By TOM LaMARRE
The PGA Tour gives some of its players and their families a two-week vacation in Hawaii to start the new year, and beginning Thursday the golfers get back down to business in first full-field even of 2023, the 58th Sony Open in Hawaii at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu.
Hideki Matsuyama of Japan beat Russell Henley in a playoff to win the tournament in the shadow of Diamond Head crater and later in the year made the Zozo Championship his eighth victory on the PGA Tour and 17th as a professional.
Matsuyama made a birdie on the final hole of regulation to tie Henley, who squandered a five-stroke lead, and the Japanese start hit a brilliant approach shot to within three feet of the hole in the playoff to win with an eagle.
However, many of the oddsmakers have made 20-year-old sensation Tom Kim (pictured) of South Korea the favorite at Waialae after he won the Wyndham Championship and the Shriners Children’s Open last year among four top-10 finishes in a limited number of starts as a rookie.
“Tom Kim is a stud, no question about it,” Riley Hamel of Golfweek wrote in his tournament preview. “But, still, it’s a little uncomfortable to bet on him at 11-to-1. However, Waialae screams Kim. Short, accuracy-dependent, roll the rock and make birdies. That’s what the kid does.”
Kim has picked right up where he left off last season, tying for 11th in the CJ Cup in South Carolina, tying for 10th in the unofficial Hero World Challenge in Bermuda and tying for fifth in the Sentry Tournament of Champions last week at Kapalua in his last three starts.
This will be his first start at Waialae, but everyone seems to believe the course is made for him.
“It’s a great place to start, obviously,” said Kim, who has risen rapidly to No. 14 in the World Golf Rankings. “It’s my first time in Hawaii and I love it so far. The course looks in great shape. You’ve got amazing sights here.
“It was a crazy 2022, and things happened so fast to where I think this past off-season I was able to kind of reflect on what it was like, and it’s amazing. I’ve had two wins and it’s really got me to feel a little bit more like I’ve got to work harder and hopefully 2023 will be a better year than 2022.
“I think now, I feel a little bit more comfortable than I did before on the PGA Tour.”
And Kim, who already was buddy-buddy with top-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, is making more friends on the PGA Tour.
The young star flew back to his home in Texas with Jordan Spieth, who invited him to Christmas dinner with his family.
“Jordan was really nice enough to invite me for Christmas dinner,” said Kim, who is third in the 2022-23 FedEx Cup standings. “My family wasn’t home and I was kind of by myself. So I got to spend some time with the Spieths and kind of babysit (their son) Sammy, which was really cool. But, yeah, it’s been amazing to kind of build a friendship.”
In addition, Kim crossed paths on the golf course with Will Zalatoris and they became instant pals.
Zalatoris was nursing a back injury, but was at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., when Kim, who was playing for the International Team in the Presidents Cup, saw him standing near the ropes, so he walked over and started a conversation.
“I was trying to stay out of everybody’s way, even though I was inside the ropes, and K.H. Lee was hitting a shot, and Tom came 40 yards off the tee to come over and say hi and check in on me, and I’m like, ‘Dude, you’re playing in the Presidents Cup. You don’t need to say hi to me.’
“So that pretty much sums him up. He’s so good for us. He’s such a great dude, and I look forward to playing some games with him at home.”
Kim recently joined Dallas National Golf Club after club member Zalatoris wrote Kim a letter of recommendation.
So Kim has some new golf buddies and he’s such a good guy that they don’t even seem to mind if he beats them sometimes.
1. Tom Kim, South Korea – The 20-year-old has taken the PGA Tour by storm in the last year, winning the Wyndham Championship and the Shriners Children’s Open, with five top 10s in limited starts. Kim is coming off a tie for fifth in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and ranks third in the FedEx Cup standings. He is making his debut this week in the Sony Open in Hawaii.
2. Hideki Matsuyama, Japan – The defending champion of the Sony Open in Hawaii, shooting 63-63 on the weekend and beating Russell Henley with a playoff eagle in his 10th appearance at Waialae. Matsuyama is an eight-time winner on the PGA Tour, including the 2021 Masters, and also won the Zozo Championship last season. He comes off a tie for 21st in the Sentry TOC.
3. Jordan Spieth, United States – Finished in a tie for 13th last week in the Sentry Tournament of Champions to start the new year after claiming his 13th PGA Tour victory last year in the RBC Heritage, in addition to finishing second twice among six top 10s. Spieth is making his fifth start in the Sony Open in Hawaii and his best result was third in 2017, when he closed with a 63.
4. Corey Conners, Canada – Searching for his second PGA Tour victory after winning the 2019 Valero Texas Open, Conners was third in the WGC-Match Play Championship, tied for fifth in the BMW Championship and tied for fifth in the Masters last season. He comes off a tie for 18th in the Sentry TOC, and has three top 15s in the Sony Open, including a tie for third in 2019.
5. Sungjae Im, South Korea – Started the new year with a tie for 13th in the Sentry Tournament of Champions after earlier finishing seventh in his title defense at the Shriners Children’s Open. That was one of his nine finishes in the top 10 last season, including a tie for eighth in the Masters. Im’s best results in the Sony Open were a tie for 16th in 2019 and a tie for 21st in 2020.
6. Tom Hoge, United States – After claiming his first PGA Tour victory last season at Pebble Beach among six finishes in the top 10, Hoge has started the new season with a tie for third in the Sentry TOC, a tie for fourth in the Shriners Children’s Open and a tie for ninth in the Zozo. His best finish in seven starts in the Sony was third in 2018 and he also tied for 12th in 2020.
7. Adam Scott, Australia – The 14-time winner on the PGA Tour, with 31 victories around the world including the 2013 Masters, tied for fifth in the FedEx St. Jude Championship and the BMW Championship to reach the Tour Championship, then was second in the Australian Open. Scott tied for second in the 2009 Sony Open and tied for eighth in 2014 among four top 25s.
8. Brian Harman, United States – The left-hander, who has won twice on the PGA Tour, has come close again this season by finishing solo second at Mayakoba and tying for second in the RSM Classic before tying for 16th in the Sentry TOC. He has four top 25 finishes in the Sony, including a tie for fourth in 2014, when he opened with 64-63 to lead before finishing 68-70.
9. Russell Henley, United States – Claimed his fourth PGA Tour victory earlier this season in the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba, his first win since the 2017 Shell Houston Open. Henley earned his first title in the 2013 Sony Open in Hawaii and also lost in a playoff to Hideki Matsuyama last year, in addition to posting three other top 20 finishes at Waialae CC.
10. Cameron Davis, Australia – Has won three times around the world since the 2017 Emirates Australian Open, including the 2021 Rocket Mortgage Classic, his only victory on the PGA Tour. Davis had five straight top-20 finishes late last season and tied for 13th in the CJ Cip in his last start. He started 66-66-66 in his first Sony Open last year before a 70 left him a tie for 27th.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Keegan Bradley, United States; Si Woo Kim, South Korea; J.J. Spaun, United States; Billy Horschel, United States; Christiaan Bezuidenhout, South Africa; Gary Woodland, United States; Mackenzie Hughes, Canada; Maverick McNealy, United States; K.H. Lee, South Korea; Keith Mitchell, United States; Emilio Grillo, Argentina; Matt Kuchar, United States.
1. Taylor Montgomery, United States – PGA Tour rookie has six top-15s in seven starts this season, including third in the Fortinet Championship, T-9 in the Sanderson Farms Championship.
2. Aaron Rai, England – Six-time winner as a pro has a T-7 in Houston and a T-20 in the Shriners this season after posting seven results in the top 25 on the PGA Tour last season.
3. Joseph Bramlett, United States – Ex-Stanford star was T-9 in Houston and T-12 in Fortinet early this season and posted four rounds in 60s, closing with 64, to T-20 at Waialae last year.
4. Alex Smalley, United States – T-5 in RSM, T-4 in Houston, T-11 in Bermuda in his last three starts after a T-2 in Puntacana, T-6 in Mexico Open, T-10 in Genesis Scottish Open last season.
5. Kevin Yu, Taiwan – After 14 wins as an amateur, Yu lost 2022 Colorado Championship playoff on Korn Ferry Tour, was T-3 in Bermuda in PGA Tour debut and T-19 Sanderson Farms.
For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html