Golf in January: Who’s hot? Who’s not?

Ryan Palmer (left) won the Sony Open last weekend, while Danny Lee has yet to follow up on his 2009 Johnnie Walker victory.

A look at who’s hot and who’s not throughout the world of golf:

WHO’S HOT

Ryan Palmer

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Ryan Palmer won the Sony Open.

Palmer doesn’t get top billing just for winning the Sony Open. That’d be too obvious.

His victory is a win for good karma, though. In December, Palmer made a $100,000 donation to Children’s Hospital at Northwest Texas Healthcare System in Amarillo, Texas.

“Being born in and growing up in Amarillo, there’s not a better place to do this,” Palmer said.

The donation will be used to build a healing garden (including a 300-square foot putting green), as well as the “Palmer Sports Zone” and the “Palmer Playhouse”, where kids undergoing treatment can play video games, watch TV and interact with other children.

Palmer made the donation even though he was coming off one of the worst years of his Tour career. The donation represented 22 percent of his on-course earnings in ’09. His $454,510 was the lowest total of his six-year Tour career (he has $7,387,880 in career earnings). He started the Ryan Palmer Foundation in ’04.

• • •

Retief Goosen

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Retief Goosen waves to the crowd on the 17th hole during the final round of the Sony Open.

Goosen and Steve Stricker were the only two players to leave Hawaii with top 10s in each of the season’s first two events, and left the islands with more than $1 million in combined earnings.

Not bad for two weeks in paradise.

Goosen tied for sixth at the SBS Championship, then finished fourth at Sony with a final-round 62. Goosen has finished no worse than 16th in his past eight events worldwide, posting seven top 10s in that stretch.

Goosen has been helped by a switch late last year back to a belly putter.

He started '09 with the belly putter, but went back to a traditional-length flatstick and won at Innisbrook. Goosen said he could keep the belly putter in the bag through the West Coast swing, maybe later.

“It’s a good training device,” Goosen told the Associated Press. “If I do well with it, who knows? Maybe I’ll keep it in there longer,”

Stricker was 10th at SBS and third at Sony.

• • •

Tom Lehman

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Tom Lehman is off to a fast start in 2010.

Lehman, 50, still can compete with the younger set. He tied for 16th at the Sony Open, his second consecutive top 20 on the PGA Tour (he closed ’09 with a tie for 15th at the Children’s Miracle Network Classic). In between, he collected a five-shot victory at the Masters of Argentina in December on the Tour de las Americas.

Lehman will split time between the PGA and Champions tours. He’s playing the PGA Tour on a one-time exemption for being in the top 50 on the career money list. He is in the field for this week’s Mitsubishi Electric Championship on the Champions Tour.

• • •

Jesse Mueller

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Jesse Mueller

Mueller, the Gateway Tour’s leading money winner in ’08, won the tour’s Desert Winter Series opener Jan. 7 by nine shots. He sandwiched a 68 between two 62s to shoot 24-under 192 at Anthem (Ariz.) Golf & Country Club (Persimmon), and won by nine shots.

The victory came three weeks after a seven-shot victory at the Hawaii State Open, where he shot 19-under 197 (66-67-64) to beat former PGA Tour winner Dean Wilson.

For those six rounds, Mueller had a 64.8 scoring average. Mueller will defend his title at the Hawaii Pearl Open Feb. 12-14. He won that event by eight shots after holing out for eagle twice in the final round.

Mueller cooled slightly last week, tying for 31st at last week's Gateway Tour stop at Trilogy Golf Club at Vistancia. Scott Harrington won that event for his second Gateway title in three starts.


WHO’S NOT

Danny Lee

Danny Lee missed the past two cuts on the European Tour – badly. He shot 70-72 to tie for 124th at last week’s Joburg Open, one week after shooting 77-77 to beat only two players who completed 36 holes at the Africa Open.

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Danny Lee during the second round of the 2009 Zurich Classic.

He’s missed his past three cuts and finished 66th out of 77 players at the WGC-HSBC Champions.

In October, Lee switched instructors, to Hank Haney protege Suckki Jang. Lee missed the first stage of PGA Tour Q-School later that month.

Lee has status on the European Tour after his victory at the ’09 Johnnie Walker Championship, and on the Nationwide Tour after finishing the equivalent of No. 162 on the ’09 PGA Tour money list.

Lee hasn’t had a top 25 since tying for 10th at the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles in August. His only other top 10 as a pro came at the AT&T National.

Lee is No. 147 in the Official World Golf Ranking and No. 435 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index.

• • •

Bob Hope Classic

Mike Weir, No. 37 in the Official World Golf Ranking, is the highest-ranked player in the field. Eight of the top 14 in the world are in United Arab Emirates for the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi Championship.

Also, the PGA Tour fixture is without a title sponsor this year, while the San Diego stop named a title sponsor (Farmer’s Insurance Group) on Monday and a new PGA Tour event (McGladrey Classic) was announced Tuesday.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said he is optimistic about the event getting a title sponsor in 2011.

“I think as long as the economy maintains where it is, maybe ticks up a little bit, I think the prospects are very good,” he said. “It is an institution on the PGA Tour.”

Finchem said the Hope could be played in '11 even if a sponsor is not found.

• • •

Rookies

Sure, Troy Merritt held the first-round lead, and four rookies posted top 25s, but there was no breakout performance at the Sony Open.

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Troy Merritt at PGA Tour Q-School in December.

In each of the past two years, Dustin Johnson and Webb Simpson began their rookie campaigns with top 10s on the way to strong first seasons.

Of the 16 rookies in the Sony field, five completed 72 holes. Four of them – Merritt (T-20), Graham DeLaet (T-25), Brian Stuard (T-25) and Blake Adams (T-25) – finished in the top 25.

Nine missed the 36-hole cut, while another two missed the 54-hole cut.

Merritt won Q-School in December, holding at least a share of the lead after all six rounds at Q-School. The first round at Sony made it seven consecutive rounds in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event that he held at least a share of the lead.

That’s a week’s worth of good golf. There's almost a full season remaining for one of the rookies to emerge from the pack.

• • •

Lucas Glover

This year started very promisingly for Glover. He was 15 under for his first 36 holes, and had the 54-hole lead at the SBS. He shot a final-round 76 at Kapalua to tumble into a tie for 14th.

Glover followed that 76 with a first-round 75 at Sony en route to a missed cut.

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