Hawaii 5-0 Sony Open Contenders

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 10, 2006, 5:00 pm
2006 Sony OpenMichelle Wie, Michelle Wie, Michelle Wie. Thats about all youre going to read, see and hear this week at the Sony Open.
 
Vijay Singh
Vijay Singh is trying to successfully defend a title for the third time in his PGA Tour career.
Wie, however, is just one of 144 players in this first full-field PGA Tour event of 2006. And while its quite possible that she could make the cut on her home course at Waialae Country Club, where she recently shot a career-best 64, its quite unlikely that she will actually win the tournament.
 
Selecting the eventual champion beforehand is not an easy task. Unless youre picking Annika Sorenstam (who won 10 of 20 LPGA Tour events last year) to win on the ladies side, the odds are highly stacked against you.
 
But try we will. Here is our list for the top 5 contenders to win the 41st Sony Open in Hawaii.
 
Vijay Singh
Singh is the defending champion, having shot 65 in the final round a year ago to fend off Ernie Els, who closed in 8-under 62, by a stroke. Els won this event in 2003 and 2004. But with his absence this year, Singh is the clear favorite. The Sony was the first of four tour triumphs for Singh in 05. Only Tiger Woods won more than did the big Fijian a year ago, but Singh wasnt overly impressed with his performance. Saying he slacked off down the stretch, he expects to be more focused and more dedicated ' and accomplish even more in 06. He's off to a good start, having finished runner-up last week in the Mercedes Championships, losing a playoff to Stuart Appleby. Singh successfully defended two titles last year, at the Shell Houston Open and the Buick Open.
 
Jim Furyk
Unlike at the Mercedes, Furyk doesnt own a house on this host course. But just like at Kapalua, he does have a victory at Waialae. Furyk captured this event 10 years ago, defeating Brad Faxon in a playoff. Hes made the trip to Honolulu every year since his rookie season on tour in 1994. The only other tournament hes competed in as often is the Las Vegas tournament, now known as the Bose Championship. Furyk kick-started the season by finishing third in Maui.
 
Shigeki Maruyama
Shigeki Maruyama has three top-10s in seven career Sony Open starts.
Shigeki Maruyama
As a past tour winner, Maruyama would fit the mold of recent Sony champions. Only one player over the last decade (Jerry Kelly, 2002) has made this event his first tour victory. Maruyama, who has three tour titles, but none since 2003, has had plenty of success here. He has three top-10s over his last six Sony starts. Last year, he led by one through 54 holes, but his 1-under 71 on Sunday left him in a tie for third, two back of Singh. Given his Japanese heritage ' and omni-present smile ' he would likely be a popular champion on the island of Oahu. He is hoping to join countryman Isao Aoki as winners of this event. Aoki holed his approach shot on the 72nd hole for eagle to defeat Jack Renner by one in 1983.
 
Justin Rose
While experienced winners have prevailed 90 percent of the time over the last 10 years, others have come very close to making this their maiden triumph. Three years ago, tour rookie Aaron Baddeley lost to Els in a playoff. The year after that, Harrison Frazar did the same. Rose would love to start a new trend at Waialae. Hes come close on a few occasions to earning win No. 1 in the States, but hes never been able to finish strongly enough to do so. That was the case last year, when he made his debut at the Sony. Rose opened in 67-66 to get within one of the 36-hole lead; however, he closed in 72-72 to tie for 20th. With an extra year of tour competition under his belt ' and a few more difficult losses to season him, he should be ready to take advantage of his next opportunity.
 
Charles Howell III
Few players over the last five years have come up as short on expectations as has Howell. Expected to be a winner many times over by now and the leading 20something player in the U.S., Howell is still stuck on one tour victory ' which came in 2002. Its not as if hes a slouch; he averages about six top-10s a season and has never finished worse than 33rd on the money list. But he hasnt been able to convert opportunity into victory over the last 3 seasons. Of course, the 26-year-old hasnt won this event, but he has fared well in four previous appearances. He tied for fourth in his debut in 2002 and then tied for third a year ago. In between, he notched a couple of top-30s finishes. Perhaps the winds will finally blow his way this week.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Sony Open in Hawaii
  • Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from a trip to Augusta.

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.