HONOLULU – While so much of the focus centered around the new faces at the Sony Open – 27 rookies, nine of them playing a PGA Tour tournament for the first time – there were some reminders that the stage still has room for the veteran player.
If Dave Eichelberger, at 67 playing here as the Aloha Section champion 40 years after he made his debut in this tournament, wasn’t enough of a reminder, then there was Fred Funk, 54, and joined by his new caddie for the year, 15-year-old son Taylor.
What’s more, Davis Love III is off and running on his 26th PGA Tour season, thanks to a 2-under 68, and Vijay Singh, 47, is here for a 14th time. Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Tim Herron, Billy Mayfair, and Rocco Mediate are just a few of the other veteran names who offer a contrast to the long line of fresh faces on hand.
Yet the veteran face that made you look twice belonged to a guy not in the field.
Dick Mast is 59 and still plugging away for the simplest of reasons.
“I just love to play,” said Mast, a minitour legend of sorts who has never turned down the challenge of a Monday qualifier. That was what drew him to the island of Oahu this week, no matter that the majority of kids he’d go up against are half his age.
“I’m healthy and I had to get out and play,” said Mast, who lives in Lynchburg, Va., where not a lot of golf is being played these days. “I was going to play either here or in Florida, so it wasn’t a hard choice.”
Mast shot 74 in the Monday qualifier when it took 68 to get into a playoff, but he has hung around Waialae CC just in case players withdrew and he got the call. When that didn’t happen, Mast figured he’d use the range to hit some balls, since his flight home isn’t until Sunday.
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Long wait is over
A long, sometimes boring week also came to an end for Richard S. Johnson and Andres Gonzales.
The first two alternates who were on site, Johnson and Gonzales knew they were long shots, yet they sat around all day Friday. They putted. They chipped. They ate. Then they putted and chipped some more.
“But I’ve counted everyone and they’re here,” said Gonzales, a strapping 6-foot-2 inch, 225-pounder with long hair and an impressive fu manchu. He finished T-22 at Q School last fall, as did Johnson.
But the category that combines Nationwide Tour and Qualifying Tournament graduates stopped just before Johnson and Gonzales.
“That’s the way it goes,” Gonzales said. “I’m not in the Hope (next week), but San Diego is looking good. I’ll just keep trudging forward.”
In the Monday qualifier, Johnson shot 70, Gonzales 71.
“With the status I’ve got, you’ve got to come here and give it a shot,” Gonzales said. “But guys come so far to play, I figured it was a long shot.”
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Home run into the bleachers
Asian Amateur champion Hideki Matsuyama, 18, drew a crowd on his final hole, the par-5 ninth. But it was for all the wrong reasons.
From the middle of the fairway, Matsuyama pounded his second shot so long that it rattled off the bleachers and came to rest behind up a bush up against the clubhouse. There was a white line that could be seen, so at first it was thought Matsuyama was out of bounds. But it turns out that is an old line, that the young man from Japan could actually take a free drop.
He moved well to his right, pitched on and saved par, but he only managed a 74.
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From bad to good
A bogey, bogey, bogey start had Charles Warren shaking his head. Then he reminded himself that he had sat around all day Wednesday and Thursday because of the rain and “I hadn’t putted even once.”
He told himself to hang in there, even after a bogey at the par-4 sixth dropped him to 4 over.
Warren proceeded to sprinkle in six birdies over his final 12 holes to shoot 1-under 69 to continue a pretty stellar stretch. Dating back to the Viking Classic last October, Warren has shot par or better in 17 of his last 19 rounds.
That he’s even here at the Sony is a testament to how well Warren finished in 2010. When he made a birdie at the 72nd hole of the Children’s Miracle Network Classic, Warren not only pushed inside the top 150 on the money list to avoid second stage, he got inside the top 10 that exempted him into the next full-field tournament, the one right here at Sony.