattered across the land. In the waning days of the United Airlines Hawaiian Open, golf officials would have felt fortunate to have that caliber of player collecting frequent flyer miles.
Still, there is cause for concern when Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and Padraig Harrington skip the Mercedes. One British writer noted Harrington missing from the Mercedes-Benz scene was due in part to "a scrambled brain." And when you add big names like Els and Sergio Garcia to the MIA list for not managing a win on last year's tour, it becomes a hard sell for the casual fan.