Fantasy Fact Pack: Sony Open

By Will GrayJanuary 10, 2012, 9:28 pm

The Sony Open marks the first full-field event of 2012 and, for the handful of players completing the second leg of their Hawaiian tour, a stark contrast in course layouts. Gone are the enormous greens and wide fairways of Kapalua, and in their place is a shorter course that will be more demanding both off the tee and into the green. Here is a look inside the numbers to see which players may contend for the title this weekend and help your Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge team in the process:

Drive for Dough: While Kapalua’s wide, rolling fairways offered players forgiving targets during the Hyundai TOC, finding the fairway off the tee at Waialae this week will be of greater importance. The Sony Open routinely ranks among the more difficult events on Tour for driving accuracy, but the players in contention on Sunday are typically those who are able to control their tee shots all week long. Defending champion Mark Wilson hit 41/56 fairways last year en route to the title, and eight of the top 15 in fairways hit for the week also ended up in the top 12 on the final leaderboard. With accuracy paying dividends, a consistent ball-striker like Brian Gay and former champions Zach Johnson (2009) and Jerry Kelly (2002) should merit consideration this week, each having finished the 2011 season in the top 10 overall in fairway percentage.

Power Rankings: Top 10 favorites at Waialae

Aim Small, Miss Small: Once again in contrast to what players saw at the Hyundai TOC, the greens at the Sony Open are some of the smaller targets players will encounter this season. As a result, Webb Simpson and John Senden will be two Group 1 players to consider, as both finished the 2011 season in the top 10 in greens in regulation. Another important statistic for a course with smaller greens will be proximity to hole, a category where Group 3 player and 2007 Sony Open champion Paul Goydos finished second on Tour during the 2011 season. An accurate player off the tee as well as from the fairway, Goydos also finished 15th overall last year in driving accuracy, and an area where he struggled in 2011 (par-5 performance) will likely not be a large factor on a course with only two par-5s.

Rookie Adjustment: This week, 24 players – including notable names like Erik Compton and Bud Cauley  – will tee it up in the first event of their rookie season on the PGA Tour. When making your picks this week, though, these may be players to steer clear of as rookies tend to struggle in their first Sony Open. In 2011, Chris Kirk (T-30) had the best finish among the 27 rookies in the field, and Matt Weibring is the only player in the last three years to notch a top-10 in his rookie debut (T-8 in 2009).

Friendly Confines: Several players in this week’s field feel quite comfortable walking the fairways of Waialae CC. Despite a poor showing in 2011, Group 2 player Charles Howell III has finished in the top 5 four times since 2005 and has amassed an impressive 68.06 stroke average at this event in 10 career starts. Similarly, Steve Marino has top-10 finishes in each of his last three Sony Open appearances, including a runner-up last year. David Toms is another player very familiar with this event, as he will look to rebound from a poor start at the Hyundai TOC on a course where he won in 2006 and finished runner-up in 2009. And although he has not played a full season on the PGA Tour since 2008, Shigeki Maruyama has played every Sony Open since 1999 and has four top-10 finishes in that stretch. A streaky player who knows the course very well and led going into last year’s 36-hole Sunday finale, Maruyama may be a player to target if you feel like gambling a bit with your Group 4 selection.

Injury Report: As Rex Hoggard reported, Lucas Glover plans to play in this week’s event after a paddle-boarding injury forced him to withdraw from the Hyundai TOC. Glover, seeking to play a busy schedule in 2012 in hopes of making the U.S. Ryder Cup team, should have an easier time on the flat terrain at Waialae than last week’s hilly venue. Nevertheless, those looking to use him as their Group 2 player should check back for updates before entries close Thursday morning should Glover decide not to play. (Update: Glover has withdrawn from this week's event.) In other injury news, Cameron Beckman will be making his first start since withdrawing from the McGladrey Classic in October with a back injury and Chad Collins will play on Tour for the first time since June when fractured ribs cut short his 2011 season.

Sleeper Alert: On a shorter course where accuracy is at a premium, a name to watch this week is Chad Campbell. Campbell has average length off the tee, a factor that will not hurt him at Waialae as much as it might elsewhere. His strengths, though, will be highlighted – top-10 finishes in both greens in regulation and proximity to hole in 2011.  In fact, Campbell finished first overall last year in GIR from 150-175 yards, and fifth overall from 175-200 yards, distances that will be emphasized this week on a course with several shorter holes.  In addition to favorable stats, Campbell also has a strong track record in this event, with four finishes inside the top 15, including a runner-up in 2006.  His is a name that may emerge from Group 3 to contend over the weekend; at the very least, hopefully he does not consider his “sleeper” status as a reason to stay in bed a few extra minutes as we saw with last week's sleeper.

Getty Images

McIlroy 'happy to be back', can 'empathize' with Tiger

By Associated PressJanuary 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.

The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.

McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 – at the South African Open – and felt its after-effects throughout the year.

McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.

''Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them,'' McIlroy said. ''But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set.''

Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.

''After that 3-plus months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10.''

McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.

''I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 percent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person,'' McIlroy said. ''Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.

''I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States.''

The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.

Getty Images

Pre-tourney caution be damned: Stenson rides camel

By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 3:29 pm

If you were under the impression Henrik Stenson's days of engaging in pre-tournament hijinks at HSBC-sponsored events were over, then you don't know the Swedish Superman.

Ahead of this week's HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the 2016 champion golfer of the year decided to have some fun riding (and pretend-spanking) a camel:

If you can't imagine any reason Stenson wouldn't get on a camel, we will point you to the WGC-HSBC Champions back in October, when Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Haotong Li and Hideki Matsuyama took place in this hire-wire act:

Two weeks later, Stenson revealed a rib injury, and a report from the U.K.'s Telegraph stated "that not only was the Shanghai caper to blame, but that Stenson is annoyed about being persuaded to do it in the first place."

Stenson brushed back at that report in this Instagram post, saying that his "comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal."

I’m disappointed to have to pre-emptively withdraw from the Nedbank Golf Challenge Hosted by Gary Player, I was looking forward to this important year-end event on the European Tour. At this point I am back home in Orlando waiting to do a scan on my ribs and get the necessary rest. I am still hoping for a quick recovery and have not ruled out playing in Dubai next week at this point. My comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal. The plan as of now will be to participate in the DP World Championship if my body is back to 100%. H

A post shared by Henrik Stenson (@henrikstenson) on

And it would appear he genuinely meant those comments, at least enough to get on a camel.

Getty Images

Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

Getty Images

Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.