Tournament leader, Brendan Steele looking to go one better then last year – Getty Images

Marc Leishman remains within touch of the lead at the Sony Open in Honolulu although he is now four shots from the leader, Brendan Steele.

Leishman began the day three behind the 36-hole leader, Nick Taylor but  appeared to be slipping out of contention before three birdies in his final five holes saw him finish with a second consecutive round of 65 to be tied for 9th place.

Leishman knows he will have to go low tomorrow to catch and pass Steele and others, Steele a proven performer on the golf course having finished runner-up to Cameron Smith last year.

“I hit the ball great all day but couldn’t make the putts, burning edges,” said Leishman. “I knew they would drop eventually because I was hitting good putts, and they were very close to going in and they went in towards the end of the round.

“It’s a really bunched leaderboard, four back it looks like. Going to have to go low. Can’t see Steeley shooting — well, I’ll have to shoot 65 or less to have any sort of chance. Go out and attack and try to make all the putts where I give myself an opportunity and see where it leaves us.”

Leishman owns a very good record at Waialae Country Club having recorded a total of 58 under par in his 24 rounds on the golf course since 2015 and while there has been only one top ten in that time, he has an impressive level of consistency over the layout.he will likely need something more than consistent tomorrow.

Aaron Baddeley is just one further back than Leishman after he too was round in 65 today, while Matt Jones, Cameron Davis, Cameron Smith and Adam Scott are further back.

The leader, Steele, has played the event only twice in the last ten years but one of those was when runner-up last year and so enjoys good memories of a golf course where he so nearly secured his 4th PGA Tour title.

“Definitely the first practice round we played this year was on the back nine and I was remembering some shots, some good and some bad, kind of kicking myself a little bit,” said the leader describing mixed memories from last year.

“I usually play well coming off of a break, and I had a nice break. I was able to spend some time with my family and get excited to play golf again, and sometimes I lose that in the middle of the year when I’m away from home and just kind of beating my head against the wall.”

 

 

 

 

 

Marc Leishman finds himself just three from the lead at the halfway stage of the Sony Open in Honolulu, his bogey free second round of 65 having him in a share of 7th as the event heads into the weekend.

After his solid start yesterday, Leishman began well today with two early birdies in his opening three holes but it took another seven holes before a birdie at the 10th advanced his cause and he finished strongly.

Leishman struggled through the latter stages of the 2020 events on the PGA Tour but he is keen to put that form behind him and to start afresh.

“I’m feeling good over the ball,” said Leishman. “Sort of just got rid of all that bad stuff out of my head. Ready to think about the good stuff.

“I was even through eight yesterday and got myself back in it. When you can play like that early on but still shoot 4-under, that’s pleasing. I’ve shot myself out of a lot of tournaments early, especially the end of last year. Yeah, happy to fight like that and follow it up with a good one today.

“I’m happy with how I’m hitting it and how I’m putting and everything like that. To shoot two rounds like that, happy with it. Good to be back here in Hawai’i and excited for the next two days.”

The leader is the Canadian, Nick Taylor, who has two victories to his name on the PGA Tour, the last of those coming at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am last year.

His round of 62 is the best of the week to date and was made even more meritorious given he was 1 over par through 5 holes of round two.

“I played well here last year although it was completely different conditions,” said the 32 year old Taylor.

“It was really windy. It was wet. I’ve always liked here. In the past I’ve come here a little rusty. I’m usually back in Canada for December.

“Playing last week in Maui helps getting the rust off and I went there quite early, as well that. Helped me out, just shaking rust off.”

Aaron Baddeley remained in touch with his round of 68 to be four from the lead and tied for 15th. He recovered from an early bogey but a mid-round slump threatened danger before three late birdies kept him in the thick of things.

Baddeley reiterated his comments of yesterday when suggesting his most recent form was not as bad as the results suggested.

“That was the weirdest thing about this stretch,” he said. “I never felt I was struggling. Like I can tell you one time, I was like, man, I really feel like I’m battling or I felt like — always felt like I was shooting the highest score I could shoot.

“Then starting to work with Butch, we had a real plan in place. Instead of going out to the course and it feels good, try this, try that, and with Butch, it was like, let’s this and this, and that’s it.

“So every day, I go out, got the plan, I see it getting better every day. I mean, my driving is so much better, my irons are so much better and everything is just so much better and I’m able to free it up so much more. So that way when I do feel nervous, just feel like, hey. Trust the work you’ve done and free it up.”

Of the other Australians, defending champion Cameron Smith and Adam Scott are one shot behind Baddeley and well enough placed heading into the weekend.

Cameron Davis is another shot back and Matt Jones two behind Davis.

Leader, Nick Taylor, (right) fist bumps playing partner today – Photo Getty Images Cliff Hawkins

 

 

 

 

Aaron Baddeley- makes impressive start in Honolulu – file photo Bruce Young

18 years ago, the Sony Open in Honolulu was Aaron Baddeley’s first PGA Tour event as a cardholder. That year he finished runner-up after a playoff against Ernie Els and while his career has been mixed since, the boost that finish gave him has led to a career in which he has won four titles and US$22 million on the PGA Tour.

Today he continued his love affair with the Waialea Country Club by adding an opening round of 64 on the par 70 layout, his only real blemish coming when he missed the green left at his 4th hole but seven birdies has resulted in him being in a share of 4th place and two shots from the lead.

Baddeley’s form for much of 2020 as simply awful, missing 12 of his last 14 cuts but after his round today he suggested it had not been quite as bad as the results might have indicated.

“Honestly, it’s been a really weird stretch because I feel like I’ve been playing well,” said the 39 year old. “I’d play all right and hit one poor shot or something and end up missing the cut by a shot. I feel like I missed a bunch of those by one shot. It’s such a fine line. I felt like I was playing well and just wasn’t quite getting it done.

“I’ve been working with Butch Harmon since August, so he’s given me two things to focus on. I’ve just been working on those every day and seeing it getting better and better and better, and it was a matter of just trusting what I’ve been doing and going out and just playing golf, and that’s sort of what I did today and that’s been good.”

Baddeley heads the Australians, two ahead of Marc Leishman who birdied three of his last five rounds for his round of 66.

Defending champion, Cameron Smith, began his defence well with an opening nine if 32 but tread water on the way in for a round of 67.

Cameron Davis had 68, Adam Scott 69, as did Rhein Gibson and Matt Jones.

The leaders, Peter Malnati, Jason Kokrak and last week’s runner-up, Joaquin Niemann, opened with rounds of 62 and lead by two.

SCORES

Joint tournament leader Joaquin Niemann – photo courtesy of PGA Tour

 

 

 

 

Cameron Smith- photo courtesy of Getty Images

Queensland’s Cameron Smith is preparing to defend his only individual PGA Tour title at the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu this week, the Sony Open, and his most recent form suggests that a repeat of his victory in a playoff against Brendan Steel twelve months ago is well within his reach.

Smith was reasonable at last week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions although a third round of 66 gave an indication that his game is not too far from where it needs to be to contend this week.

Smith’s form late in 2020 was outstanding with a 4th place finish at the Zozo Championship followed up by his marvellous runner-up finish behind Dustin Johnson at the Masters.

“It seems like so long ago now, really,” said Smith when asked to recall memories from his victory last year. “I mean it was just a great week. I came directly from Australia. Didn’t have much time off because of the Presidents Cup and those events down there in Australia and was coming off some pretty good form and felt good about my game. Didn’t get off to the best start but kind of stuck in there.

“I’m looking forward to Thursday. I feel as though I’ve come off a pretty solid week last week. Felt as though I played better than what my score resulted in. So looking forward to the week. I love the place. I love the golf course. So yeah, hopefully give it a good defend.”

“It (the Waialae Country Club) just reminds me so much of home to be honest. The grasses are almost the same. You know, very — where I grew up is very flat and you know just kind of like this golf course, you kind of have to — it’s windy.

“It’s always windy. You always have to control your ball into the greens, which I love doing. I feel as though you can be very creative around the greens here. Yeah, I love it. Great golf course.”

Smith will be joined by fellow Australians, Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, Aaron Baddeley, Cameron Davis, Rhein Gibson and Matt Jones.

Scott has not played the event a lot but has been runner-up on one occasion, that coming in 2009 behind Zach Johnson. Scott finished as the leading Australian last week on Maui when he finished 22nd.

Marc Leishman’s effort last week to finish 25th was an improved performance on his late 2020 form and he has enjoyed several top tens in this particular event.

Of the other Australians, Aaron Baddeley finished runner-up after a playoff to Ernie Els in one of his very first PGA Tour events some 18 years ago in what was his rookie season on the PGA Tour and the ever-improving Cameron Davis recorded a very good 9th place finish here last year.

The tournament favourites are expected to be last week’s 3rd placed golfer, Collin Morikawa, who finished 21st on debut here last year but has since won the PGA Championship and Webb Simpson, who has played this event very well in recent years including when 3rd last year.

Simpson has been in very consistent form in recent months and there is a lot to like about his chances this week.

One from just outside the leading choices might well be Sungjae Im who shared the runner-up place with Cameron Smith at The Masters and who finished 5th last week.

Im was well placed after 54 holes in this event last year before a final round of 71 saw him finish 21st following another good showing in 2019 but he is now one of the better and more consistent players on the PGA Tour and his chances this week appear good.

 

 

 

 

Harris English his first trophy in seven years – photo Getty Images / Gregory Shamus

Adam Scott has finished as the best of the Australians at the Sentry Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua Resort in Hawaii, the 40-year-old Queenslander finishing the event in a share of 22nd place at 15 under and ten shots from the eventual winner, Harris English.

Scott’s final round of 70 was the result of a fine fightback from an opening nine of 38, his closing nine of five under 32 considerably improving his final position and seeing him finish just one ahead of fellow Australians, Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith.

Leishman also recovered from a slow start with a final nine of 4 under par 33 for a round of 69 to finish tied for 25th.

Smith was another to benefit from a strong finish, birdies at his final two holes having him tied with Leishman.

All three of the Australians will play this coming week’s Sony Open in Honolulu where they will be joined by fellow Australians Aaron Baddeley, Cameron Davis, Rhein Gibson and Matt Jones, Smith defending his 2020 title.

The winner this week, Harris English, birdied the first extra hole of a play against Joaquin Niemann to win his third PGA Tour title but his first since 2014.

English had led at the end of each round although through 72 holes he was of course tied with Niemann.

English was justifiably emotional about his victory but his form in recent months suggested that another win was close at hand. He has recorded top ten finishes in three of hos four previous starts on the PGA Tour.

“It’s incredible – a lot of hard work over the years and there are times when you think you are never get there again,” said English.

“I have built a great team around me back in Sea Island. Nobody has ever given up on me or lost faith in me. There’s definitely been highs and lows but that is the way golf goes.”

Niemann produced the equal best round of the week (64) to take the sole lead at one stage of the round but was unable to birdie the last which might have made the difference and waited nearly an hour while those behind on the golf course finished their rounds.

“I played awesome the whole week, especially today,” said Niemann. “One of my best rounds. Yeah, I just look back to 15 and 18 from today, I couldn’t make birdie and I think it was right there. But, yeah, just happy and it was close.

“I mean, if you asked me at the beginning of the round I’m going to be in a playoff, I would probably take it, but, yeah, the way I was playing the whole week and the way I played today, and then I just look back and I see those two par-5s I made par. But, yeah, I mean it is what it is.”

Scores

 

Ryan Palmer – round of the week 64 to share the lead – photo courtesy of Getty Images / Gregory Shamus

Cameron Smith produced one of the better rounds of the day (66) during round three of the Sentry Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua Resort in Hawaii, but, although he improved his position by some 16 places on the leader-board, he finds himself the same number of shots (8) from the lead as was the case beginning his round.

Second round leader, Harris English, continued his remarkable play to lead into tomorrow’s final round but he has been joined by Texan, Ryan Palmer, at 21 under par, that pair one shot ahead of current PGA Champion, Collin Morikawa.

Harris English – photo Getty Images

Morikawa added a second consecutive 65 to move into contention after a relatively slow start on Thursday.

English holed an eight-foot par saving par putt at the last to retain his share of the lead with Palmer having recorded the round of the week to date (64) but he (Palmer) was forced to await a rules ruling before confirming his score.

Palmer’s actions at the par 4 9th hole, when he brushed aside a couple of divots as his chunked chip shot rolled back down the hill short of the green, could have been seen as a means of improving the lie for his next shot but he was found to have no intent in his actions and his round of 64 stood.

After his round Palmer explained his actions. “Well, when I walked in there, I saw Munch (PGA Tour official) with a book out, John Munch, and I was like, What’s this about? And I started going through my mind on the day. And then when he said, We have a situation on 9, and I immediately was, like, let’s see, I hit a good 3-wood, fluffed a chip, told James I hit the wrong club, and then went to where I was ended up chipping again, I still had no idea.

“But then he showed me the video and I looked at it and I go, What am I looking at? And it took me watching it twice to understand what he was talking about and then, and discussed I kicked a divot, but the ball was five feet away from me where it ended up stopping, and I was, like, I don’t know what, still, what you’re asking me. Because there was no intention of me trying to help my ball because there was no way my ball was even close to where I was at.”

Palmer birdied six of his last seven holes to zoom into contention for the title and add another win in Hawaii to his list of victories having previously won the Sony Open in Honolulu.

Smith’s round was made even more meritorious taking into account a three putt bogey at the 12th but one week out from the defence of his Sony Open title he finds himself in very good form to do so and something special tomorrow might yet yield a very high finish here.

Smith is in 16th place after starting the day in 32nd position and finds himself one shot ahead of his fellow Queenslander, Adam Scott, who added a round of 5 under par 68 on the par 73 layout to be tied for 21st.

Marc Leishman is two behind Scott after his round of 71 on a day of extremely low scoring.

SCORES

 

 

 

 

Harris English has opened up a two shot lead – photo Getty Images Gregory Shamus

Australian chances of success at the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua Resort in Hawaii took a hit today despite Marc Leishman making progress with a second consecutive round of 69 to be at 8 under through 36 holes.

Scoring was again low on the par 73 layout with only one of the 42 player field over par at the halfway mark.

Leishman finds himself in a share of 22nd place in the 42-player field but some six shots from the leader, Harris English who leads by two over a four-way tie for second place including, Collin Morikawa, Daniel Berger, Ryan Palmer and defending champion, Justin Thomas.

While there is some margin between himself and the lead, Leishman will be encouraged by an improved showing in his first start of the year, especially given his very average second half of 2020.

Leishman’s only mistake came at the driveable par 4 14th on which he missed the green right from the tee and was forced to hit it sideways before reaching the green in three and took bogey. He would two-putt for birdie the last after setting up a good eagle chance.

Adam Scott was unable to capitalise on his opening round of 68 and his 2 under 71 saw him slip 18 places to now be in a share of 27th while Cameron Smith added a second consecutive 70 to be in 32nd place.

The leader, English, is playing the event for just the second occasion having finished 14th on debut in 2014. English is in the expanded field courtesy of making it to the Tour Championship but has not won on the PGA Tour since 2013.

His most recent form has been encouraging with three top tens in his last four starts on the PGA Tour.

“Yeah, it was a cool perk of making it to the TOUR Championship and getting in this week,” said English. “That was awesome. I have wanted to get back here since 2014 and watched this tournament every year when I’m back home and glad to be able to come back to Kapalua and play.

“I guess the thing is to get in the Sentry Tournament of Champions every year this is a good place to win every year to get yourself back in the tournament. So I like where I stand, I’m pumped about the weekend and ready for the challenge.”

 

 

 

 

Scott enjoying his opening round today – photo Getty Images Cliff Hawkins

Adam Scott has made an impressive start to his 2021 golfing year with an opening round of 5 under par 68 at the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua on Maui in Hawaii.

Scott finds himself in a share of 9th place and three shots behind joint first round leaders, Harris English and defending champion Justin Thomas who opened with rounds of 65.

Scott’s bogey free round of 68 over the par 73 layout at the Plantation Course and was delighted with the manner in which he hit the ball.

“I think probably the best I’ve hit it in about four years for one round of golf,” said Scott. “So that’s good. I’ve been obviously always working on it, but kind of started feeling it there at Houston and the Masters and managed to keep in the practice something going in the right direction, so it was nice to see that on the course today.

“I kind of need to get it going. I had a pretty light campaign generally last year, like really light and really average too after COVID. We returned from the break and the Australian tournaments were cancelled, so that gave me the break at the end of the year that I don’t normally get and I was very excited to be coming back here.

“I love coming and playing over here, it’s been a while, and a good way for me to kind of kick start my FedExCup run. And I’ll play next week and Farmers as well and hopefully keep striking it like this and get a few putts to drop and I’ll be in good shape.”

Like Scott, Marc Leishman was bogey free and finished the day at 4 under 69. It was an encouraging start to the year for Leishman who failed to record one top ten in any of his last 14 starts on the PGA Tour.

Cameron Smith was off to a good start to back up some stunning end of 2020 form but a double bogey late in his round when making a mess of the par five 15th proved costly. He was able to recover with a birdie from 15 feet at the last and at 3 under 70 it was a solid, if perhaps disappointing, start.

Adam Scott plays Kapalua for the 7th occasion.

Three Australians won on the PGA Tour in 2020 and all three will take their place in the field for an event which offers winners the chance to test their games and readiness so early in the New Year.

In 2021 eligibility has been extended as a result of Covid 19 issues and the field expanded as a result, with not every player in the field a winner, additional players being added from world ranking and FedEx Cup tables.

The Sentry Tournament of Champions brings together 42 of the 45 players eligible, only Rory McIlroy, Jim Herman and Tyrell Hatton not playing, despite being eligible.

Adam Scott, Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman have earned the right to tee it up at the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort, Scott making his 7th appearance although he has been eligible on several other occasions, choosing instead to extend his end of season break instead in those instances.

Scott has slipped outside the top 20 in the world ranking for the first occasion in 18 months but he played only nine events in 2020, making the cut in eight and winning one when successful at the Genesis Invitational in his first start in 2020.

Scott enjoys a good record at this venue recording four top tens in six previous starts including a runner-up finish in 2007.

“It’s nice to be back,” said Scott when asked about being back at the event. “It has been an event I’ve loved coming to for so many years. But then for awhile it was a tricky one to get back to and every time I missed it, I regretted it, but it was off the back of playing in Australia and it being the first week of the year made it a very short holiday season for me.

“So once I won in Genesis last year, though, it was definitely a priority for me to put this event on the schedule. It’s a great way to start the year. Even under these circumstances it’s nice to be here. And for me, at this moment, I need to kind of start putting some good results on the board and get my FedExCup campaign going a bit.”

Cameron Smith gets to play the event for the second time having finished 17th here on debut in 2018. This time he gets to play the event courtesy of his stand alone win at the Sony last year and in his most recent starts he has been particularly impressive having finished runner-up at the Masters and 4th at the Zozo Championship. If he could find a way to replicate either of those two efforts, then his chances of victory appear reasonable.

Cameron Smith – can he continue his current form? – file photo Bruce Young

Marc Leishman had a horror run for much of 2020 after winning the Torrey Pines event early in the year and finishing runner-up at the Arnold Palmer Championship just a few weeks later.

Leishman finished 4th in this event in his last start at Kapalua and will play the event for the 3rd occasion. He was also 7th in 2018 but his most recent form is a long way from that we know the Victorian capable of.

March Leishman – on a previous visit to the event – Getty Images

Tournament favourite is the two time winner, Dustin Johnson, who not only brings the world number one title to the event but outstanding form including his last start victory at the Masters.

Johnson has been only once outside the top 3 in his last seven starts so the combination of his record at the venue and his stunning form at present leaves him the warmest of favourites to win his third Tournament of Champions title.

 

Hannah Green – file photo – Bruce Young

Perth’s Hannah Green has saved her best to last in 2020, a final round of 67 allowing her to finish in a share of second place at the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples in Florida and, in doing so, earns a cheque for US$209,000.

Adding to the celebration of the day was that it was Green’s 24th birthday so she heads back to her homeland this week in good spirits after a very disjointed year.

Green did not play a tournament between February and August and in the events since her return in August she has been below her best although there had been signs of the work she had been doing during the year was taking effect.

“Yeah, felt like I did some good work through quarantine with my coach,” said Green. “Gained some distance, so that really was nice to actually come out and see it in a tournament.”

It was Green’s 14th start of the 2020 LPGA Tour season and just her first top ten in that time but the manner in which she contended against such a strong field augurs well for her return to tournament golf in March.

Green has made the decision to return to Australia on Tuesday, although she must face two week quarantine period before seeing her family and friends she feels the need to spend time with and recharge the batteries. It is a decision which will mean missing the season opening Tournament of Champions in late January.

“Unfortunately, I’m not playing the Tournament of Champions. I’ve decided to stay in Australia because I haven’t been there since August. I felt like pretty much two weeks wasn’t going to be enough time at home.

“So I will be returning for Kia Classic in March. I’m super excited to get back. I’m leaving on Tuesday, arriving to Australia on Thursday, so I’ll be there for just under three months.

“I wish there was an event next week because I finally do feel like everything is coming together, but then again, I do want to get back to Australia.

“Best finish all year. First time broken the top 10. Super excited. It’s nice to finish on a high and be able to go home and eventually celebrate.”

Green finished five shots behind the runaway winner and world number one, Jin Young Ko. Ko has spent most of her year in South Korea, but she has continued to play well all the same recording four top tens in six starts there.

Hannah Green this week – photo Getty Images Michael Reeve

Today, Ko won US$1.1 million a massive $900,000 more then the joint runners-up.

Because of her time away from the LPGA Tour this year she was under pressure to make the field for this week’s event until a fine runner-up finish at recent US Women’s Open. As a result of her win today Ko has extended her world ranking lead over Sei Young Kim who finished joint runner-up with Green this week.

New Zealander Lydia Ko continued her recent improvement to finish in a share of 5th place, Minjee Lee struggled to a final round of 74 but still finished tied for 13th, Katherine Kirk was 23rd and Sarah Kemp 53rd.

Minjee Lee finishes the season as the leading Australasian in the world rankings in 8th place with Lydia Ko the next best in around 30th place.

The five shot winner Jin Young Ko