Sony Open in Hawaii brings a level of stress in the reshaped PGA Tour model
HONOLULU (AP) — Justin Rose is among 39 players at the Sony Open who started the new PGA Tour season last week at Kapalua, one of the eight signature events for the elite that offer $20 million in prize money and more FedEx Cup points than regular tournaments.
This is a bold new year filled with more riches and just as much uncertainty.
Still to be determined is how much of an advantage players like Rose, Russell Henley and Hideki Matsuyama have over players who at the moment have no access.
“Certainly helps,” British Open champion Brian Harman said. “Helps you build a schedule. But you still feel the pressure of trying to do well in the FedEx Cup, because even though I have a long exemption — which is great — if you're not in the signature events it's going to be a hard road to get back into them.”
Harman, who has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour from his first major title last summer at Hoylake, finished in a five-way tie for fifth at The Sentry. That was worth 250 points in the FedEx Cup.
That same finish at the Sony Open would be worth 93 points.
The objective for everyone is to finish among the top 50 in the FedEx Cup, which gets those players into the signature events. So it doesn't look to be a fair fight except for one aspect that remains true to golf: Good play goes a long way.
For the likes of Harman and Rose, a pedestrian performance even in the biggest events isn't going to help them all that much.
Chan Kim is on the other side. Kim, who grew up on Oahu and played at Arizona State, is a PGA Tour rookie at age 33 after a decade of playing primarily on the Japan Golf Tour and in Asia. He got his card as one of the top 30 on the Korn Ferry Tour points list. He finished second, which all but assured a start at Waialae. Others were not so fortunate.
The points difference was raised during rookie orientation over the weekend at Waialae. The newcomers know what they're up against. So do veterans who didn't make the postseason.
“But look, the guys playing the signature events are the best of the best. They deserve every bit to be playing these events,” Kim said. “But a win on any given week could change that for anybody. Couple top 10s and a win and next year you’re going to be in their position, anyway.”
At stake at the Sony Open, which starts Thursday along these Oahu shores, is a chance for five players to take part in the next signature event. The Sony starts a three-tournament “swing” with a separate points list. The leading five get into the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
The Sony Open is the first full-field event of the year and a traditional starting point for the newcomers. The PGA Tour schedule is back to a calendar year, and it seemed to be a good time to have rookie orientation. The PGA Tour paid for their travel, and there was always the chance to stick around and play at Waialae.
But then so many veterans signed up for the Sony Open that only 14 of the top 30 from the Korn Ferry Tour got into the tournament on their priority ranking. Two had received sponsor exemptions, two others made it through the Monday qualifier and one got in as an alternate.
All of this makes the chill vibe in Hawaii feel a lot like real work.
“I think the season has become more cut-throat this year, given the elevated events and given the fact that some guys are not able to get into as many events as they maybe once were," Rose said. “So I do feel like there’s a big emphasis on getting off to a good start. There's no time to lose, whether it be a rookie or anybody else in the field. I think everyone is probably pretty keen to get off to a good start.”
Chris Kirk is off to a great start by winning The Sentry. Only one player since the FedEx Cup began in 2007 has failed to reach the season-ending Tour Championship after winning at Kapalua. Kirk picked up 700 FedEx Cup points and looks to build on that.
Harman has spent a career trying to get into the top 70 to qualify for invitationals like Bay Hill, the top 30 to get into the Tour Championship or even trying to make the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup teams. It's always something.
His British Open title gives him a five-year pass into the majors (longer for The Open) and the five-year PGA Tour exemption. It doesn't guarantee a spot in the signature events in 2025.
“I'm trying to stay as sharp as I can to try to finish as best I can on the FedEx Cup," Harman said. “I’m already looking at the schedule like, ‘All right, going to have play here, here.’ So no matter what stage you’re at, it’s always the same amount of stress.”
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