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Sony still a draw


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POSTED: Wednesday, January 14, 2009

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem made another brief appearance yesterday before leaving the island chain, trying to calm the waters that the Mercedes-Benz Championship and the Sony Open in Hawaii were taking the first boat back to the mainland.

Contracts for both of the tour's season-opening events end in 2010 with more questions than answers swirling around in these hard economic times. But he did give a definitive answer when asked if he thought Hawaii would be off the 2011 tour schedule.

“;I'd be surprised,”; Finchem said.

He put no time frame as to when the new deals would be in place, but much like he said prior to last week's Mercedes-Benz Championship, the players love beginning the year in Hawaii because it's one of the few places where the weather allows them to work on their games.

Count defending champion K.J. Choi among them. After last year's stirring Sony Open win on the anniversary of the first Koreans coming to the island chain, Choi said he had many fond memories as he walked the Waialae Country Club course on Monday.

“;This place is very special for me,”; Choi said. “;Just going through the course again, I had a lot of good memories about it from last year.

“;You know, I believe this is my ninth year coming to the Sony and I have a lot of passion about this tournament and this course. For some reason, I come here and I feel very at home and very relaxed. It's just something about this place; not only the affinity to my culture, but also just the people and the whole environment make me very relaxed.”;

Choi had several friends from South Korea with him last year, cheering him on as they all wore the same yellow shirts. Choi went on to win his seventh tour event, holding off Rory Sabbatini by three shots. They were unable to make the journey this year.

“;I have a lot of fans over in Korea who are supporting me now,”; Choi said. “;And without their support, I don't think I would be able to play that well.”;

Life after the Sony wasn't as kind to Choi in 2008. He managed only four more top 10s, missing the cut in two of the majors and not really challenging in the Masters (tied for 41st) as he had hoped.

Part of the problem was a weight-training program Choi went on last spring that caused him to lose too much, too soon. He originally set goals for a three- to five-year period.

“;But I think we tried to do it in such a short time that I lost more than what I needed to and that threw my body off a little bit,”; Choi said. “;I lost a lot of energy.

“;Just compared to the reduction of the weight, the specs for my clubs, they didn't feel right. So everything was kind of thrown off-balance. You know, your body is so sensitive, you've got to really look at more of a long-term program and I realize that.”;

Choi will face a challenging field, particularly from two-time Sony Open champion Ernie Els, Davis Love III, Kenny Perry, Adam Scott and Mercedes-Benz winner Geoff Ogilvy. A host of talented young Americans are also in the field, including Sean O'Hair, D.J. Trahan, Johnson Wagner, Boo Weekley, Will MacKenzie and J.B. Holmes.

Local favorites Parker McLachlin, Dean Wilson, Tadd Fujikawa and Lorens Chan also hope to make some noise on a course they know all too well.

Now whether this relation with the PGA remains in place beyond 2010 remains to be seen. But Finchem is hopeful a deal can be reached for both.