Sony leaders benefit from extra golf

Updated: January 14, 2007, 9:02 PM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

HONOLULU -- This just in from the Department of Duh: The best way to prepare for a PGA Tour event is ... drum roll, please ... by competing in a PGA Tour event the previous week.

It's not rocket science. The notion that playing tournament golf begets better results than, say, banging away at golf balls on the driving range is a pretty rudimentary premise. But it's one that was proven once again on Thursday, as the top four players after the Sony Open's first round were each part of the limited field that competed in last week's season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship.

Luke Donald is the solo leader, firing a 7-under 63, trailed by K.J. Choi (64), Jim Furyk (65) and Will MacKenzie (65) in what must seem like benign conditions following a ferocious, wind-blown week at Kapalua's Plantation Course.

Luke Donald
Eric Risberg/AP PhotoDonald made nine birdies and two bogeys in shooting 63 on Thursday.
"I was playing reasonably solidly last week and it was nice to come here and not get pounded by the wind quite as much," said Donald, who finished seventh last week. "I played very nicely today and, more importantly, holed the putts for birdie when I needed to, which is kind of the difference between today and last week."

In all, there are 31 players who made the 34-minute flight from Maui to Oahu. Of those, 17 finished the day at par or below, with no one worse than D.J. Trahan's 4-over 74. The day's scoring average for those playing their second straight event was under par at 69.58, while the remaining 113 players were exactly one full stroke worse at 70.58.

Of course, another way to look at this is that last week's winners-only event featured the best of the best. Meanwhile, some of those still shaking the cobwebs out at the Sony include first-time rookies, qualifiers and a certain 17-year-old sponsor's exemption -- not to mention those with permanent cobwebs, who never quite find their game -- each of whom might raise the mean overall score.

"It's nice to have some rounds under you," said Furyk, who was 18th at Kapalua. "[Without playing,] you get rusty. I think it depends on how much time you've taken off, too. ... Guys will take eight, nine weeks and just put them away and come back out here. Yeah, you're going to be rusty after some time off."

Being rusty hasn't been a problem for MacKenzie, who once went 10 years without touching a golf club, while pursuing professional snowboarding and kayaking careers. After a T-4 result at the Mercedes-Benz, during which he became a media darling and fan favorite, Willie Mac is on the verge of becoming considered a kama'aina. (That's a "local," for those who don't speak Hawaiian.)

The surfer boy continues to be the season's surprise story so far. After making six birdies in his opening round at Waialae, MacKenzie regaled reporters of what he's been up to since we last saw him on Sunday. Those ensuing days included some surfing at Diamond Head, a toothache caused by a sinus infection and even a little work on the range. Very little.

"On Tuesday afternoon, I practiced for, like, 27 minutes," MacKenzie said. "I was, like, 'Oh, I've played a lot of golf lately,' so I went surfing for a little while."

OK, so perhaps extra golf isn't the best thing for everyone after all.

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.

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