Major competition set for Sony
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
For the first time since the inaugural Sony Open in Hawai'i in 1999, all four major champions will play at Waialae Country Club this week.
That says as much about the quality of the field at Sony this year as it does about a suddenly very troubled 14-time major winner.
Tiger Woods' total absence from Waialae over the years has been a sore spot for sponsors and spectators. It also prevented Sony from getting a grand slam sweep every year but 2004 and '05, when the four major champions still did not all show.
The only other year Woods did not win a major before Sony — until a 2009 that went down in self-induced flames — was 1998. Mark O'Meara captured two that year and Lee Janzen and Vijay Singh won the others. Janzen is the youngest of the threesome at 45. All played that first Sony Open the following year.
This year, all four diverse major champs are calling Hawai'i home for two weeks in January.
South Korean Y.E. Yang, who turns 38 Friday, chased Woods down to win the PGA Championship. Angel Cabrera, a 40-year-old from Argentina, took out Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell to win The Masters.
And two easygoing Americans captured their first majors. Lucas Glover, 30, outlasted Phil Mickelson, Ricky Barnes and David Duval to win the U.S. Open. Stewart Cink, 36, beat five-time British Open champion Tom Watson in a four-hole playoff to win the Claret Jug.
Last year was full of surprises and Yong-eun Yang might have been the biggest shock of all.
Less than a year before he became the first to overtake Woods in the final round of a major — Woods was 14-0 when holding the 54-hole lead — Yang was grinding it out at the PGA Tour Q-School.
By the end of 2009, he was the first Asian-born major champion and ranked 31st in the world with two tour victories. With Woods out indefinitely, is he one of the golfers with a shot at No. 1?
Yang won't even contemplate the possibility.
"It's tough being on top," said Yang, who didn't start golfing until he was 19. "I'd love it, yes. It would be nice. It takes a lot of effort to be No. 1 and then to maintain No. 1. I beat him once. I won a major. But that was because I went in knowing that I was going to lose. So it's a different set of strategy, a different mindset. I guess if I tried to do it, more than easy fail trying to."
His comments lost something in translation, but he is clearly a humble man. After what happened at Hazeltine National in August, it is just as clear he is very talented.
Yang eagled the 14th that final day with a 50-foot chip that gave him the lead. On the final hole, from 210 yards out and separated from the green by a big tree, Yang shaped a shot off his 3-iron hybrid that stopped 10 feet from the hole.
Even his heartfelt celebration beat out anything by Woods that week.
Cabrera has 17 international victories, but his only two PGA Tour wins have been majors. The man they call "El Pato" (The Duck) won the 2007 U.S. Open by a shot over Woods and Jim Furyk.
Cabrera needed two extra holes to shake off Campbell and Perry at Augusta National last April, along with a scrambling par out of the trees on the first playoff hole.
He finished 2009 in the Top 50 for the fifth straight year (23rd in the world ranking). And, at 304 yards a pop, he was eighth in driving distance — a statistic more suited to last week's SBS Championship at Kapalua than Waialae's frugal fairways.
Glover ranked 20th at the end of 2009, a year when he won $3.7 million with six Top-10s. That included holding off two much more well-known guys — headed in different directions — at Bethpage Black.
The rain-drenched Open didn't end until Monday, when Glover played the final three holes in 1-under to make Mickelson a five-time Open runnerup and also leave Duval and Barnes behind.
The next day, Glover showed up on Regis & Kelly, blitzed through a bunch of radio talk shows and read David Letterman's Top 10- list.
The category? Top Ten Things Lucas Glover Would Like to Say After Winning The U.S. Open."
The No. 10 "Thing?" "Even I have never heard of me."
His laid-back goal in 2010 to keep himself grounded? "Have the same expectations that I had last year."
Which were? "Very little. All attitude. Take the good with the bad. It's pretty good out here, it's not that big a deal."
Cink is also understated, so much so he describes his career as "underachieving" despite six wins and $28 million in his 14th year, and a world ranking of No. 16 the past two.
He birdied four of the last nine holes at the British Open, then saw the 59-year-old Watson wince over a missed eight-footer to force a playoff Cink dominated.
He called it a "huge moment for my career," but hardly a permanent invitation to stardom.
"I felt like the memories from performing on that stage with the pressure and everything that accompanies that, the success I had in that situation was so fresh I felt like I could do it anytime," Cink said. "I played well the next tournament, but didn't really continue. I got a little scatter-brained towards the end of the year … lost a little bit of focus."
The focus is on Sony this week, and another year of major success.
Home: Cordoba, Argentina
Turned pro: 1989
Sony qualifying status: 2009 Masters champion
Sony history: T69 in 2008
Career tour earnings: $7,856,083
Home: Duluth, Ga.
Turned pro: 1995
Sony qualifying status: 2009 British Open
Sony history: Best finish in seven starts is T5 in 2005
Career tour earnings: $27,877,024
Home: Seoul, South Korea
Turned pro: 1996
Sony qualifying status: 2009 PGA champion
Sony history: T20 in 2008
Career tour earnings: $4,027,577
Home: Greenville, SC
Turned pro: 2001
Sony qualifying status: 2009 U.S. Open champion
Sony history: T64 in 2005, missed cut in 2006
Career tour earnings: $11,573,270