Power Rankings: Sony Open in HawaiiJanuary 07, 2013
Waialae Country Club, site of this week's Sony Open in Hawaii, isn't all palm trees and ocean-side swimming pools. Spectators and television viewers may see paradise, but make no mistake, the first full-field event of 2013 sets up for grinders.
Host since 1965 and a par 70 since 1999, Waialae annually presents itself as a true test, both for returning TOUR members looking to shed some rust and rookies beginning their careers. However, first-timers may be wise to temper expectations.
Twenty-three of this year's class of 31 rookies are scheduled to compete this week. That includes five that will be making their PGA TOUR debuts. Of the 67 to tee it up at Waialae in the previous three editions, only 37 made the cut (55.22 percent) and just six posted top 25s, none of which went for a top 10.
So why is Waialae so demanding? After all, it lists at only 7,044 yards. Well, it's always windy along with southern shore of Oahu. Combine that with fairways that annually measure among the most difficult to find off the tee, and it's no wonder the field of 144 goes into self-preservation mode.
Waialae's driving-accuracy percentage of 46.61 and greens-in-regulation clip of 63.03 percent were six-year lows in 2012. The putting surfaces average a relatively standard 6,500 square feet, but proximity to the hole last year ranked 10th-longest on TOUR at 37 feet, six inches. Because over 53 percent of drives found lies off the fairway, it's relevant to cite that proximity from the rough averaged 44'9", which was actually closest in eight years.
While finding fairways and hitting it tight are sound goals, historically the valuable objectives are to load up on birdie opportunities and take advantage of the par 5s. Last year, the 506-yard ninth and 551-yard 18th combined to average a TOUR-low 4.39 strokes. The ninth alone was the second-easiest of 158 par 5s, checking in at 4.183. It surrendered 39 eagles, most of any hole all year.
Defending champion Johnson Wagner ranked T10 in greens hit (51 of 72; 70.83 percent) and third in strokes gained-putting. On the pair of par 5s, he netted two eagles (both on 18) and five birdies to co-lead the field in par-5 performance.
The 20 golfers expected to make the trip west from Maui to Honolulu will bring the gusty trade winds with them, but the breezes are forecast to abate as the tournament moves along. Temperatures will top out right around a seasonable 80 degrees. As usual, rain can't be ruled out at any time.
Power Rankings: Sony Open in Hawaii Rank Player Comment Tim Clark Perfect track for a sharpshooter off the tee. Recovery from elbow surgery precluded his appearance last year. Co-runner-up in 2011 when he led the field in both proximity to the hole and scrambling. Also co-led in greens in regulation. Carl Pettersson In eight starts, he's alternated top 25s with missed cuts. Last year's personal-best T2 set the stage for a huge year that he polished off with four consecutive top 20s. Ranked T3 at Waialae in 2010 in greens in regulation and T5 in bogey avoidance. Charles Howell III Sits third in all-time earnings at this event but has yet to win. He's made the cut in all 11 starts, six of which have resulted in a top five, including last year's co-runner-up. Climbed out of a slump late in 2012 to post three top 15s. Dustin Johnson Making his third appearance. Tied for 10th in 2008 and logged a T16 in 2010. He's already crafted a reputation as one of the best wind players in the game. Also validated at TPC Southwind last year that he can harness his length on short tracks. Brendon de Jonge First start anywhere since capping off a torrid Fall Series and trip to Malaysia. Tied for 10th at Waialae last year. Carded a field-low bogey-free 62 in the second round. Ranked sixth in par breakers (19). Finished eighth on TOUR in GIR in 2012. Matt Every In his debut at Waialae last year, held the outright lead at the midpoint and shared it after 54 holes. Went on to tie for sixth place, ranking T17 in greens hit and T4 in par breakers. Led the PGA TOUR in birdies or better on par 4s in 2012. David Hearn His tee-to-green proficiency is a superb fit for Waialae. He proved it en route to a T10 last year, ranking T7 in fairways hit, T17 in greens and sixth in proximity. He also led the field in strokes gained-putting and would close out the year ranked 44th overall. Matt Kuchar Returns after a one-year hiatus since finishing T5 in 2011. Despite his size, he's more ball-striker than masher. His flat swing also works well in the wind. His short game and putting stand among the best on the PGA TOUR. Graham DeLaet In both previous appearances (2010, 2012), he's posted 5-under 275 to secure a pair of top 30s. Held the 18-hole lead last year following a 63. Played the par 5s in 9-under with an eagle and seven birdies. Ranked third in proximity to the hole. Billy Horschel Hasn't played Waialae since missing the cut in his debut in 2010, but the q-school grad is ripe to parlay a strong finish last year into early success this season. Ranked eighth in 2012 in ball-striking, including 21st in fairways hit and 11th in GIR. Zach Johnson The 2009 champion has scored under par in only four of 10 rounds since his title, including a bogey-free 65 in the second round last year, but he's coming off one of his best seasons. Ranked 14th in fairways hit and sixth in strokes gained-putting. Keegan Bradley As the TOUR's leader in the all-around ranking in 2012, he can't be dismissed anywhere especially as he gathers experience at host venues. En route to last year's T13, tied for third in greens hit (55) but only T33 in par breakers (15). Scott Piercy Tied for 23rd a year ago at Waialae. Also tied for second that week in par breakers (21) and 10th in strokes gained-putting. Played holes 12-18 in bogey-free 13-under; added an eagle and two birdies on the par-5 ninth. Also finished T12 here in 2009. Webb Simpson Teeing it up for the fifth consecutive year at Waialae. He's the last rookie to post a top 10 at this event (T9, 2009), which is also his only top 35 here, but he ranked 34th on TOUR last year in greens hit and second in par breakers. Davis Love III Owns the course record -- a 60 in 1994 -- and has registered seven top 10 in 13 starts, including most recently a T5 in 2010 and a T9 in 2011. Now free of Ryder Cup duties, the 48-year-old can focus on tasks inside the ropes. Three top 10s in 2012.