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Ernie Els leads strong Sony Open field

Organizers of the Sony Open in Hawaii could not have asked for more this week.

Well, actually they could have hoped for Tiger Woods, but no tournament this side of the Buick Invitational will be getting the world's No. 1 player this year.

Instead, the Sony will just have to settle for second best, which as of Monday turns out to be Ernie Els. With his convincing record-setting win at the Mercedes Championships last weekend, Els moved to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time in nearly two years.

As an added bonus to Els, the Sony also gets nine of the top 25 players in the world, including four in the top 10; 28 of the 36 players from last week's winners-only Mercedes; and 35 of the 38 graduates from last year's PGA Tour Q-School.

Of the top-11 finishers at the Mercedes, nine will be in this field. The two exceptions are Bob Estes, who is planning on taking four weeks off to rest a sore back, and Rocco Mediate.

As much as Els would like to keep his momentum going in the first full-field event of 2003, he knows winning back-to-back could be difficult.

"You just got to take every week as it comes," Els said after winning at the Mercedes. "I'm not going to play like this the whole year. You know, you're not going to shoot 31-under par just like that. But playing the way I did, I would like to bottle my swing the way I'm swinging right now. My putting stroke, short game was pretty good. If I could just work on those aspects, you know, on tough golf courses, I'll be doing good."

Of the two courses -- last week's par-73 Plantation Course and this week's par-70, 7,060-yard Waialae Country Club -- the latter is considered the easier of the two. That Els blistered the Plantation Course for a Tour-record 31-under was an aberration because the trade winds never mounted a defense.

In the four years since Waialae has been converted to a par-70, the winning scores have ranged between a respectable 9 and 20 under par. In 1998, though, when Waialae still played to a par-72, John Huston established the PGA Tour's old 72-hole record for score relative to par with a 28-under 260.

Winds will again play a factor. With winds, scores will be reasonable; without winds, Els' new scoring record may be in peril.

FORMIDABLE FURYK: Jim Furyk has earned a reputation for being one of the Tour's better Hawaiian islands players. Coming off of last week's tie for sixth at the Mercedes Championships -- his fifth straight top-10 finish at Kapalua, Furyk has to be considered a factor, if not a favorite on Oahu.

In nine previous starts, Furyk has missed just one cut with six top- 20 finishes, including a win in 1996, a tie for second in '97 and a tie for seventh in 2002.

Since 1990, only Furyk and Paul Azinger have won both at Kapalua and Waialae.

PROPER PERSPECTIVE: Kapalua's Plantation Course is a long- driver's paradise, so it should come as little surprise that Ernie Els averaged an eye-popping, albeit inflated, 323.4 yards per drive. Vijay Singh was second at 302.3, followed by Charles Howell III at 295.0.

For the entire 2002 season, Els averaged 281.4 yards (ranking 84th), Singh averaged 285.6 (46th) and Howell averaged 293.7 (fourth).

IN HOT PURSUIT: Glen Day has a total of one win on the PGA Tour and ranks 80th on the PGA Tour's career money list with $5,691,380. With a paycheck of $31,522 this week, though, he will move past the player at No. 79 -- Jack Nicklaus, who won 71 PGA Tour events.

 

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