Five Players To Watch – 2014 Sony Open In Hawaii

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Sony Open Preview And Power Rankings

Sony Open
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A second week in Hawaii sounds like an absolute dream vacation to most of us, but for the PGA Tour pros who will be teeing it up at Waialae this week, it’s just business as usual with beautiful weather. Rough life these guys live, isn’t it?

All kidding aside, the second tournament of the ever-popular “Hawaii swing” is the Sony Open, a tournament that has been a mainstay on Tour since 1965, when it was known as the Hawaiian Open. Some of the great names of golf have their names in the event’s record books, including Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, and Ernie Els, who was the most recent repeat winner in tournament history. More recently, it was also the tournament that granted exemptions to Michelle Wie for four years straight, even though she missed the cut each time from 2004 through 2007.

The first full-field event of 2014, players will be greeted at Waialae by a monster of an opening hole. The 480-yard, par-4 first hole is actually the tenth for regular members, but with the nines switched for the tournament, a challenge reminiscent of St. Andrews’s famed “Road Hole” means players will have to be on from the start.

On the plus side, things likely get a bit lighter after that. According to the Tour’s official statistics, Waialae was actually the easiest par-70 on the entire 2013 schedule. Much of that was certainly helped by Russell Henley’s ridiculous winning 24-under aggregate, but the trade winds off the Hawaiian coast haven’t played havoc as much in recent years as they had in the past. Birdies could fly in bunches this week.

So who will take advantage of scoring opportunities to take home the championship from the islands, along with the FedEx Cup points and Masters invitation that come with it? Read on to see who you should keep an eye on this week.

Brandon Raper is a golf writer for "Like" him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter @Brandon__Raper, and join him on Google+.

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5) Chris Kirk

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It was tough choosing between Matt Kuchar and Kirk for this spot, but in the end I had to go with this year’s McGladrey Classic winner. Kirk played some stellar golf at Waialae last year, including a second-round 62 that led him to a fifth-place tie in the season opener. Kirk can make birdies in bunches, and that’s exactly what it takes to win at this low-scoring par-70.

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4) Adam Scott

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In typical Adam Scott fashion, this is going to be the Aussie’s last stateside tournament until March, so he’ll have to take advantage of every opportunity. He had a solid outing last week at Kapalua, but slow and steady isn’t the way to win there. His last two starts at Waialae were a missed cut in 2011 and a tie for second in 2009. I predict more of the 2009 variety to be in play this year.

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3) Charles Howell III

Jake Roth - USA TODAY Sports

This is the definition of a “horse for the course” pick. Howell actually has five tournaments under his belt already this season thanks to the wraparound from the end of 2013, and he finished in the top 10 three times. He's finished in the top five seven times here and he's never missed a cut, so he's a huge favorite for a strong showing. A win here would be his first on Tour since 2007 and score him an elusive Masters invitation.

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2) Jordan Spieth

Kevin Liles - USA TODAY Sports

An easy pick after coming so close last week, this is going to be a good test for Spieth. His creativity in shot-making and overall solid iron play should bring him success this week. He’s not going to be making top-five finishes every week, but he’s a hot hand, and wildly competitive to boot. Somebody is going to have to step up and beat him, because he won’t beat himself.

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1) Zach Johnson

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Most weeks, Zach Johnson is the guy who flies under the radar, but he’s won three times in his last six starts and shows no signs of slowing down. He doesn’t have a great history at Waialae, but the way he’s been playing you’d be foolish to think that couldn’t easily transfer to just about any track. Ride the hot hand until he cools off - if he ever does.