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Waialae won't be a picnic

By Neville Leck Last updated: 9th January 2013

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Tim Clark, one of the dark horses

Tim Clark, one of the dark horses

Honolulu tends to conjure up a picture of waving palms, great waves, bronzed surfers and sunny beaches, but don't expect this week's Sony Open at Waialae Country Club to be a picnic.

Seasoned professionals like Davis Love III, who holds the course record of 60, Tim Clark and defending champion Johnson Wagner, as well Johnny-come-lately major winners like Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson have all had taste of it's wild mood swings and will be well aware of just how brutal this relatively short coastal course can be when they tee off on Thursday.

This essentially because, while Waialae's par-70 course is only 44 yards over 7,000, its illusive fairways are never easy to find, especially when the wind gets up as it so often does, and the 27 Tour rookies who have made the hop from mainland America to make their Tour debuts in the second event on the 2013 Tour-opening Hawaiian swing - they were not eligible for last week's wind-delayed Tournament of Champions at Kapalua as it was limited to 2012 Tour winners only - might be in for a rude shock.

Especially on the opening day when, if the forecasts are right and the same trade winds that wrecked the first three days at Kapalua and saw the Tournament forced into a Tuesday finish, continue to blow.

They are not expected to be anything like as severe in Honolulu this week as they were on Maui last week and the forecast is that they will taper off in the later rounds, but, to start with, they could nevertheless be stiff enough to have even the most accurate drivers off the tee and the very best stroke makers gritting their teeth and grinding away at making acceptable scores.

And with Waialae's driving-accuracy percentage at a low 46.61 and greens-in-regulation stat at 63.03 percent in 2012, it's not too difficult to see why.

Probably the best game plan for this course is to play the par threes and fours cautiously and conservatively but to go for birdies and eagles on the two par fives, the 9th and the 18th - something that was strongly underscored by Wagner last year when he posted two eagles, both on the 18th, and totalled five birdies over the two holes on his way to victory.

Twenty survivors of the wind-lashed Maui mauling are scheduled to tee off in Honolulu this week and of all of them, the comprehensive winner there, Dustin Johnson, might have the best chance of winning here - if is able to summon up sufficient focus not more than 36 hours after hoisting aloft the Tournament of Champions trophy on Maui.

The 28-year-old Myrtle Beach bomber certainly has what it takes to win for, not only is he a fine wind player, he clearly showed at TPC Southwind last year that he has come of age and can sensibly and effectively harness his striking power to suit short courses.

Besides, in the kind of form this 6ft 4in, 2012 US Ryder Cup representative is in right now, there is every reason to believe he might be one of the men who will dominate the golfing headlines this year.

If not, and he hasn't had time to recover from the Maui experience, look to dark horses Clark, Carl Pettersson and Charles Howell III to be up among the front runners when the Sony Open field hits the closing stretch on Sunday.

Clark's game, in the view of some top US tipsters, is perfectly suited to the Waialae track.

The unflappable South African missed last year's Sony Open because of an elbow operation, but it was not for nothing that he was a runner-up at Waialae in 2011 when he was able, on average, to put his approaches closer to the hole than any of his rivals.

Pettersson should be considered a potential winner on the strength of his performances towards the end of 2012 when a tie for 2nd catapulted him into four straight, top-20 finishes and Howell must come into the picture because he is in third place on the list of all-time money winners at Waialae and closed last year's Tour with three Top 15 finishes.

Others who look capable of making a fight of it this week include Simpson, the reigning US Open champion who remains the last rookie to pick up a top-10 at Waialae, in-form 2011 PGA champion Bradley, who finished 4th behind Johnson on Maui on Tuesday and former Masters champion Zach Johnson, who posted a bogey-free, second-round 65 last week and, with victories last year at the Crowne Plaza Invitational and the John Deere Classic, is coming to Honolulu off one of his best seasons in years.

Neville Leck



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