Sony field is wide open


POSTED: Tuesday, January 13, 2009

If you're a betting man odds are good one of the golfers who played in the Mercedes-Benz Championship this past weekend will be hoisting the Sony Open in Hawaii trophy on Sunday.

Since the two tournaments opened the PGA Tour season in 1999, seven of the previous 10 Sony Open champions opened their year at the winners-only tourney on Maui. The exceptions were Paul Azinger in 2000, Jerry Kelly in 2002 and Paul Goydos in 2007.

You can also feel pretty good that the winner of the Mercedes won't make it back-to-back victories at Waialae Country Club, since Ernie Els is the only golfer to collect on that two-team parlay. He opened 2003 with a win at Kapalua, then took home the first full-field event on Oahu the following week.

That means Australian Geoff Ogilvy is unlikely to win again this weekend, leaving you 25 golfers from which to choose as the 2009 campaign begins in earnest on Thursday. Of that group that played on the spacious par-73 Plantation Course, who is likely to make the best adjustment to the narrow fairways at Waialae is a question to ponder the next couple of days as 144 of the world's best tee it up.

Defending champion K.J. Choi is worth a hard look. He played well enough in the elite 33-man field to finish in a tie for 15th. Australian Adam Scott, who was seen with actress Kate Hudson as she followed his play on Sunday, is another high-caliber player capable of making the proper adjustments as are Americans Sean O'Hair and Zach Johnson.

Nobody played the Plantation better over the weekend than Johnson, who was the 2007 Masters champion. After opening with two mediocre rounds in the 70s, Johnson carded a 64 on Saturday and a 67 on Sunday to fashion a 15-under 131 to go from a tie for 24th with Honolulu's Parker McLachlin to a tie for sixth on Sunday and earn $189,250 for his efforts.

O'Hair didn't have as dramatic a rise as Johnson, but he was alone in fourth after shooting a 65 on Sunday to pocket $312,000. He is one of several 20-somethings that rounded into form last year. He also has the kind of game that could give the par-70 Waialae some trouble, especially if the tradewinds are kicking up.

Another golfer to keep your eye on is 48-year-old Kenny Perry. He played steady and true on the wide-open Kapalua course to finish in a tie for sixth with Els, whose history at Waialae is as good as anyone in the field. Not only did Els win in 2003 and 2004, but he also finished one stroke shy of eventual winner Vijay Singh in 2005.

Els also has the kind of game needed to adjust to Waialae, a course he once described as a gem in the Pacific. Take away an even-par 73 last Saturday and the South African might have been there on Sunday turning up the heat on Ogilvy over the closing holes.

The man from the land Down Under was the only golfer at the Mercedes to shoot all four rounds in the 60s, with Els and Davis Love III the only other golfers to have three rounds below 70. And don't forget Love when you're tallying your spreadsheet. He too has been known to give Waialae a beating or two through the years.

And what about McLachlin? His local knowledge of the Maui course didn't extend to the redone greens put into play in the summer of 2005. No such worries at Waialae, an 18-hole layout he knows oh so well.

Of course, before you bet the TaylorMade, remember past Sony Open champions Kelly, Azinger, Goydos, Jeff Sluman and David Toms are also in the field this week and while none were on Maui last weekend, they have won here before and could do it again if the right set of circumstances come into play.


Fujikawa qualifies for Sony Open

Moanalua High School senior Tadd Fujikawa will play in this week's Sony Open after qualifying yesterday at Turtle Bay Resort.

Fujikawa fired a 67 in qualifying and will be joined in the field beginning Thursday at Waialae Country Club by Alex Aragon (67) of San Diego, Junpei Takayama (67) of Japan and John Lepak (68) of La Habra Heights, Calif.

Fujikawa finished 20th in the Sony Open in 2007 and missed the cut last year.