Par 5 Questions for the Sony Open

By Randall MellJanuary 11, 2011, 8:15 pm
Five questions setting the agenda for the Sony Open ...

Does this week’s first full-field PGA Tour event mark the real start of 2011?

Golf never actually begins when the schedule says it begins.

It’s confusing and subjective, really, but it seems it’s always been that way.

Ryan Palmer
Ryan Palmer is the defending champion of the Sony Open. (Getty Images)
For some tour pros of the not-so-distant past, the Florida Swing traditionally marked the real start of the year, the time when the rust was off and the heavyweight competition that mattered most was fully underway.

When Tiger Woods came along and settled into his schedule, it began feeling like the season began in San Diego at Torrey Pines in Woods’ traditional season opener.

For others, even today, the real start of the real competition that really matters comes with the drive down Magnolia Lane at the Masters in April.

Now, for the first time, it’s feeling like the season won’t truly begin in the United States at all, that the real start of the tournament golf season is moving with the power shift to Europe and it’s growing star power. It feels like 2011 tournament golf will get its big-bang start next week with the opening of the European Tour’s Middle East Swing. In fact, if Europe’s rise continues, we may one day hear an entirely new saying:  “The real season begins in Abu Dhabi.”

The Sony Open could see some strong storylines develop this week, just as the Hyundai Tournament of Champions did last weekend, but it won’t compare to the anticipation building in Abu Dhabi, where four of the top five players in the world rankings are scheduled to play.

Lee Westwood, the new world No. 1, will make his 2011 start in Abu Dhabi. So will Phil Mickelson. All four reigning major championship winners are committed to teeing it up together next week. Graeme McDowell, who’s strong start at Hyundai is making some folks wonder if he will rise to No. 1 before the year is over, will join rising star Martin Kaymer and Louis Oosthuizen. Rory McIlroy’s is on the entry list. Paul Casey and Padraig Harrington also are expected to be in that field’s All-Star contingent.

The Sony Open may deliver a script as good as the Hyundai Tournament of Champions did, but tournament golf is a lot like Broadway. Like it or not, the stars trump the script, and Abu Dhabi’s marquee will feature the year’s first star-studded cast.

And if the world rankings remain as they are, the first showdown of the No. 1 (Westwood) vs. No. 2 (Woods) players in the world will also come in Europe at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic Feb. 10-13.
What proven winner steps up this week?

A swarm of rookies is eager to make a start at the Sony Open, but these rookies will soon learn Waialae Country Club’s no place for breakthroughs.

It’s a puzzle that won’t easily be solved by rookies or winless veterans.

The Honolulu event’s crowned a first-time winner just twice in the last 20 years. Jerry Kelly’s the last to break through there, earning his maiden victory in ’02. John Morse earned his first and only PGA Tour title there in ’95.

Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk are the highest ranked players in the field at Nos. 6 and 7 in the world rankings, respectively. They’re also good fits at Waialae.

Stricker’s yet to win at Sony, but he’s finished T-4 or better there three of the last four seasons. He had four rounds in the 60s while finishing third last year. Furyk won at Waialae in ’96 and has five finishes of T-7 or better there. Ryan Palmer returns as the defending champ in search of his fourth PGA Tour title.
Who’s the most touted rookie to watch?

Jamie Lovemark is among two dozen rookies in the season opener, and he comes with the best pedigree.

Lovemark finished atop the Nationwide Tour’s money list last year even though he was its youngest player. He won the NCAA individual title as a freshman at USC and also claimed the Jack Nicklaus Award as national Player of the Year in his first collegiate season. In his first season as a pro late in ’09, he nearly won the Open, losing out to Troy Matteson in a three-way playoff that included Rickie Fowler.
Who’s the best new story?

That’s easily Joseph Bramlett, who last month became the first player of African-American descent to make it through Q-School in 25 years.

Bramlett, 22, will be tested by more than the PGA Tour’s tough course setups and fierce competition. He’ll be tested by the nature of the spotlight that will come with telling his story at most every tour stop.

“The Next Tiger?” That was the headline on a Philadelphia Inquirer story after Bramlett earned his PGA Tour card.

Like Tiger Woods, Bramlett’s a big hitter who followed in Woods’ footsteps to Stanford, where Bramlett graduated last summer with a degree in communications. But even beyond the obvious angles, Bramlett’s a good story in what he’s overcome. He missed 20 months over a two-year period after his sophomore year with right wrist injuries.

Bramlett’s rookie year is larger than most rookies. That’s because there is more than golf playing out. There’s a special story.
Who will get DQ’d or hurt this week?

Strange rules snafus among elite players seem to be a growing epidemic with the phenomenon spilling into 2011 and last week’s disqualification of Camilo Villegas at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Who’s next? Hold onto your DVR, because somebody’s bound to see something and call in an allegation.

Strange injuries were also a theme last week. First, we learned Zach Johnson would be playing with a hole cut into the right toe of his golf shoes to alleviate the pain from an infected toe. He hurt himself scrambling to put out a small fire during a family vacation in the Grand Caymans before going to Hawaiii. Then we learned Hyundai defending champ Geoff Ogilvy would be withdrawing after he gashed his right index finger on a reef while swimming and needed 12 stitches. And then there was the Robert Garrigus’ scare. He reported hurting his shoulder in Hyundai’s third round while pumping his fist in an overly excited celebration, though he played through it well in forcing a Sunday playoff that he ended up losing to Jonathan Byrd.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.