By Tom LaMarre
As usual, several players who teed it up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua on Maui last week have stayed in the islands another week for the Sony Open in Hawaii, the first full-field event on the PGA Tour in 2021.
Others have flown from the mainland to Oahu to give the tournament that dates to 1965 another solid field.
Cameron Smith of Australia will defend his title against 10 other past champions of the event at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu.
Included in that group are Jerry Kelly (2002), Vijay Singh of Fiji (2005), K.J. Choi of South Korea (2008), Zach Johnson (2009), Ryan Palmer (2010), Russell Henley (2013), Jimmy Walker (2014-15), Fabian Gomez of Argentina (2016), Patton Kizzire (2018) and Matt Kuchar (2019).
The only players from the top 10 in the World Golf Rankings in the field are No. 5 Collin Morikawa (pictured) and No. 8 Webb Simpson.
When Smith claimed his first individual PGA Tour title a year ago, he it came as his homeland was suffering through difficult times because of devastating wildfires that swept the country.
“I just hope this brings a bit of a joy to Australia,” Smith said after beating Brendan Steele with a par on the first playoff hole at Waialae. “I know we’re going through some tough times, but keep in there. It’s pretty tragic to see.
“That’s (winning on the PGA Tour) been one I’ve wanted to tick off for a long time. I’ve been out here four or five years now and to finally say I’ve won an event by myself is quite good.”
Smith, a native of Brisbane, was among the Aussies in the field who donated $500 per birdie and $1,000 per eagle to aid the effort to fight the fires in Australia.
Smith contributed $10,500 to the cause.
“Every birdie putt just meant that little bit more,” said Smith, who captured the Australian PGA Championship in 2017 and 2018 and came from three strokes down in the final round to catch Steele with a 2-under-par 68, sinking a nine-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation.
“Instead of wanting to make it, I felt like I had to make it.”
Kuchar is one player who makes the trip to Honolulu for the Sony Open every year with his family, even if he doesn’t qualify for the Sentry Tournament of Champions the week before.
That’s the case again this year.
“I love it here,” said Kuchar, who has six top-10 finishes in his 15 previous appearances at Waialae. “I’m so excited to be back here. I think as all the players do, you come through here and sit in the grill room area and there is the Wall of Champions, and it’s an amazing list and it’s one I’ve sat at and looked at for years and years and wanted to put my name on that list, my picture up on that wall.
“Love the golf course, everything about coming here to Oahu playing the Sony Open.”
Kooch is not alone.
- Collin Morikawa, United States – The PGA champion opened the new year with a tie for seventh in the Sony TOC, his best result of the new season, and also had a tie for 12th in the CJ Cup. Morikawa has won three times on the PGA Tour since leaving Cal in 2019. He led the Sony Open with a first-round 62 last year, but wound up in a tie for 21st.
- Webb Simpson, United States – Shot 67-69 in the middle rounds at Kapalua and finished in a tie for 17th after tying for eighth in the U.S. Open and tying for 10th in the Masters. Simpson makes his 11th start in the Sony Open in Hawaii, and finished solo third last year and tied for fourth in 2018 among seven finishes in the top 10 at Waialae.
- Cameron Smith, Australia – The defending champion at Waialae had a chance for a top-10 finish in the Sentry TOC, but closed with a 72 to tie for 24th. Earlier in the new season, Smith tied for second in the Masters, tied for fourth in the Zozo and was 11th in the CJ Cup. Has finished in the top 25 each of the last three years in the Sony Open.
- Harris English, United States – If he can come down to earth after winning at Kapalua for his first victory since 2013, English could contend again in the Sony Open. He tied for third in 2015 at Waialae, was fourth the year before and tied for ninth in 2013. Ranks second in the FedEx Cup standings with a fourth in the Masters, and four other top 10s.
- Sungjae Im, South Korea – Tied for fifth in his debut in the Sentry TOC at Kapalua last week after tying for second in the Masters. Im has four top 25s, including solo 22nd in the U.S. Open, and sits at 17th in the 2020-21 FedEx Cup Standings. He tied for 21st in the Sony Open last year after tying for 16th in his debut at Waialae a year earlier.
- Joaquin Niemann, Chile – The 22-year-old Niemann nearly claimed his second PGA Tour victory before losing to Harris English in a playoff at the Sentry TOC. He has six finishes in the top 25 in the new season, including a tie for 23rd in the U.S. Open and sixth in the CJ Cup. Tied for 57th in his debut at the Sony Open in Hawaii last season.
- Viktor Hovland, Norway – The 2018 U.S. Amateur champion has four top-25 finishes in the 2020-21 season, including his second PGA Tour victory in the Mayakoba Golf Classic, and ranks sixth in the FedEx Cup point standings. Put up three rounds in the 60s before a 76 left him in a tie for 31st at Kapalua, and he’s making his debut at Waialae.
- Patrick Reed, United States – Opened with 67-68 last week in the Sentry TOC, but played the weekend in 72-70 to tie for 21st. It was Reed’s fourth top-25 in the new season, including a tie for 10th in the Masters. The 11th-ranked player in the world tied for 13th two years ago in the Sony, but missed the cut in his two other starts at Waialae.
- Ryan Palmer, United States – Was in the hunt most of the way in the Sentry TOC last week before closing with a 71 to finish fourth. Palmer also tied for fourth in the Zozo and tied for 17th in the CJ Cup this season. He claimed one of his three PGA Tour victories in the 2010 Sony Open in Hawaii, tied for fourth last year and tied for eighth in 2014.
- Daniel Berger, United States – Was among the leaders most of the way in the Sentry TOC last week before closing with a 72 to finish solo 10th, his fourth straight finish in the top 25 in the new season. A three-time winner on the PGA Tour, Berger has made five starts in the Sony Open in Hawaii, tying for 13th in 2015 and tying for 14th in 2018.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Matt Kuchar, United States; Marc Leishmann, Australia; Stewart Cink, United States; C.T. Pan, Taiwan; Billy Horschel, United States; Jason Kokrak, United States; Brendon Todd, United States; Adam Scott, Australia; Martin Laird, Scotland; Kevin Kisner, United States.
- Henrik Norlander, Sweden – A two-time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour, Norlander finished T-4 in Sanderson Farms this season. T-9 in Sony last year and T-20 in 2017.
- Matthew NeSmith, United States – Korn Ferry Tour winner in 2019 has three T-20s this season, including T-8 in Shriners. Had three rounds in 60s to T-32 in 2020 Sony.
- Xinjun Zhang, China – Four-time winner as a pro finished T-11 at Puntacana and T-14 in the Safeway Open this season. Shot 73-70 and missed cut by two in 2020 Sony.
- Tom Hoge, United States – Has won three times as a pro and was solo third in the Mayakoba Classic in his last start. Finished third in 2018 Sony and tied for 12th last year.
- Satoshi Kodaira, Japan – Has won nine times as a pro, including the 2018 RBC Heritage on the PGA Tour. Started 65-66 in 2017 Sony, but slid to a T-49 with 70-71.
For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html