Eye on Tiger

Coming off his best year,
defending Sony Open champ
Jerry Kelly has a goal:
to run with the best

Starting times

By Paul Arnett

Jerry Kelly was waiting for the showers pelting the Waialae Country Club to pass on through as they often do when riding the trades.

The defending champion for the Sony Open in Hawaii was about an hour removed from beginning yesterday's pro-am round, but when the lights went out in the press room due to the unruly weather, he wondered aloud if his final practice round was realistic.

"Look at it, it's blowing sideways," Kelly told a tight gathering of reporters. "It was raining like this in Waikiki earlier, so I figured it was heading this way. Listen to me. I sound like I'm a local."

Kelly is about as local as the weather in Wisconsin this time of year, but Hawaii will always hold a special place in the 36-year-old's heart. It was here in January 2002 that Kelly finally broke through to win his first PGA Tour title.

He had come close before. There was that time in 2001 at The Players Championship when he led after the second and third rounds. But they play four in most PGA Tour events and it was that final 18 vs. Tiger Woods that sent Kelly reeling to a 73 and subsequent fourth-place finish.

Not wanting that to be his defining moment, Kelly entered the fourth round of the 2001 Reno-Tahoe Open in the lead once more, only to see it slip away again after John Cook shot a final-round 64 to edge Kelly by one.

Among the ailments Jerry Kelly has suffered from are a knee injury, polyps in his nose and dehydration.

At the Sony Open last year, Cook was playing in front of Kelly, threatening to be his white whale in the middle of the Pacific. It was the fourth time Kelly had led a tournament entering the final round, only this time the former hockey player didn't blink in the glare of greatness.

Knowing he needed to birdie 18 to avoid a playoff, Kelly did just that to finish with an even-par 70 and a one-shot win over Cook. It would be the beginning of one of the more interesting years in Kelly's career as he prepares for today's first round of the Sony Open, the first full-field event on tour this season.

"Had I not won here, I wouldn't have won the way I did in Chicago," Kelly said of the Advil Western Open victory July 4th weekend. "It solidified that I could do it. But until you do it, the demons will surface on the backside of the final 18."

Knocking off "Cookie" the way he did here exorcised one demon for Kelly, but there's still that loss to Woods that keeps him up certain nights. Unlike a lot of golfers who try to ignore the elephant in the room, Kelly isn't afraid to confront Woods head-on.

This is the guy Kelly wants to beat on the 18th hole of a major championship. He longs for that chance again to take on the world's most popular player and beat the best shot for shot. Kelly isn't afraid to check the stat sheet, either. Right now, Woods is a better driver, a better putter and able to scramble better than anyone when trouble comes his way.

"But I'm getting closer," Kelly said. "There are many weeks where I lead everyone in fairways and greens hit in regulation, so the opportunities are there. Out here, it's 99.9 percent mental. I just need to putt better from 8 feet on in. You've got to make those consistently."

The one constant Kelly has had to deal with since joining the tour in 1996 has been his health. Over the years, he has had his right knee scoped, his ear drained -- he still has to be careful not to get water in it -- and his nose operated on to clear out a sinus cavity full of polyps. Then last year came the sudden realization he has a problem with dehydration.

After the final round of the Western Open, Kelly was hospitalized with dehydration. He was run down so low, he almost met his maker after experiencing problems again two weeks later at the British Open.

"I was as close to death as I want to be," Kelly said. "That's how bad it was. It took two months out of my year. I got a little scare at the Busch Gardens (Michelob Championship in October). It was only 85 degrees, but I recognized the symptoms. They told me once you have what I had, you're susceptible. That's why I drink this special drink everywhere I go."

The weather is expected to remain mild this week. Kelly has spent time of late working on his putting, something that plagued him most of last year. In 2001, Kelly putted much better than a year ago, and he still was one of only eight golfers to win twice on tour.

"But if you want to take on the best and beat them, you have to get it done on the greens," Kelly said. "I had problems last week at the Mercedes. We were all playing for second (to eventual champion Ernie Els), which is something I don't do well. But I'm excited about defending my title."

Els is the early favorite after setting a tour scoring record at the Mercedes Championships last week. But unlike the sprawling par-73 Plantation Course, the par-70 Waialae doesn't always reward the longest shot, but the more accurate one. The tradewinds are up as well, something Els expected to deal with last week on Maui.

He is part of a strong international field that includes fellow South African Retief Goosen, who also shot well on Maui last week. Throw in Sergio Garcia, Vijay Singh and a host of American golfers playing for the first time this year, and it's easy to see why this is anyone's event for the taking.

"I always enjoy playing here," 2000 Sony Open champion Paul Azinger said. "It's the first tournament for everyone, so you don't know what to expect from yourself or anyone else. The guys who played at Mercedes have a slight advantage because they've competed over 72 holes, but someone could come out here and put together a great four rounds their first time out."

Also in the field are veteran tour players Tom Lehman, Fred Couples, Craig Stadler and Jose Marie Olazabal. All but eight of the 36 golfers at the Mercedes also made the trip over, including last year's first-round Sony Open leader, Chris Riley.

"I like the course," Riley said. "But it's a lot different than Plantation. You can't spray the ball around at Waialae and expect to do well. The fairways are a lot tighter."

Sony Open

Starting times

At Waialae Country Club
second round

A--Denotes amateur
Players with Hawaii ties in bold face

First tee
7:20 a.m.
--Stuart Appleby, Jay Don Blake, Brian Gay. 7:29--Andrew Magee, Jonathan Kaye, Doug Barron. 7:38--Robin Freeman, David Berganio Jr., Heath Slocum. 7:47--Chris Riley, Tom Lehman, Fred Couples.
7:56--Len Mattiace, Jim Furyk, Chris DiMarco. 8:05--Matt Kuchar, Steve Lowery, Steve Jones. 8:14--Luke Donald, Jerry Kelly, David Gossett. 8:23--Esteban Toledo, Briny Baird, J.J. Henry.
8:32--Kaname Yokoo, Aaron Barber, Ron Castillo. 8:41--Jeff Brehaut, Brian Bateman, Royden Heirakuji (A). 8:50--Howard Twitty, Brenden Pappas, Mark Wilson. 8:59--Alex Cejka, Steven Alker, Patrick Moore.
11:45--Rod Pampling, Pat Bates, Bart Bryant. 11:54--Dudley Hart, Per-Ulrik Johansson, John Maginnes. 12:03 p.m.--Olin Browne, Paul Goydos, Dicky Pride. 12:12--Craig Perks, John Cook, Joe Durant.
12:21--Bob Burns, Jesper Parnevik, Brad Faxon. 12:30--Loren Roberts, Shigeki Maruyama, Joel Edwards. 12:39--Cameron Beckman, Paul Azinger, Corey Pavin. 12:48--Carlos Franco, Dave Stockton Jr., Hidemichi Tanaka.
12:57--Todd Fischer, Tag Ridings, Regan Lee. 1:06--Anthony Painter, Richard S. Johnson, Joe Phengsavath (A). 1:15--Dean Wilson, Patrick Sheehan, Tomohiro Kondo. 1:24--Todd Barranger, Scott Laycock, Kirk Nelson.

Tenth tee
7:20 a.m.
--Rory Sabbatini, Tim Herron, Greg Chalmers. 7:29--Brent Geiberger, Peter Lonard, Thomas Lever. 7:38--Tom Byrum, Harrison Frazar, Ben Crane. 7:47--Vijay Singh, Dan Forsman, Ian Leggatt.
7:56--Gene Sauers, Rich Beem, Kenny Perry. 8:05--Sergio Garcia, Frank Lickliter II, Fred Funk. 8:14--Jonathan Byrd, Jeff Sluman, Notah Begay III. 8:23--Jim Carter, Geoff Ogilvy, Pat Perez.
8:32--James H. McLean, Darron Stiles, Yusaku Miyazato. 8:41--John E. Morgan, Akio Sadakata, Katsunori Kuwabara. 8:50--Andy Miller, Kenichi Kuboya, Douglas Bohn. 8:59--Vance Veazey, Joel Kribel, Chris M. Anderson.
11:45--David Peoples, Robert Gamez, John Senden. 11:54--J.L. Lewis, Larry Mize, Marco Dawson. 12:03 p.m.--Craig Stadler, Craig Barlow, Tim Petrovic. 12:12--John Rollins, Robert Allenby, John Huston.
12:21--Ernie Els, K.J. Choi, Retief Goosen. 12:30--Spike McRoy, Chris Smith, Tom Pernice, Jr. 12:39--Charles Howell III, Craig Parry, Jose Maria Olazabal. 12:48--Stewart Cink, Carl Paulson, Chad Campbell.
12:57--Glen Day, Jeff Maggert, Shaun Micheel. 1:06--Cliff Kresge, Gavin Coles, Yasuharu Imano. 1:15--Jason Gore, Ty Tryon, Taichiro Kiyota. 1:24--Jason Buha, Aaron Baddeley, Arron Oberholser.

Sony Open

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