Russell Henley (pictured) is taking his first tentative steps on the US PGA Tour this week and the star of junior golf has made a great start to his career at this level by leading the Sony Open after two days. Successive rounds of 63 have given Henley a two shot lead ahead of Saturday’s third round.
Henley is aged just 23 but already has 3 professional titles to his name, won on the Nationwide Tour over the last two years. In 2010 he was voted the best collegiate golfer. In the same year Henley played in the US Open and tied for low amateur.
When he won for the first time on the Nationwide Tour in 2011 he became just the second player to win on the Tour before turning professional. He entered the paid ranks in September 2011 and in just over a year had added two more titles to his tally.
An excellent amateur career was highlighted by playing for the United States in the 2011 Walker Cup. Henley kept his amateur status so that that he could play in the matches against Great Britain and Ireland but soon turned professional once that career objective had been achieved.
In putting together two 7 under par rounds of 63 Henley has had just one blemish, a dropped shot on his 11th hole in the first round. That single bogey has been offset by 15 birdies over the first 36 holes of the tournament.
Scott Piercy and Scott Langley are tied second but the main threat to Henley could come from two established main Tour professionals who are proven winners at this level. Tim Clark from South Africa is another player likely to contend over the weekend.
The two seasoned pros who appear in the top five of the leader board are Matt Kuchar and Charles Howell. The latter in particular has a great deal in his favour in Hawaii this week and looks the player most likely to emerge from the pack to overhaul Henley.
It is fair to say that Howell has been an underachiever at this level. However, there may come a day when he becomes more ruthless when presented with a winning opportunity. With a new season just beginning Howell could win for the third time on a course that is suited to his game.
Howell finished 4th at Waialae on his debut in 2002. He has missed two cuts in 11 starts in the Sony Open and has finished in the top five six times. Howell ended 2012 with three top 15 finishes and now looks in better shape than players arriving from the Hyundai Tournament of Champions which only finished on Tuesday.
Kuchar won the Player’s Championship last year at Sawgrass, a course that puts a premium on accuracy over distance more than most. Pure, accurate ball striking is the key to success at this week’s host course and experience of this well-established course is a significant advantage and these factors make Kuchar a leading contender over the weekend.