Great depth at firstfull field PGA Tour event
Depth on the PGA Tour takes on a new meaning at the Sony Open.
On the far left end of the practice range at Waialae Country Club, 15-year-old Michelle Wie was making a crisp sound with every iron she struck, getting ready for her annual practice round with Ernie Els.
A short time later, 55-year-old Tom Kite arrived and began hitting balls from the same spot. Kite has spent the last five years primarily on the Champions Tour, but wanted to take one more crack at the kids.
A 10th-grade girl wasn't what he had in mind.
``It's amazing how the sport has changed,'' Kite said.
The tour shifts gears Thursday, going from a winners-only field at the Mercedes Championships to the first full-field event of the year at the Sony Open.
It could have been billed as ``Three Old Men and a Little Lady,'' but that was before 53-year-old Dick Mast earned one of the four spots from Monday qualifying, putting him in the field at Waialae along with fellow Champions Tour players Kite, Craig Stadler and Peter Jacobsen.
Vijay Singh gives the Sony Open a No. 1 presence for the first time since the world rankings began in 1986.
Els could give the tournament its first three-peat champion. The 35-year-old South African has won the last two years in a playoff, over Harrison Frazar last year and Aaron Baddeley in 2003.
The field also includes Retief Goosen, Stewart Cink, Adam Scott and David Toms.
Still, the focus for at least the first two days is on a 15-year-old girl who stands about 6 feet tall, wears hoop earrings and can rip it.
Ryan Palmer played with Wie last week in the Mercedes Championships pro-am and came with this impression.
``If you're not watching her and just listening, it sounds like one of us out here,'' he said.
Wie has more PGA Tour experience that five men in the field -- Justin Bolli, Matt Davidson, Sean O'Hair, Euan Walters and Rob Rashell, all of whom are tour rookies.
Expectations of her are higher.
A year ago, the teen prodigy knocked in a few putts from here to Kauai, shot 68 and missed the cut by one shot. Even so, it was the best score ever by a female competing on a men's tour.
Her goal this year is to play all four rounds, and the ultimate would be a top-20 finish.
Wie already has played about a dozen practice rounds at Waialae, never worse than 75 and twice at 66. Her stroke average at Waialae in the months leading up to the Sony Open is 1 1/2 shots fewer than it was last year.
But she remains realistic.
``People always expect that if you're so close, then you definitely should make the cut this year,'' she said. ``But it has a lot to do with luck and the way you're playing that day. And hopefully, I'll catch a good day.''
She had a good day Tuesday, and a long one. Arriving at 7 a.m. to get ready for a practice round with the Big Easy, she later played in the Pro-Junior Golf Challenge with actor Adam Sandler. Wie didn't leave Waialae until 5:30 p.m., as the sun began to dip over Diamondhead.
While some question whether competing against the pros -- men or women -- is better career training than trying to beat amateurs her own age, Wie made it clear that she is thinking differently from most.
``I never really wanted to be known as winning 50-some-odd tournaments,'' she said. ``I always wanted to be known as someone who did crazy stuff ... stuff that no one ever thought of. I just want to push myself to the limit. I want to be known as people that changed the world, change how people think.''
Jim Furyk is looking to change his fortunes after a lost year.
The Sony Open brings back wistful memories of 2004, when Furyk missed half of the season recovering from surgery on his left wrist. It was at Waialae when the pain went from being a little uncomfortable to getting his attention. Despite a remarkably quick recovery, Furyk failed to win on the PGA Tour for the first time in six years.
``I made peace with last year a long time ago,'' Furyk said. ``The most difficult part of last year was toward the end. There was six weeks to go, and I was just starting to get comfortable. There was that sense of urgency. But once October ended, I started looking forward to '05.''
Kite is looking back as much as he is forward.
Qualifying for the U.S. Open last year at Shinnecock Hills reminded him how much he enjoyed spending time on the PGA Tour. Then he realized he had one more year left on tour, thanks to being in the top 50 in career money.
``If you've ever played in the big leagues, that's where you want to play,'' he said. ``It gets in your blood.''
He plans to play at least 10 times before the U.S. Open, then decide where he wants to go from there.
``Either I'll continue to play on the PGA Tour, or run like hell back to the Champions Tour,'' Kite said.
The Champions Tour doesn't have the appeal of the PGA Tour. Then again, it doesn't have a cut.
Nor does it have teenagers.
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