Welcome to Balls in the Air, where I size up my Fantasy Golf picks of the week, featuring guys to watch (or not) and interesting story lines. Disclaimer: My picks may suck, but I do think through the factors that may weigh in.
Watching lightning flash over the ocean as the waves crashed on the beach was an eerily beautiful sight on Wednesday night. We knew it was coming, but literally, I could feel the storm blowing in. Just before midnight, the already-strong winds started to feel like gale force winds (perhaps a slight exaggeration). Then I heard the rain start pounding against my window. Here it comes!
No word yet whether play will begin at the Sony Open as scheduled. It is for now, but who knows if the course will be playable in the morning. It looked pretty bad after Wednesday’s storm. Fingers crossed for the best. This sort of feels like it did back in school when there was supposed to be a huge blizzard overnight, so you rolled the dice and blew off your homework, but you woke up only to discover the storm had changed its course.
Mini course report: There’s casual water from tee to green splattered across Waialae Country Club. The course doesn’t favor bombers, but there are a few lengthy holes and it will play longer because of the soggy conditions. Fairways are narrow and the greens are tiny — perhaps even half the size for both compared to last week. The rough is up and the ball just plunges down in the Bermuda grass. I don’t know if they’ve cut it since Tuesday, but I’m guessing not. With all the rain, it’s going to be real tough to hit out of the heavy stuff, so keeping it in the short grass will be an extra advantage.
Last week’s winners: Before I forget, let’s announce the winners of the SBS Championship flags autographed by ’08 and ’09 champion Geoff Ogilvy. I have two of them and I decided to give them to the top-two in points overall across the three groups. That’s probably the most fair since I couldn’t combine them. Drumroll please! And the flags go to: Poulter in Pink (Wei Over Par, 183) and Mountain Hackers (Wei to Go, 184). Congrats and great job for picking J. Byrd for the win. Please email me your addresses and I’ll mail you the flags when I get back to the mainland (I swear I plan on leaving the islands at some point).
Next week’s prize(s): Top two in points overall receive an autographed Joe Torre baseball. Woohoo!
Alright, let’s get to the picks.
Matt Kuchar: He doesn’t have the greatest record at the Sony Open, missing the last two cuts, but hey, he didn’t start playing ridiculously consistent until 10 months ago. Kuchar hits it straight, which will be key in the crap weather and heavy rough.
GROUP A BENCHER
Ernie Els: He won the event two years in a row (’03 and 04), so obviously enjoys the course. After posting a 64 in the second round, he didn’t play well over the weekend and finished a lackluster T17.
Steve Stricker: Going into the final round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions with a share of the lead, Stricker developed a nervous putting stroke and missed quite a few costly short putts. He handles wet conditions well, but if he starts to miss fairways, then it may get a little mushy. Stricker has three top-fives in the last four years at the Sony Open, including third last year.
Tim Clark: He’s a scrappy player that doesn’t miss many fairways. Also, he’s a good iron player. Doesn’t lead the Tour in putting stats, but the greens are small so if you manage to hit them, you’re going to be relatively close to the hole!
GROUP B BENCHERS
Carl Pettersson: Not the greatest ballstriker in the world, but a hell of a putter. He’s playing well with a T4 finish to kick off the year last week at Kapalua.
Vijay Singh: He won this event in ’05 and placed 6th in ’06. In his last 10 starts, he hasn’t missed a cut. Veej hasn’t notched a victory since his 2008 when he hoisted a trophy three times, not counting the FedEx Cup (and Chevron World Challenge if we’re naming exhibitions). But it’s a new season and I have no doubt that Vijay has done nothing but practice the past few months.
Ryan Palmer: He’s the defending champion, leading the tournament wire-to-wire for his third career PGA Tour victory. We’ll see how he handles the conditions and the added pressure of wearing a mic. He placed T15 last week at Kapalua. His stats show that he’s not the straightest hitter, but he obviously navigated his way around Waialae’s tight fairways last year.
GROUP C BENCHER
Charles Howell III: It’s mind-boggling that he’s never won this event. In nine starts at Waialae, he’s only missed the cut once and placed in the top-5 five times! Howell finished T5 last year and 4th in ’09. He’s gotta be due for the W, right? We’ll see.
Alright, your turn. Drop ‘em below.