A different look in paradise at Sony Open


By Doug Ferguson - AP Golf Writer



By Doug Ferguson

AP Golf Writer

HONOLULU — From a golf course on the side of a mountain to one along the shores just east of Waikiki Beach, the 21 players at both PGA Tour stops in Hawaii will never see two tracks more different in consecutive weeks.

Walking is much more enjoyable at the Sony Open, where the only elevation is walking up a few steps to the tee box.

Keeping it in play? That will require a little more skill.

“Fairways are narrow, It’s a lot shorter. It’s an easy walk; not going to be as tired at the end of every day,” Justin Thomas said Wednesday as he outlined the difference at Waialae Country Club compared with last week at Kapalua. “Just a lot of 2-irons and more positioning.”

And if history is any indication, there will be just as many birdies.

Fabian Gomez of Argentina last year ran off seven straight birdies in the middle of the final round and had 11 birdies in 20 holes to beat Brandt Snedeker in a playoff. The year before that, Jimmy Walker shot 62-63 on the weekend for a nine-shot victory.

So while the fairways are tight, winding and lined with royal palms, the small and relatively flat greens lead to plenty of opportunity.

The Sony Open is the first full-field event of the year on the PGA Tour. It is the ninth event of a season that began in October, even though it feels like a fresh start who those who didn’t qualify for the winners-only event last week on Maui.

Thomas will try to become the first player since Ernie Els to sweep Hawaii, and he’s riding plenty of confidence. He will be joined on the opening two days with two other 23-year-old players, Jordan Spieth and Daniel Berger.

Spieth is playing the Sony Open for only the second time. He missed the cut in 2014, stayed home in 2015 when he wasn’t eligible for Kapalua, and didn’t play last year because he went on a global tour of Singapore and Abu Dhabi. It’s a course he believes should fit him.

“You have to have smaller misses,” he said. “I think that plays into our favor. We like to think our way around the golf course a lot and miss it in the right location. Kapalua, it didn’t really matter. There are a few holes that are tight. But for the most part, massive fairways, massive greens, and the way it played this year, was just kind of target practice with it being softer.

“I’m excited about this being a bit more of a challenge on approach shots and seeing what we got.”

The field features eight of the top 20 in the world, which includes Olympic gold medalist Justin Rose and Paul Casey. After this week, the PGA Tour heads to California and stays on the U.S. mainland for the next six months (except for a detour to Mexico and Puerto Rico).

YOUNG AND OLD: Fred Funk is back at the Sony Open for the 24th year, a relationship that began in 1989 when it was called the Hawaiian Open. The 60-year-old will be heading over to the Big Island next week for the start of the PGA Tour Champions season.

Funk says this probably will be his last PGA Tour event.

He said he asked for a sponsor’s exemption and told the tournament it was fine if it went to someone else, and here he is.

Also in the field is Tadd Fujikawa, who made it through Monday qualifying. Fujikawa made news at Waialae 10 years ago when he made the cut at age 16, the youngest in 50 years to do that. He tied for 20th, and didn’t make another cut the rest of the year.

TRAVELERS: No one had to travel farther to get to the Sony Open than Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.

The affable Spaniard, who lives in Miami, took his wife (and children) to Fiji over the holidays to celebrate their 10-year wedding anniversary. They left on New Year’s Day to return home to Miami, and he got back on a plane a few days later to start his year in Honolulu.

The biggest schedule belongs to Branden Grace, who left South Africa for two weeks in Hawaii, and leaves Honolulu next week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Champions.

“I did that last year,” Russell Knox said of the Maui-Oahu-Abu Dhabi swing. “But I missed the cut here, which turned out to be a good thing.”

Jordan Spieth said he would cut down on his global travels during the meat of the PGA Tour season, which is not to suggest he is confined by borders. He leaves Sunday for Japan and South Korea for the launch of his new Under Armour golf shoe.

By Doug Ferguson

AP Golf Writer

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