The PGA TOUR's annual version of a limited release is now complete, and Jonathan Byrd has already punched his ticket back to Hawaii next year. No question the PGA TOUR is up against it each January, as going against the NFL Playoffs is a losing battle, for any league, but what the PGA TOUR offers early in the year is an escape. While hundreds of thousands of us are stuck in winter wonderlands, the PGA TOUR gives us hours of beautiful weather and scenery, and if the golf happens to be exciting, then it's a win-win. The odds of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions becoming a win-win were not good, however, as we approached Thursday afternoon. Many of the biggest names on the PGA TOUR were absent, and defending champ Geoff Ogilvy pulled out early during round one. In the end, however, we got exactly what we wanted - a playoff. Sure, the playoff contestants might have left a little to be desired, but drama is drama, and a PGA TOUR professional missing a three-foot putt is drama. It's not exactly what the PGA TOUR is all about, someone winning because of a missed "shorty," but it qualifies as an exciting start to the 2011 season. Now, it's time to release this tour to the masses, the first full-field event of the year is up next.
What the Hyundai Tournament of Champions means:
Jonathan Byrd: Is this finally the spark that pushes Byrd to the next level? Byrd has won five times on the PGA TOUR, yet he's one of the least recognizable champions on the PGA TOUR. Byrd has failed to build on the momentum of his previous wins, which explains why he's never risen to the next level. Perhaps an early-season victory will change his fortunes this time around.
Robert Garrigus: Garrigus is no stranger to disappointing finishes. He also finished runner-up at the St. Jude Classic last year, but that finish was even more disappointing as he blew a three-stroke lead on the 72nd hole. The positive to take away, however, is that he's putting himself in the mix and doesn't seem overly concerned about just missing on his second PGA TOUR win.
Geoff Ogilvy: For those who drafted Ogilvy, his absence from the Hyundai was a big blow. Not only because every player in the field is guaranteed a payday, but because he was the two-time defending champion and has developed a habit for producing primarily in the first couple months of the season. Hopefully, he recovers quickly and can get some starts in on the West Coast Swing.
This week: Sony Open
Last Year: Ryan Palmer shot a final-round 66 on his way to a one-stroke victory over Robert Allenby.
Players to Consider:
1. Steve Stricker
Stricker is one of a few big names in this week's field who had four rounds of competitive golf last week. He also has a pretty solid track record at this event. He finished in the top-5 at this event three of the past four years.
2. Ernie Els
Els is a two-time champion of this event and has finished outside the top-15 only once in seven tries at the Sony.
3. Dustin Johnson
Johnson underperformed last week at the Hyundai, but he's primed for a good showing this week at the Sony. In his two starts here, Johnson finished T16 and T10.
4. Charles Howell III
Howell III hasn't shown a lot of consistency over his PGA TOUR career, but he's been pretty reliable at this event. Howell III has four top-5s in his last six tries here, including a fourth-place finish last year.
5. Nathan Green
Green usually starts the season well, and one of the main reasons is his performance at this event. He finished in the top-15 here three of the last five years. Green's two-year exemption for winning the BC Open in 2009 is up at year's end, so he needs to find a way back into the top-125 this season. Another good showing at the Sony Open would take a lot of pressure off of Green for the remainder of the year.
Players to Avoid:
1. Zach Johnson
Johnson injured a toe on his right foot last weekend, and it likely affected his play. He'll likely tee it up this week again, but it's doubtful he'll be 100 percent healthy, so you might as well just set him aside for a later date.
2. Vijay Singh
Singh won this event in 2005, but his play here recently has left a lot to be desired. Singh hasn't cracked the top-30 at this event since 2006.
3. Brendon De Jonge
De Jonge is coming off a career year in 2010 and is poised for another good season in 2011. But he's never made a cut at the Sony, and it's probably best to wait another week on him.
4. Matt Kuchar
Kuchar's track record at the Sony is downright awful, and while he's undoubtedly played the best golf of his life the last 12 months, it's hard to get past his track record at this event.
5. Bo Van Pelt
Much like Kuchar, Van Pelt is a much better golfer now than when he teed it up previously at the Sony Open, but three consecutive missed cuts here is probably an indication that his eye doesn't suit this course.
Yahoo! Fantasy Golf:
This week: Sony Open
1. Dustin Johnson
2. Ernie Els
Several quality players to pick from in Group A this week, but my decision came down to three: the two golfers above and Steve Marino, who has a solid track record at this event. Marino, however, is coming off a disappointing season, and he'll have to show me something before he gets a spot on my roster.
1. Carl Pettersson
2. Steve Stricker
3. Robert Allenby
4. Kevin Na
Pettersson is extremely streaky and is coming off a good performance at the Hyundai last week. He also finished in the top-5 here last year. Stricker is poised for another victory, and it wouldn't surprise to see one this week. Na finished in the top-5 here in 2008 and 2009 and is known for quick starts. Allenby finished runner-up here last year, and, like Na, he's known for starting the season well.
1. Anthony Kim
2. Jason Day
I was tempted to keep the same duo as last week, but I don't like the way Adam Scott played on the weekend, so he'll be replaced by Jason Day, who's poised to have another solid season. I'm taking a chance on Lovemark early in the year, but if you've followed this guy's career at all, you know there's not much risk. He can play, and he'll show it right away.
Starters Round One
1. Dustin Johnson
2. Carl Pettersson
3. Steve Stricker
4. Jamie Lovemark
You can't go wrong with Johnson or Els out of the gate this week, but Johnson got four rounds in last week and finished well at the Hyundai. Neither Stricker nor Pettersson finished well last week, but both played well enough throughout the week to end up in the top-5 at the Hyundai. Hopefully, they can carry some of that momentum over to this week. I'm all-in on Lovemark, so I might as well start him from the outset. Besides, Day doesn't have a solid track record here, so it's probably best to wait on him.
Round Two and Going Forward:
If all goes well, both Els and Johnson will be in contention this week. If that appears to be the case early, then I'll attempt to get Els in the line-up Friday. Stricker and Pettersson appear to be the two best Group B options this week, so Na and Allenby will have to force my hand. Pettersson is likely the first one out if he doesn't play well early. Group C should be interesting as neither player has a track record here. Lovemark is a first-timer, and Day has yet to play well here, which means I'll have to pay close attention to the players in this group. My guess is Lovemark will do just fine, and if Day plays similar to last week, I'll have to find a spot for him at some point.