Hitting greens is key to winning Sony
This week's Sony Open in Hawaii marks the return of Michelle Wie to the PGA Tour. Or did you know that already? Every year that Wie plays this tournament -- this is her fourth straight time -- the Hawaiian teen is the main focus of attention before play even begins. And she will be again this year, too. At least partially. So let's get her that out of the way now.
Does she belong in the field? Sure she does. She's a talented, home-grown golfer, whose celebrity status draws attention to a tournament in need of a big-name player. At Waialae she has proven she can post some competitive scores. She hasn't made a cut, but she does have two rounds in the 60s. That's one more than Craig Perks and two more than Tim Petrovic, who have also missed the cut the last three years. However, if the wind kicks up as it did during Wie's opening-round 79 a year ago and if the reports of a sore wrist are accurate, she won't be sticking around for the weekend. Not that she would be a lock to earn FedEx Cup points in calm conditions with a healthy wrist anyway.
|Michelle Wie's stats at the Sony Open|
|Greens in regulation||20||19||21|
|Bogeys or worse||7||9||12|
Wie playing the Sony Open is one thing -- and we're guessing she fares a bit better that she did in her last PGA Tour appearance when she left the John Deere Classic on a stretcher because of heat exhaustion -- but it should be her only PGA Tour stop of the FedEx Cup season. Return to the tour in the Fall Finish if you wish, but leave the exemptions into FedEx points tournaments to the men.
As for the rest of the field this week, we're still missing Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson (naturally) as well as Ernie Els, Adam Scott, Retief Goosen and Sergio Garcia, but most every one of the players who played Kapalua stuck around -- only Scott and Kirk Triplett went home. What they'll miss at Waialae is a course that had the toughest fairways to hit in 2006. Jim Furyk led the field a year ago at 67.86 percent and the tournament average was 43.66 percent. That's was a result of the wind, but if a player can find the fairway and hit plenty of greens, he stands a great chance to win. Last year's winner, David Toms, was T-2 in greens hit and since the course was changed from a par 72 to a par 70 in 1999, only two winners failed to finish in the top six in greens hit.
|Sony Open champions, 1999-2006|
|Year||Player||Greens hit rank|
There's also the belief that you need to have experience at Waialae, the only host coure the tourament has ever had, to win the Sony Open. According to golf statistical analyst Sal Johnson, only Bruce Leitzke in 1977 and inaugural winner Gay Brewer in 1965 walked away with the trophy in their first visit to the course. But that doesn't explain how well true PGA Tour rookies did at Waialae a year ago. Bubba Watson (fourth), Nathan Green (fifth) and J.B. Holmes (T-10) all had top-10 finishes and although a first-timer faces a tough task at any course, it's not an impossibility.
Vijay Singh: Why not? He's won here before, taking the 2005 event with four rounds in the 60s and he's coming off a victory at Kapalua, where a return to the belly putter helped him shake some putting woes that sprung up a year ago. And he's a pretty good player in the wind.
Anthony Kim: Want a rookie? I'll give you one. This kid -- he's only 21 years old -- has all the skills with a long ball to keep pace with the rest of the young bombers and a solid short game to go with a good putter. He'll win at some point this year. Why not this week?
Steve Stricker: Not long, but accurate, with a good short game. I'm not sure how he'll handle the wind, but I'm also not sure how much wind there will be. If the weather is calm, Stricker can build off the momentum he gained with a strong comeback season a year ago.
Luke Donald: There are lots of bunkers surrounding the greens at Waialae and here's one guy who should have no fear of them. Sure, he's not overpowering and the wind may doom him, but Donald is a consistent player who led the tour in sand saves and was second in scrambling a year ago.
John Antonini is a senior editor for Golf World magazine.
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