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
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Country singer Owen shoots 86 in debut

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:51 pm

Country music star Jake Owen struggled in his Tour debut, shooting a 14-over 86 in the opening round of the Nashville Golf Open.

Owen, who played as a 1 handicap earlier this year while teaming with Jordan Spieth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, put three balls out of bounds over his first nine holes, including two en route to a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 18th hole. After making the turn in 46, Owen came home in 40 without making a single birdie.

Owen is playing as an amateur on an unrestricted sponsor exemption, the same type used by NBA superstar Steph Curry on the Tour last year and by former NFL quarterback Tony Romo this year on the PGA Tour. Curry missed the cut after rounds of 74-74 at the Ellie Mae Classic, while Romo shot 77-82 at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship.

Full-field scores from the Nashville Golf Open

Owen tallied nine pars, six bogeys, two doubles and a quad in his opener and was the only player from the morning wave who failed to break 80. The closest player to him in the standings was two-time major champ Angel Cabrera, who opened with a 79.

While Owen struggled against a field full of professionals, he took the setback in stride and even took to Twitter in the middle of his round to fire back at some of his online critics:

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New putter propels Hoffman to Fort Worth lead

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:30 pm

After sitting at home last week, Charley Hoffman decided it was time for a change.

The veteran estimated that he has been using the same version of a Scotty Cameron putter for the last five years, but heading into this week's Fort Worth Invitational he wanted to shake things up.

"I had an idea on Sunday literally coming out here that I wanted to have a little more weight in my putter," Hoffman told reporters. "I went with one that was sort of in my bag of putters at home that I could add some weight here."

The swap provided immediate results, as Hoffman opened with a 7-under 63 while picking up more than two strokes over the field on the greens to take a one-shot lead over Emiliano Grillo, Jhonattan Vegas and Andrew Putnam. It was an all-around effort Thursday for Hoffman, as he missed only two greens in regulation and never faced a par putt longer than 5 feet.

"I was able to knock in some mid-range putts and played very solid," Hoffman said. "It was a nice, very stress-free round. It was fun to play."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Hoffman had one of the best seasons of his career in 2017, capping it with a Presidents Cup appearance and a runner-up finish at the Hero World Challenge in December. While he has made nine cuts in 12 starts this year, his T-12 finish at the Masters remains his best result as he has struggled to turn top-20s into opportunities to contend.

Hoffman is making his seventh straight appearance at Colonial, where he tied for 10th in 2015. But he had never shot better than 65 before Thursday, when his decision to switch to a heavier Scotty Cameron model seemingly put a magnet on the bottom of the cup.

"Putting is a fickle part of the game," he said. "So hopefully the good mojo continues."

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McIlroy shoots 67, two off BMW PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 24, 2018, 6:56 pm

VIRGINIA WATER, England – Rory McIlroy walked off the 18th green in disgruntled fashion, shaking his head and looking down at the ground.

Shooting a 5-under 67 at Wentworth can rarely have felt so unsatisfactory.

The four-time major winner pushed his approach shot from the middle of the fairway into the overhanging trees at the par-5 last, saw his chip clip the flag pole, then missed a 3-foot putt for birdie for a disappointing end to his first round at the BMW PGA Championship on Thursday.

McIlroy also missed out on a birdie on the par-5 17th, too. Hence his unhappiness immediately after his round, although he was only two shots off the lead held by Lucas Bjerregaard (65).

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

''Walking off the 16th green and going to No. 17 at 5 under par, it was good after being 1 over after three (holes),'' McIlroy said, before diverting away from revisiting the end of his round.

''I played really well, gave myself plenty of chances, drove it well, for the most part hit my irons a lot better than I have done, so it was nice to get off to a good start.''

McIlroy is playing the European Tour's flagship event for the first time since 2015. He won it in 2014, the year he won The Open and the PGA Championship – his most recent major victories.

After bogeying No. 3, the former top-ranked McIlroy reeled off seven birdies in 13 holes and later said the greens were in the best condition he'd seen them.

Bjerregaard, whose only win came in Portugal last year, made seven birdies in a bogey-free round – his last at No. 18 giving him the outright lead over South Africans Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt.

Burmester earlier played his last eight holes in 6 under par – including making eagle at the 15th – to draw level with compatriot Fichardt, who was also bogey-free.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat finished 7-6 on the two par 5s to drop from the outright lead at the time to 4 under.

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Stricker opens with 65 at Colonial despite back pain

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 6:45 pm

After four holes of the Fort Worth Invitational, things were looking bleak for Steve Stricker.

The ageless veteran was already 1 over when he tweaked his back playing his approach to No. 13, his fourth hole of the day at Colonial Country Club. He ended up making another bogey, but at that point his score took a backseat to the health of his ailing back.

"I tried to hit a pretty solid 6-iron and got right into the impact area, and actually felt my lower back crack right where I had surgery back in 2014, pretty much right on the spot," Stricker told reporters. "Tried to walk to the green and that wasn't going so well. Kind of tightened up on me. I thought I was going to have to stop and just stand there for a minute, which I did a couple of times. It didn't look or feel very good for a while."

Slowly but surely, Stricker's back began to loosen up, and with it came a turnaround on the scorecard. Stricker had a four-hole stretch in the middle of his round that he played in 5 under, highlighted by a hole-out from the greenside bunker for eagle on the par-5 first hole. Despite the rocky start, he ended up shooting a 5-under 65 to sit two shots off the early pace set by Charley Hoffman.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"I just kept plodding along," Stricker said. "I knew there were some birdie holes out here if you can get it in the fairway. There are some short irons."

Stricker had a spot in one of the marquee early-round groups, but his score bettered both Jordan Spieth's 1-under 69 and defending champ Kevin Kisner's 2-over 72. Stricker told reporters that he planned to get his back checked after the round.

Stricker continues to straddle both the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions while crafting a unique schedule, and his appearance this week in Fort Worth came at the expense of skipping the Senior PGA Championnship, a major on the over-50 circuit. But Stricker won at Colonial in 2009 and has now played four straight years on what he described as one of his favorite courses.

"I like to play here. I know I'm going to play John Deere, another favorite tournament of mine, and FedEx St. Jude looks like I am going to try to play in a couple weeks, try to get in the U.S. Open," Stricker said. "So it's just kind of picking them as I go, and seeing where I want to go and seeing what feels good to me at the time."