Expert Picks: Sony Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 11, 2012, 3:07 pm experts offer up their fantasy choices for the Sony Open. Each week a panel of experts will offer up their picks from four groups of players based on Golf Channel's new fantasy game, Fantasy Challenge. We will also keep track of their scores and standings. The panel consists of: senior writers Rex Hoggard, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and Win McMurry; editorial director Jay Coffin;'s Rob Bolton; 'Morning Drive' hosts Gary Williams and Erik Kuselias; and Golf Talk Central contributor Ryan Ballengee.

Rex Hoggard

Group 1: K.J. Choi: Won here in 2008, tied for fifth last week and was a rare bright spot for the International Team at the President's Cup.

Group 2: Davis Love III: Captain America may say he has no interest in playing this year's matches, but he burns to make another Ryder Cup team.

Group 3: Jimmy Walker: Fresh off his best year on Tour and finished fourth last year in Hawaii.

Group 4: Jason Bohn: Plenty of experience at Waialae and looking for a rebound year. Plus he still may be celebrating Alabama's win in the BCS Championship.

Jason Sobel

Group 1: Webb Simpson: Let's not over-think this; he contends every week. Take a sure thing when you can get it.

Group 2: Charles Howell III: Five top-10s at Waialae in 10 career starts. That first Sony Open win is coming soon.

Group 3: Chad Campbell: Owns three finishes of 13th or better at this event in the last four years. The other time? He forgot to register.

Group 4: Billy Hurley: While stationed at Pearl Harbor, former Navy man played Waialae a handful of times.

Rob Bolton

Group 1: K.J. Choi: Hoping my competition leans on Steve Stricker and Webb Simpson here. Choi won the Sony in 2008.

Group 2: Charles Howell III: Chalk. He's 10-for-10 with five top-fives here.

Group 3: Brian Gay: Top-25s in his last three trips to the Sony. Splits fairways and saves pars.

Group 4: Stephen Ames: Wide-open selection. Putting my stock in five top-20s in seven starts at Waialae.

Jay Coffin

Group 1: KJ Choi: He's won here, has three top-10s and played well at Kapalua last week.

Group 2: Mark Wilson: If the defending champ is in Group 2 I think you have to take a chance on him.

Group 3: Jason Kokrak: A lot of people are high on this rookie; we'll see what he's made of right away.

Group 4: Jason Bohn: No real strategy here, just a gut feeling.

Gary Williams

Group 1: Webb Simpson: Possibly the most consistent American in the world right now and recorded a solid third place finish last week at Kapalua.

Group 2: Charles Howell III: Whenever you look at someone's record and see five top-fives in 10 starts, it is bound to get your attention.

Group 3: Cameron Tringale: Might be overlooked with two missed cuts at Waialae, but jumped from 179th to 68th on the money list in 2011 behind solid play.

Group 4: Russell Knox: First start of his rookie season after finishing 12th on the 2011 Nationwide Tour money list. Will look to start the next phase of his career strong.

Erik Kuselias

Group 1: Steve Stricker: Seems like a no-brainer. The man won last week and has played well at Waialae, with 6 top-10s in 12 Sony Open starts.

Group 2: Charles Howell III: After a solid 2011, Chuckie Three Sticks is looking for a hot start in 2012. This course seems to fit his eye.

Group 3: Brian Gay: Waialae CC is not a long course and requires driving accuracy and a strong short game. Gay seems to fit that bill.

Group 4: Russell Knox: After watching him in 2011, I know this guy can play and think he will get his PGA Tour career off to a great start this week.

 Win McMurry

Group 1: Webb Simpson: Surprised me with a nice finish at Kapalua. Combine that confidence with a little experience and I think Simpson will add another trophy to his quickly-growing collection.

Group 2: Steve Marino: Tough choice here but I give the edge to Marino based on his pure percentage of success here: three top-10s in four career starts.

Group 3: Chad Campbell: Solid record here with T-13 and T-8 finishes the last two years. He has two other top-10s here as well since 2006.

Group 4: Kyle Reifers: The Wake Forest grad doesn't have experience on his side, but does have the ability to hit fairways - a necessity this week and common thread among past champs.

Ryan Ballengee

Group 1: Steve Stricker: Last week's winner has an outstanding record at Waialae, including three top-4 finishes in the last five years.

Group 2: Charles Howell III: Since 2005, he has finished everywhere in the top 5 but first.

Group 3: Chad Campbell: Has a good track record at the Sony Open, and had his second-best finish here last season.

Group 4: Russell Knox: Got to the PGA Tour, in part, with a high-pressure win as a Nationwide Tour Monday qualifier. Lots of pressure this week, too.

Randall Mell

Group 1: Webb Simpson: Showed some terrific ball-striking in last week's T-3 finish at Hyundai. Putter should be warmed up this week to complete the mission.

Group 2: Kevin Na: Liked that 64 he put up in the second round at Kapalua. Also like his Sony showings of T-5 in 2009 and T-4 in 2008.

Group 3: Paul Goydos: His Sony victory five years ago still resonates despite three missed cuts since.

Group 4: Matt Bettencourt: That T-5 last year gets your attention, and he should have good vibes in his return this week.

Getty Images

Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

Getty Images

Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

Getty Images

Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

Getty Images

DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”