Sony Open in Hawaii
Waialae Country Club
Thursday January 9, 2014 – Sunday January 12, 2014
Winner’s Share: $1,008,000 + You Get Lei’d + A Trophy That Looks Like a Giant Shoehorn
FedEx Cup Points: 500
View from the United States of Space
Watching Zach Johnson and Dustin Johnson play together last week offered a unique glimpse into how differently two Tour players, on opposite ends of the length spectrum, make their way around the same track. Dustin was outpacing his long-lost Johnson brother by 80 to 100 yards at a time off the tee, only to often find himself putting first once on the green. The difference between Kapalua’s Plantation Course and Waialae Country Club, the site of this weeks’ Sony Open, mimics the difference between the “brothers” Johnson’s respective games. Ironically, Zach emerged victorious on a course one would think better suited for DJ.
Kapalua’s wide fairways, severe elevation changes, and relatively modern design are nowhere to be found on Waialae’s classic Seth Raynor layout, which plays to a modest (at least by Tour standards) 7,088 yards. A refreshing change from the “bomb & gouge” tracks so prevalent throughout the year, the premium is instead on accuracy and being able to flight the ball through the trade winds. By all accounts Tour players seem to enjoy this course and the consensus suggests it’s an underrated track (although that could be skewed with the players sampled being, by and large, those who enjoy and/or are well-suited to this type of test; surely the bomber contingent has a different view and thus quite a few stay away).
At No Laying Up, our first glance at any scorecard is to answer two questions: 1) How gettable are the par-5’s? and 2) Are there any even remotely reachable par-4’s? Judging by this standard, Waialae disappoints as it features just two par-5’s and only one par-4 that is close to the realm of being gettable (#10 plays downwind 350 yards but the green is well-guarded). This disappointment is quickly washed away by the fact it’s unlikely ANYONE in the field will be forced to lay up on either par-5 – they’re the easiest set of par-5’s on Tour (#9 is 510 yards – that’s a long par-4). Interestingly, #1 and #13 were formerly par-5’s until John Huston waged war on the bird sanctuary here back in ’98 (causing them to Huston-proof the course – more on that later).
These days, the first hole is one of the most bossy opening holes on Tour, a 488 yard par-4 incorporating elements of the road hole at St. Andrews – it’s a STRONG start. May we suggest PGATour.com put a live feed of this hole for the week and and dub it, “The Snuff Film?” Overall, not a typical No Laying Up style track, but there is fun to be had. It just all comes down to how hard the wind blows.
A walk over to the range belies the real problem at Waialae – it’s only 250 yards deep, an affront to range rats everywhere. It’s shocking that Vijay even bothers to show up for this event – do you know how much time he is forced to spend with his family because the range just isn’t adequate?!? A few years back they finally hung nets from the palm trees but that’s a losing battle (talk to the BigCat about the nets Augusta used to have before they went HAM on the new practice facility, much to the membership’s chagrin. Dude used to revel in spraying bombs over the nets onto Washington Road).
Russell Henley burst onto the scene birdieing the final five holes to win his first PGA Tour event and establish the second-lowest 72-hole scoring mark in Tour history with a -24, 256. Henley basically had the most insane putting week on the PGA Tour last year, with a ridiculous 3.042 strokes gained putting, meaning he picked up 12 shots versus the field on the greens alone! Combine that kind of magic-wand waving with his best ball-striking week of the year (83% GIR), and it’s one tasty recipe for cashing winner’s checks. Oh yeah, dude played the par-4’s in an incredible 17-under par.
The Sony Open is the first event in 2014 to feature a Full Field, which kinda gives the feel of this week being Caddie Day at the Bushwood Country Club pool following the posh exclusivity of the Hyundai. Even so, there are still several top names playing this week, as well as some NLU favorites.
Top players in the field: Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Jason Dufner
NLU Comedic Favorites (aka Bushwood caddies): John Daly, Mike Weir, Frank Lickliter II, Guan Tianglang, Paul Goydos
Fantasy/Gambling Insight (odds according to Sportsbook.com)
Horses for Courses:
Chucky Triple Sticks: (20/1). His finishes the last 9 years are as follows (most recent listed first): T3, T2, T68, T5, 4, T69, T2, T53, T3. Enough said.
Tim Clark: (20/1). He’s finished 2nd in his last two appearances here, and in the top 25 his only two other appearances.
Jimmy Walker: (30/1). The last full-field winner on tour (hello reach-around schedule!) has to be riding a nice wave of confidence in here (pun most definitely intended). Waialae seems to suit him – lot of made cuts and a few top-20 finishes here.
Sabo: (50/1) Is good value this week. He’s got a good track record here (multiple runner-up finishes and slew of top-30’s) and seems to have his game trending in the right direction with a nice showing at Mayakoba and strong end to 2013. The risk of Sabo not having his head screwed on straight is a little easier to stomach with 50/1 value.
DubP: (100/1) Pat Perez has a great record here and gained some early-season momentum on the reach-around schedule. Strong early-season player.
Chris Stroud (60/1), Roberto Castro (60/1), Chris Kirk (25/1)
Think standard, nondescript early 1990’s event – pretty much a bunch of retired white men milling about, relatively sparsely attended (under 50,000). Bottom-line: the Tommy Bahama clique will be out in full force, with the Golf Channel schwaldo’s following suit. Golf Channel will play up the Hawaiian vibe with music, surfer backgrounds and Waikiki Beach jokes. Even if you don’t like golf, just tune in for a televised respite from the shitty weather that’s making you SAD right now. Overall, there’s some good stuff going on here but it’s too basic to be overly hilarious.
With a Japanese title sponsor and a well-known rep as a Japanese tourist destination, this tourney holds some allure in the Far-Eastern golf sphere. Seeing only two Asians (Aoki & Choi), therefore, among a relatively impressive list of past champions is somewhat surprising. However, that may change in the coming years as it looks like this event is carving out an increasingly outsized niche in an area of the world where golf is coming on strong. If I’m the tournament organizer, I’m playing this angle up as much as possible (Finchy should be helping) and marketing this as a premier early season Pan-Pacific ball-striking fiesta and cultural celebration.
This year’s field includes eight Japanese, seven Koreans, and two Chinese amateurs (16 year old Liu Yan-Wei finally gives Guan Tianlang a playmate, and an intriguing one at that – this isn’t his first rodeo). KJ Choi has menaced this course in the past and Hideki Matsuyama’s primed to get some serious air-time this week (we’ll see if he can figure this course out). Was disappointed to see our boy Aphibarnrat notably absent this week, though, but it’s somewhat understandable. Seeing him navigate these narrow fairways would be akin to seeing Shamu languishing in captivity at SeaWorld; just downright depressing—cant’ put restrictor plates on the big guy. Additionally, we’re curious to see if Ryo Ishikawa can continue his strong reach-around start – his game is starting to show some real promise for the first time in a couple years.
Lastly, look for Briny Baird to assert himself here. His game is similar to that of many of the Japanese players on tour and he wears that dumb PF Chang’s hat so he’s got some Chinese influence as well. Only concern here is whether Briny’s game will be sharp enough; those third-degree burns he suffered on the 18th hole at Sea Island have precluded him from practicing lately. To be honest, he’s lucky to even be out of the St. Simons Regional Hospital burn unit in time for this event.
The Bag Room
- Little known fact: The 1998 United Airlines Hawaiian Open was won by John Huston. Dude went 28 deep, causing uproar among environmentalists and local homeowners over the sheer number of birds slaughtered during that year’s event. The negative publicity caused United to pull out and Sony signed on, but with a caveat: the membership redesigned the course during the off-season (the next year Jeff Sluman emerged as champion with a heavily toned-down winning score of -9. Coincidence? You be the judge). The Oahu avian population rebounded nicely post 1998 atrocities, for those who are wondering.
- This event is essentially the PGA Tour’s spin-off of the popular TLC show “Little People, Big World,” with the illustrious lineage of little ass dudes who have won this event: the aforementioned Sluman, Paul Goydos, Mark Wilson, Corey Pavin (Back-to-back winner, Tom Emansky style! Shortly thereafter he tried to rename it the Rat Family Open), Brad Faxon, David Toms, and Russell Henley among others. It would seem that Tim Clark and Mike Weir are PRIMED to win this thing. How did Ian Woosnam not get an invite?
- Finally, and really most importantly, shame on the organizers for refusing to extend a sponsor’s exemption to Tadd Fujikawa. What the hell is that about? If you’re not going to give this guy a spot then don’t have exemptions. I thought it was written into the by-laws that he gets a spot in even numbered years. Hell, in ’12 he rose above mascot status and nabbed a top-20!
- As you’ll find out over the course of this year, NLU is BULLISH as hell on Hideki Matsuyama and his Big Sleazy-like tempo (#1 scoring average on Tour last year in the seven US PGA recognized events he played, which is mind boggling because three of those tournaments were majors, one was a WGC, and the other two were on tough old-school tracks (Sedgwick and Glen Abbey.) However, he’s played this event three years in a row and has MC’d proceedings each time. Keep him keister-stashed for another event. (update: he WMD’d due to some back issue).
- VIDEO of Sony Open goodness from years past
- On our way out we leave you with this – the Waialae logo is EERILY similar to that of Wu Tang Clan (not to be confused with the Charlie Wi Tang Clan). The Wu may have a legitimate copyright infringement beef on their hands.
You be the judge.