FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Chris DiMarco is one shot behind leaders Retief Goosen and Andrew Baddeley after two rounds of the Sony Open in Hawaii.
First 6 holesThe numbers don't lie, and the numbers after the first two rounds of the Sony Open made it clear which holes matter most at the Waialae Country Club -- the first six.
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By Grady Timmons
Special to the Star-Bulletin
Any pro who survives that opening stretch in par or better this weekend is on his way to a good paycheck -- perhaps the winner's check. Those who stumble will be hard-pressed to recover.
As co-leader Retief Goosen put it, "That's a tough stretch of holes. You need to score well there if you want to be at or near the top."
Added Chris DiMarco, who was at 131, trailing leaders Goosen and Aaron Baddeley by a shot: "If you make a few bogeys early, it's really a hard course to get back on track. There really aren't many birdie holes on the front nine. You just try to survive the front, get to nine and make a charge from there. That's what you are seeing a lot of guys doing."
DiMarco played the first six comparatively well -- he was 1-over-par for the first two days. Baddeley played those holes in even par, while Ernie Els, who was also at 131, was 1-under. Goosen and Peter Lonard, also among the leaders at 131, were both 2-under.
It didn't get much better than that.
But it sure got a whole lot worse. Following the first round, the average score for the full field on every one of the first six holes was over par. Of the six holes that played the toughest on Thursday, five of them were among the first six (the other ranked seventh toughest).
Yesterday, with the wind blowing from the south, the opening six still had five of the day's six toughest holes, and all were in the top eight. Once again, the average score for the full field was over par on each of the holes.
"Those first six played totally different than the first day because the wind switched around," Els said. "There's a lot of yardage on those first six holes. You can't just get up there and hit it as hard as you can."
Indeed, yardage is one of the things that makes the opening holes so tough. Five of them are par-4s, with an average distance of 452 yards. The other hole, the fourth, is a 203-yard par-3 that normally plays into the teeth of the wind to a long, narrow, well-bunkered green.
The demanding stretch starts at No. 1, a 488-yard par-4 that has been converted from a par-5. Both days, in different winds, it played as the toughest hole on the course, with the pros averaging 4.445 strokes. Yesterday, both Els and Baddeley were lucky to escape with bogeys following errant tee shots.
Tour veteran Robert Gamez, who was at 135, believes it should be converted back to a par-5.
"I really don't think No. 1 should be that long of a par 4," he said. "If you hit it out of the fairway, you have no chance of reaching the green in two. Even if you hit the fairway with your drive, the green is not set up for that long of an iron shot coming in. They should put us on the old back tee and narrow the fairway on the drive. That would be more fair."
The second hole is only 426 yards, but statistically it is always one of the toughest on the course. On Thursday, 12 double bogeys were recorded there. A big part of what makes this hole so diabolical is that it plays directly into the wind. Also, a large lake guards the entire left side of the fairway, and there are bunkers and trees on the right. Slightly mis-hit the tee shot and it's a hard par.
The 423-yard third hole is the shortest and perhaps easiest of the opening six. But here again, a lake borders the left side of the fairway all the way to the green.
The 466-yard fifth hole plays across two ditches to a severely undulating green, while the 459-yard sixth has a narrow fairway and even narrower green. Yesterday, with a south wind blowing, it played directly into the breeze and saw eight double bogeys.
Baddeley was one of the few who approved of the opening six holes. "They played a lot different today," he said. "But I like them. You have to strike the ball well to score well on those holes. I hope the conditions are the same the next two days as they were today."
Lastly, consider the case of Hawaii's Dean Wilson, who shot a 69 yesterday but failed to make the cut.
This week's Sony Open marked his first tournament as an official member of the PGA Tour. On Thursday, he began on the back nine and made the turn in 34, 1-under. But on the front nine, he limped home with a 40 for a 74.
How did he do on the first six holes? He bogeyed each and every one of them. Talk about a six-pack of trouble.
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