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.
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.