KAPALUA, Maui » For those golfers interested in how you adjust from the wide-open spaces of the Plantation Course to the narrow alleyways of Waialae Country Club, please see Ernie Els.
The South African is the only golfer to win on Maui one weekend and on Oahu the next since these two tournaments opened the PGA Tour season in 1999. Els set a record that year in 2003 by shooting 31 under here to capture the then-Mercedes Championships and then come back to take the Sony Open in Hawaii over Aaron Baddeley in a playoff at 16 under for the week.
Of course, it might help to shoot eight consecutive rounds in the 60s as Els did that year. After going 64, 65, 65 and 67 at the Mercedes, Els kept that phenomenal string of golf alive with a 66, 65, 66, 67 performance at Waialae on a course that couldn’t be more different than Kapalua’s Plantation.
Jonathan Byrd is on a similar streak, although there’s a few months in between his playoff win over Robert Garrigus late Sunday at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and the dramatic victory he managed in near darkness in Las Vegas to become the first tour golfer to win a playoff with a hole-in-one.
SONY OPEN IN HAWAII
» What: First full-field PGA Tour event of 2011
» When: Thursday to Sunday, starting approximately at 7 a.m. Thursday and Friday and 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
» Where: Waialae Country Club (Par 35-35–70, 7,068 yards)
» Purse: $5.5 million ($990,000 first prize)
» Defending champion: Ryan Palmer (15-under-par 265)
» Pro-am: Tomorrow, starting at 6:50 a.m.
» King Auto Group Pro-Junior Challenge: 2:45 p.m. today at 18th hole
» Tickets: $20 daily tomorrow to Sunday, or $50 for all-week badge. Children 12-under free with ticket-bearing adult. Advance tickets, $15 daily, are available at friendsofhawaii.org (service fees apply) or First Hawaiian Bank branches.
» TV (times tentative): Golf Channel, 2-5:30 p.m., Thursday to Saturday; 2-5 p.m. Sunday, with repeats
» Parking: Free at Hunakai Park, and free at Kahala Community Park starting Thursday, with shuttle to course
Byrd also became the first American to win the season-opening event since Jim Furyk in 2001, and although his playoff win over Garrigus lacked the flair of the victory in Vegas — Garrigus three-putted from 40 feet to give Byrd the win on the second playoff hole — it was important nonetheless.
Like Garrigus, he needed to win a Fall Series event in 2010 just to earn back his PGA Tour playing privileges. In Byrd’s four previous tour wins, none came before July. They were events that lacked the star power of one like the elite winners-only field of the TOC, begging the question why Byrd can’t draw upon his skills more often.
"All I’m going to say is that I’ve played well and under control the last two tournaments and the whole fall," said Byrd, who with the win is now No. 58 in the world, has an automatic bid to the Masters and is eligible for the U.S. Open. "I don’t know what it is, the reason why you kind of get held back. I feel like I should be doing a lot better.
"I complicate things way too much, trying to be perfect, and that’s been my biggest barrier over my career. And I finally got to the point, I don’t know what it is, maybe the other way just hasn’t worked and now I’m just kind of simplifying things and just really enjoying playing. I’m having more fun."
Byrd will have a blast if he manages to match Els’ feat at this week’s Sony Open. He is one of 144 golfers in the first full-field event on the tour and will receive plenty of pats on the back from his fellow pro mates for such an important win.
History tells us that those who play on Maui have an excellent opportunity to win on Oahu. It has happened eight times in the previous 12 Sony Opens, so be aware when you’re filling out your fantasy golf lineup.
Defending champion Ryan Palmer was an exception to that rule. He finished tied for 15th at this year’s TOC, a dozen strokes off the pace, but he has shown he knows his way around the tight setup at Waialae.
Other past Sony Open champions in the field are Els, K.J. Choi, Paul Goydos, Jerry Kelly, Vijay Singh and Paul Stankowski. They will be joined by 2010 leading money winner Matt Kuchar and 2010 PGA Tour player of the year Jim Furyk. The opening round is Thursday.
Dustin Johnson withdraws
Two days after Dustin Johnson was linked to a relationship with Natalie Gulbis, he has withdrawn from the Sony Open.
Johnson officially withdrew yesterday.
His agent, David Winkle, said in an e-mail that he had some personal matters to attend to at home in South Carolina.