Defending champion Johnson Wagner says his mind and game are in the right place. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)
By Ann Miller, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
HONOLULU — After six years on the PGA TOUR, defending Sony Open in Hawaii champion Johnson Wagner is still trying to stop getting ahead of himself.
After he won his first title in 2008, he took 10th at his Hyundai Tournament of Champions debut at big and constantly blowing Kapalua Plantation. He could not wait to get to the Sony Open in Hawaii.
“I was like, golf is easy, I’m going to blow this field away,” Wagner recalled Wednesday, on the eve of his title defense at Waialae Country Club. “I missed the cut by a mile.”
He would miss three straight cuts at the Sony before opening with five birdies on the back nine in last year’s first round.
“I started planning my interview for the 59 I was going to shoot,” he joked. “Then I made four bogeys in a row or something on the front nine and it brought me back down to earth a little bit.”
Three days later, Wagner separated himself from a massive pack -- at one point Sunday 23 players were within three shots of the lead -- to win the Sony. His final-round 67 was two shots better than Carl Pettersson, Sean O’Hair, Harrison Frazar and Charles Howell III.
Those two strokes and many others can be traced to Waialae’s back nine, where Wagner was 14 under, bogey-free, and blissfully happy when he claimed his third TOUR title.
He finished second the next week, giving him three consecutive Top 10s and more than $1.5 million in January. Wagner collected another $435,000 the next two months, missed the cut at the Masters and never got inside the Top 35 the rest of the year, missing out on an opportunity to play in the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola.
“I missed the cut at the Masters after a good week in Houston, and I think I just got really focused on making a Ryder Cup team, getting into the U.S. Open,” Wagner recalled. “I was worried about playing in tournaments as opposed to winning tournaments, and I kind of lost my train of thought that I had at the beginning of the year, which was just go out, play good golf, and hopefully find myself in position on Sunday.”
He believes he is as just as well prepared -- on the course and in the head -- for this season as he was a year ago. He focused on chipping and bunker play -- “a glaring weakness” -- in the offseason. If a few more putts had fallen last week at windy Kapalua he feels he could have been in contention.
The goal now, at 32, is not to get ahead of himself again.