Sony Open experts' picks

January, 10, 2012
01/10/12
3:24
PM ET

With the first full-field PGA Tour event set to begin for the 2012 season, rookies and other returning players are champing at the bit to start their season. Our experts are looking for a little redemption after the opening tournament, too.

Each week of the season, our experts will share their insights into which players fit the criteria for our four categories below: Horse for the Course (a golfer who knows this track inside and out), Birdie Buster (a guy who can take it low this week), Super Sleeper (a player who could unexpectedly contend) and Winner.

This week's tournament: The Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Hawaii.

Want another opinion? Check out ESPN.com's FOREcaster page.

Horse for the Course


Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Rory Sabbatini
I'm giving him a pass on his tie for 39th last year because it came after that final-round 63 and second-place finish at the Hyundai. He's been consistently inside the top 25 on this golf course. After the 2-shot penalty for being late to the tee last week, he's going to be hungry and angry. That's when he's at his best.

Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Mark Wilson
No one was better than Wilson in the first quarter of the 2011 season. The 37-year-old former North Carolina Tar Heels star won two of the season's first five events, including the Sony Open, where he beat Tim Clark and o by 2 shots on the Waialae course.

Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: David Toms
He's coming off a poor performance at Kapalua, but Waialae Country Club has been good to the veteran PGA Tour player over the years. He won the tournament in 2006 and has four other top-15 finishes at the event.

Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: David Toms
This is assuming he's recovered from the thrashing his LSU Tigers took in the BCS title game, but one of Toms' 13 career victories came at the Sony Open back in 2006. In his past six starts here, only once did he finish worse than T-13.


Birdie Buster


Michael Collins: Jerry Kelly
If he's healthy, and he should be, the veteran knows the subtle nuances of these seemingly flat greens that will give him a leg up on the large group of rookies and guys getting only their second look at this golf course. Take out 2010, when he withdrew, and he has 18 of his past 20 rounds in the 60s.

Farrell Evans: Charles Howell III
In 2011, the Augusta native had one of his most consistent years. Howell had seven top-10s and finished 25th on the money list with $2.5 million. Perhaps he's finally matured into the elite player everyone projected he would be when he turned pro out of Oklahoma State in 2000.

Bob Harig: Steve Stricker
So much for winter in Wisconsin. Stricker is off to a great start in the 2012 season with his victory at Kapalua, the 12th of his career. Now he jumps islands to where he has finished in the top 10 in four of the past five years.

Kevin Maguire: Webb Simpson
Aside from last week's champion, Steve Stricker, Simpson was the only other player to record all four rounds in the 60s at the tour's season opener. The guy has been a top-10 machine, so there's no reason to think he'll slow down this week.


Super Sleeper


Michael Collins: Tommy Biershenk
If you had heard of him, he wouldn't be a super sleeper, would he? But believe when I tell you that even at 38 years old, he will play this year like one of those 20-something "young guns" we hear so much about. He will be this year's version of Disney's "The Rookie," and it will start this week with a top-10 finish.

Farrell Evans: Billy Hurley III
The 29-year-old rookie was stationed at Pearl Harbor when he was a junior lieutenant in the Navy. In 2011, the Naval Academy graduate got the last PGA Tour card off the Nationwide Tour. He'll make the most of his chance to play well in front of sailors with whom he once served on the USS Chung-Hoon.

Bob Harig: Vijay Singh
It will be interesting to see how Singh fares this year with his 49th birthday looming. He hasn't won since 2008, but Singh did manage to make it to the Tour Championship last year, finishing 28th in the FedEx Cup standings.

Kevin Maguire: Davis Love III
The U.S. Ryder Cup captain's chances to be competitive on the course will wane as the date gets closer to the September matches, so his first start of 2012 also might be his best chance to play well.


Winner


Michael Collins: Steve Marino
He's played the Sony Open four times -- but not in 2010 -- and finished T-2 (2011), T-7 (2009) and T-4 (2008). He'll get his first PGA Tour win at the first full-field event of the year.

Farrell Evans: Steve Stricker
Every few years a player in his 40s takes on the kids and shows them how to play proper golf. Vijay Singh was once the king of this mountain. Then it was Kenny Perry for a while. Now it's 44-year-old Stricker, who probably will win his second event in a row this week after taking the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Yet I wouldn't be surprised to see him on Sunday afternoon in a playoff with Webb Simpson.

Bob Harig: Charles Howell III
He doesn't contend much -- Howell is the picture of consistency -- but he had 15 top-25 finishes and seven top-10s a year ago. He's going on five years since his last victory, but Sony is a place where he's had five top-5 finishes in his career.

Kevin Maguire: Jerry Kelly
You don't have to be a bomber to win at Waialae, which is good for Kelly, because he isn't -- he ranked 183rd last year in driving distance. What you do need to be is accurate off the tee, and that's right up the alley of the guy who finished third in that stat on the PGA Tour in 2011. Six top-10s in 14 appearances doesn't hurt, either.

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