After the offseason, an unscheduled day off and two very warm opening rounds to warm up, the PGA Tour’s first full-field event of 2011 comes down to 36 holes of extreme golf today at Waialae Country Club.
Japan’s Shigeki Maruyama and Australia’s Stuart Appleby share a two-shot lead going into the final two rounds of the Sony Open in Hawaii. Maruyama also led going into the last round in 2005. Vijay Singh and Ernie Els blew by him and everybody else.
This will be different. It has been since Wednesday’s pro-am was washed away and Thursday’s first round postponed due to the first weather delay here in more than 20 years.
At that point, the cut was cut from the usual "top 70 and ties" to the "nearest number to 60" after yesterday’s second round. That left out everyone from Hawaii and former Sony champions Zach Johnson, Singh, Paul Goydos, K.J. Choi and Jim Furyk, the 2010 PGA Tour player of the year who is ranked fifth in the world.
Defending champion Ryan Palmer (69) and Jonathan Byrd (68), last week’s winner on Maui, both made it on the number — 3-under 137.
All 56 that remain might have a shot today. "Sometimes if you’re the guy that has the hot stretch you can run it for 36 holes, and that’s why anything can happen tomorrow," says Roland Thatcher, tied for third with Steve Marino and Mark Wilson. "Anybody who’s made the cut has got a decent chance to play for the championship."
The field will go off from the first and 10th tees in threesomes today from 7 to 8:30 a.m. Then they will do it again from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. for the final round, in the same threesomes.
There is no time to waste. The sun goes down soon after 6 p.m., another storm is headed this way and the Bob Hope Classic starts Wednesday in California. This will be marathon golf with the players trying to break the 11-hour barrier — most in their first week back from vacation.
Thankfully, it’s Waialae.
"If there’s ever a golf course to walk 36, this is it," says Chris DiMarco, part of an eight-way tie for 12th. "It’s very flat and right there in front of you."
Maruyama, here on an exemption from Sony, loves it. He has never missed a start here and has won $680,000 on the strength of six top-25 finishes.
"This course really fits my game," he says. "I’m not a real long hitter, but the fairways are always firm here, so you always get a run-out on your drives. On the mainland a lot of the courses you just hit and have to carry it a long ways, which I don’t do very well. But here the length suits my game. In fact, the whole course suits my game."
For the second straight day, Maruyama threw eight birdies and three bogeys at Waialae. Yesterday’s round was just as adventurous as his first. He drained consecutive 40-foot-plus putts on the back nine (his first nine) and holed out from the bunker on his 16th hole (No. 7) to get to 9 under first.
Maruyama added a birdie on his final hole to the delight of one of Sony’s largest galleries.
"Right now," Maruyama said, his trademark grin a constant, "it’s just about really trying to play good golf and entertain the Japanese tourists, who are here in number."
Today will be all about patience and, as Appleby puts it, "not playing that roller coaster." The contenders preached it yesterday. Then again, maybe everyone today is a contender.
"It’s happened before," said Appleby, whose fast finish gave him a 66 yesterday. "You’re talking 60-odd guys, but theoretically you could have some guy go from, let’s just say 3 under, and have two 7 unders. They’re at 16, 17, 18 under. That could do it."
After a few adventures of his own — a tee shot into a sponsor’s tent at No. 17 and another into the water at No. 2 — Appleby birdied his final three to catch Maruyama. The 2010 Comeback Player of the Year chipped in from 90 feet on the seventh, hit to three feet on the next hole and two-putted the par-5 ninth — lipping out an eagle that would have given him first alone.
"Tomorrow we’ve got a bit of a sprint, I guess," Appleby said, "even though it’s going to take all day, from daylight to what’s left of the daylight. A bit of a crap shoot. There’s lots of guys in this tournament, absolutely. It’ll be a very interesting finish."
Appleby has won nine times on the PGA Tour, including three straight Mercedes Championships on Maui. The 10 players closest to him going into this long day have combined for 11 wins — three each for Maruyama and Matt Kuchar, two each for Justin Rose and Mark Wilson and one for Matt Bettencourt.