The Sony marks the first full-field event of the year, meaning many in the 156-man field will get their first shot at claiming some of the more than $250 million on offer by the tour in 05.
Twenty-four players hopped from Maui, site of the Mercedes, to Oahu, this weeks host island. That includes world No. 1 Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, British Open champ Todd Hamilton and U.S. Open winner Retief Goosen.
It marks the first time that a world No. 1 has competed in the Sony field since the inception of the Official World Golf Ranking in 1986.
Els is the two-time defending Sony champion, having won each of his titles in a sudden-death playoff. He first defeated Aaron Baddeley in 2003, and then knocked off Harrison Frazar a year ago.
But, for the second straight year, Els has to share center stage in the public spotlight. Thats because Michelle Wie has once again been granted a sponsors invitation to play against the men.
Wie garnered a lot of attention when she was given a spot in the field last year. She was 14 years old; she was an amateur; and, most notably, she was a she.
But Wie proved she was more than just a marketing gimmick when she shot 72-68 to narrowly miss the cut. She failed to qualify for weekend play by a single shot, but was quite successful in showcasing her remarkable talent.
Her even-par 140 score was equal to the two-day totals of Stuart Appleby, Chad Campbell, Darren Clarke, Ben Curtis, Jim Furyk and Kenny Perry. And she bested the likes of Zach Johnson, Adam Scott, Steve Flesch and Hamilton.
Last year was, you know, just amazing, just a dream, she said at the Mercedes, where she played in the Wednesday pro-am. I still can't believe it was real.
This will be Wies fourth foray into a mens professional event. She has missed the cut in each of her first three attempts, having also played on the Nationwide and Canadian tours.
She has seen increasing success on the LPGA Tour. She missed the cut in her first two starts, in 2003, but has since made 13 straight cuts. She had six top-20 finishes in seven tries a year ago on the womens top professional circuit.
But, still, many question whether or not a competitive performance against professionals in more beneficial to her future than beating up on amateurs her own age.
It will serve her in the sense that she understands the level of competition she's playing at. But I think that, this is in my opinion how I grew up, there's an art form to winning, said Tiger Woods, who won three consecutive U.S. Junior Amateur titles and then three straight U.S. Amateur titles before turning pro.
From my own personal experience, I think that winning breeds winning, and you know, my dad always believed that if I wasn't able to win at this level, we weren't moving up to another level. I wanted to play more amateur golf but I wasn't ready to play more amateur golf because I wasn't winning enough at the Junior level. Once I started doing that, then move it up to amateur golf. Got my brains beat at amateur golf, so you're not ready for professional tournaments. So just play amateur events and try to win amateur events and then I do that, I can move up to more professional events and I moved up that way.
Wie, and her family, obviously dont see things that way. Despite having only one major amateur victory to her credit, the 2003 U.S. Womens Public Links Championship, they believe that she can win at any level, including the professional ranks.
Wie doesnt expect to win this week, but she does have lofty goals.
I just want to shoot an under-par score and just make the cut. And if everything works out, well, then hopefully a top-20 (finish), said Wie, who as a Honolulu native has played the Waialae course countless times.
Ive been playing a lot of rounds there. And I know that if everything works out well that Ill be easily able to shoot 69 or 68 or lower than that. If I can just make birdies and not make stupid mistakes, I think its entirely possible.