Bryant is pick to win at Sony
Last week at Kapalua, we got fairways so wide even Jessica Alba could hit them. You won't get that kind of star power at this week's Sony Open over in Honolulu, even if Michelle Wie is making her fourth appearance here. As for the course, Waialae is a tighter track with smaller greens. It's also not as long as Kapalua, so expect some shotmakers to have, well, a shot, especially with just two par-5s, both of which are reachable by almost everyone in the field.
Minus Vijay Singh's missed 9-footer for birdie on the first playoff hole, he would likely be the one everyone's talking about -- especially since he wasn't doing much talking after the playoff loss to Stuart Appleby, who took home his third straight Mercedes title. No surprise there -- Vijay's not exactly known as a media darling -- but it's frightening to think how many more wins Singh would have if he were even slightly better than average with the putter. Sometimes watching him putt is like watching Shaquille O'Neal shoot a free throw. Singh's 50 career wins worldwide is a testament to just how good the rest of his game is.
Then there's Bart Bryant, a player you may remember I liked as one of two captain's pick for last year's Presidents Cup team. He didn't get the nod then, but his biggest goal for this year is to earn his way onto the Ryder Cup team.
As for this week, a course like Waialae sets up perfectly for Bryant -- he's consistently among the game's most accurate players off the tee and onto the green. But he almost didn't get to this point, or last week's winners-only event. Then he had a dream.
"Several months before winning [at the Texas Open in 2004] I dreamed I had won a golf tournament," Bryant told me from Hawaii. "It was the first time I had allowed myself in my mind to succeed.
"Prior to then, I was almost as good a player as I am now. But when I got close to the lead, I felt like I sabotaged myself because I was afraid of being in the limelight. I was afraid of having the cameras on me. I don't have a textbook swing and I was afraid of being labeled as a choker."
With three career victories, including last year's Tour Championship, Bryant is afraid no more. Thanks to some soul-searching and statistical analysis with coach Brian Mogg, Bryant has a different mind-set -- and different results -- now.
"Looking at my stats convinced me I was good enough to win," Bryant said. "I'll take whatever comes on Sundays. I can't hide from it any longer."
Jason Gore is about as likeable a player as there is on tour, but word from the Aloha state is that his management team has him stretched a bit too thin. That, by the way, might be the only time you see the words "Jason Gore" and "thin" in the same sentence.
But even if Gore deals with "one billionth" of the level of off-course commitments as Tiger Woods, as he puts it, you have to think his three rounds in the 80s (with a fourth round of 79) were at least somewhat related to being pulled a billion different directions. Conditions were difficult enough at Kapalua -- without the experience of soaking up all the schwag that goes with the Mercedes and all the off-course opportunities outside Gore's suite at the Ritz Carlton. He was able to keep smiling despite playing so poorly, but '06 might end up being a sophomore slump.
While we're on the topic of slumps, Jerry Kelly's been on a bit of prolonged one. He hasn't won since 2002, when he won both this tournament and the Western Open en route to a career year. Ever since, however, Kelly's been wildly inconsistent -- missing nine cuts in 2005, versus just two cuts in '04 -- changing putters and caddies along the way. You never know what you're going to get from Kelly, who wears his emotions on his sleeve, but one thing he's not likely to get is a win this week.
The winning score at Kapalua last week was 14 strokes higher than it was the year before, and 15 strokes higher than the winning number at last year's Sony Open.
Bryant. He's no longer a journeyman after last year's impressive win at the Tour Championship, something that validated his two other career victories at the Memorial and Texas Open. Bryant also hits it straight off the tee and finds a lot of greens -- something that should come in handy this week at Waialae.
Brian Wacker is an assistant editor for GolfDigest.com
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