Expert Picks: Sony Open in Hawaii

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 8, 2013, 9:24 pm

This week the PGA Tour heads to Honolulu for the Sony Open in Hawaii, the first full-field event of 2013. Each week, a panel of experts will offer up their picks from four groups of players based on Golf Channel's new fantasy game, Fantasy Challenge. We will also keep track of their scores and standings. The panel includes: senior writers Rex Hoggard, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and Win McMurry; editorial director Jay Coffin; 'Morning Drive' host Gary Williams and staff writer Ryan Lavner.

Win McMurry

Group 1: Keegan Bradley: On top of his stellar play in windswept Kapalua, he had a good start last season in the Aloha Swing starting with a middle-of-the-pack 16th-place finish at the TOC and a T-13 showing at Waialae. He also was sixth last year in par-5 performance, a key to the game this week.

Group 2: Charles Howell III: A horse for the course. He has a killer history at the Sony Open, with SIX top FIVES since he began competing in this event in 2002. Last year, he tied for runner-up honors (as he also did in 2007). I also look to his strong end to last season, where he closed with three consecutive top-15 finishes.

Group 3: Brian Gay: He opened his 2012 season at Waialae with a T-6 finish, one of four consecutive top 25s here. He also wrapped up the year on a high note in November with a fourth-place finish at Disney.

Group 4: Stephen Ames: He was off to a great start last year here, opening with rounds of 67-68-67, but a Sunday 75 pushed him down to a T-46 finish. Over the years he has picked up a nice paycheck at the beginning of the season, with five top-20 finishes and three top 10s since 2001.

Jason Sobel

Group 1: Zach Johnson: After a week on brutally long Kapalua, he'll be back in his comfort zone on a tighter, shorter Waialae track.

Group 2: Charles Howell III: He's been due at this one ever since getting gutted by Paul Goydos. Bonus: He often plays well in the early part of the season.

Group 3: Rory Sabbatini: Don't ask me why, but I can see a handful of title contentions for Sabo this year.

Group 4: Justin Leonard: This is the year he finally gets back in the winner's circle - and this ball-striker's course is a good place for it, especially if the wind blows.

Rex Hoggard

Group 1: Webb Simpson: If not for last week's two false starts at Kapalua, which featured play being voided on consecutive days, Simpson could have conceivably started the week at the Sony Open looking to become the year's first back-to-back champion.

Group 2: John Huh: 2012 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year got off to a decent start at Kapalua, and despite an equipment change to begin his sophomore campaign he is poised to pick up where he left off.

Group 3: Russell Henley: Tough to pick a guy making his third career Tour start, but he was a two-time winner on the Tour last year and has the game (he was 24th in GIR last year) to compete at Waialae.

Group 4: Brad Fritsch: The only Tour graduate to improve his position with a tie for seventh at Q-School needs a fast start, like the rest of the Q-School/ Tour category, to make the most of the abbreviated season.

Ryan Lavner

Group 1: Carl Pettersson: Strangely streaky player at Waialae, and I'm hoping this year he breaks the trend. Since 2004, he has alternated a top-25 finish with a missed cut. Last year, he was T-2. Hope for more of the same this week, following up a solo eighth at Kapalua.

Group 2: Tim Clark: In 12 career rounds at the Sony, Clark has shot in the 60s in all but three rounds. He was T-2 here two years ago, and Clark's control game will always play well at a claustrophobic layout like Waialae.

Group 3: Brian Gay: Hasn't missed a cut at Waialae since 2000, has shot in the 70s only twice in his past 16 rounds there, and has been in the top 25 each of the past four years, including a T-6 there last year. Easy money.

Group 4: Patrick Reed: Ended his 2012 campaign with three top 25s in his last four starts, and then navigated through the final stage of Q-School to earn his card for this season. One of the game's most intriguing up-and-comers.

Will Gray

Group 1: Keegan Bradley: Seems ready to pick up right where he left off after leading the Tour in the all-around ranking in 2012. Was T-13 here last year and showed no signs of early-season rust in finishing T-4 Tuesday in Maui.

Group 2: Charles Howell III: Among players in this week's field, his track record at this event is unparalleled. Gunning for his seventh top-5 finish here since 2002 and eager to break a winless drought that stretches back to 2007. Finished T-2 here last year.

Group 3: Josh Teater: A player I have my eye on for 2013, and one that quietly ended 2012 in strong fashion with four top-10 finishes in his final nine starts. Has the accuracy (19th last year on Tour in total driving, 38th in GIR percentage) to contend on a tight track like Waialae.

Group 4: Russell Knox: Like Teater, a player that ended 2012 on a high note with three top-15 finishes in four Fall Series starts. After finishing fourth on Tour last year in GIR percentage and 15th in proximity to hole, the Scot has the game to challenge here and will be looking to make the most of limited playing opportunities this season.

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”