Miceli: Watch out for Choi, Love at Sony

K.J. Choi

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HONOLULU -- The Sony Open, which dates to 1965, has a storied list of champions.

Lee Trevino (1968), Jack Nicklaus (1974), Ben Crenshaw (1976), Hale Irwin (1981), Mark O’Meara (1985), Lanny Wadkins (1988, ’91), Jim Furyk (1996), Ernie Els (2003, ’04) and Vijay Singh (2005) headline a who’s-who of winners of what started as the Hawaiian Open at Waialae Country Club.

This week, the list of contenders will include some possible Hall of Famers in Steve Stricker, Zach Johnson and Davis Love III, plus inductee Vijay Singh.

Stricker, coming off of a victory at the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions, tops the short list of favorites this week. Stricker, 44, a Wisconsin native, showed that hitting balls out of a heated hut doesn’t necessarily preclude winning in January.

Las Vegas oddsmakers and the Official World Golf Ranking affirm Stricker as the clear favorite. Though I agree that Stricker should be seriously considered, I’ll offer a contrary view.

Stricker had one great round at Maui, shooting a second-round 10-under 63 on Saturday to pull clear of the field and set up his three-shot victory. Stricker played the final 36 holes in 8 under with consecutive 69s but was far from the best player in the winners-only field of 27 players over those closing rounds.

Stricker also is fighting history, with only Ernie Els (2003) to have swept the Hawaiian Swing in the same year.

Also, Stricker still has an issue with his bothersome neck, despite some time off at the end of 2011.

So if not Stricker, then who?

Nine past champions will tee it up Thursday: Mark Wilson (2011), Ryan Palmer (2010), Zach Johnson (2009), K.J. Choi (2008), Paul Goydos (2007), David Toms (2006), Singh (2005), Jerry Kelly (2002) and Corey Pavin (1986, ’87).

Three of the former winners are in the top 50 in the world: Choi (14), Toms (30) and Johnson (42), with the rest further down the list.

The world ranking is only one part of the equation, but it does provide a window in recent past performance.

Choi and Toms played in Maui last week, but Toms finished 26th in a 27-man field while Choi shot a final-round 65 to finish fifth.

Choi is a 15-1 favorite in Las Vegas. So if you’re looking for a former champion this week, Choi seems a good bet. He has recorded three top-10 finishes in 10 starts at Waialae.

Instead of looking at former champions, it might make sense to consider runners-up in the field: Steve Marino (2011), Robert Allenby (2010), Rory Sabbatini (2006, ’08), Charles Howell III (2007), Chad Campbell (2006), Harrison Frazar (2004), Davis Love III (1994, ’99) and Jeff Maggert (1999).

Marino and Maggert seem like wild cards. Marino still is looking for his first Tour victory, and Maggert, 47, is coming off of right-shoulder surgery.

Allenby has had some success at Sony, with three top 10s in 10 starts, but his best chance came in 2010 when he sprained his ankle before the tournament and gutted out a runner-up finish. Always with a suspect putter -- who can forget his 0-4 record in the International team’s loss in the Presidents Cup? -- Allenby tends to surprise and might pull it off this week, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Sabbatini had a successful 2011 and showed a high degree of preparedness with a tie for ninth last week. The South African also has a degree of success at Waialae, with two tops 10s, and he hasn’t missed a Sony cut since 2002, excluding a 2008 withdrawal.

Don’t count Sabbatini out.

Howell would be a solid pick. Looking at Howell’s history at Sony, he has appeared in 10 events at Waialae and finished in the top 10 five times, including a runner-up finish in 2007.

The Augusta native had a solid 2011 season and finished 19th in the FedEx Cup, meriting a ticket back to the Masters.

Howell, who hasn’t won since the 2007 Nissan Open, seems ready for a victory.

Love also has a solid record at Waialae, with seven top 10s in 11 appearances.

Age aside, Love, 47, has such a prolific record over the years in Honolulu that the Ryder Cup captain is worth a look this week.

Campbell and Frazar have had solid records at Sony, and Frazar is coming off of a fifth-place finish last week.

Still, it’s hard not to take Stricker this week. If not Stricker, though, Howell would be a good pick, with Love as a darkhorse.

Sony Open Odds

  • Steve Stricker. . . 7/1
  • Webb Simpson. . . 10/1
  • K.J. Choi. . . 15/1
  • Zach Johnson. . . 15/1
  • Charles Howell III. . . 25/1
  • Jonathan Byrd. . . 25/1
  • Kevin Na. . . 25/1
  • Rory Sabbatini. . . 30/1
  • David Toms. . . 30/1
  • Keegan Bradley. . . 30/1
  • John Senden. . . 30/1
  • Robert Allenby. . . 40/1
  • Jason Dufner. . . 40/1
  • Steve Marino. . . 40/1
  • Mark Wilson. . . 40/1
  • Ryan Palmer. . . 40/1
  • Jeff Overton. . . 40/1
  • Jerry Kelly. . . 40/1
  • Bud Cauley. . . 40/1
  • Chad Campbell. . . 50/1
  • Chris Kirk. . . 50/1
  • Sean O’Hair. . . 50/1
  • Vijay Singh. . . 50/1
  • Carl Pettersson. . . 50/1
  • Spencer Levin. . . 50/1
  • Brian Gay. . . 50/1
  • Davis Love III. . . 60/1
  • Stewart Cink. . . 60/1
  • Seung-Yul Noh. . . 60/1
  • John Rollins. . . 60/1
  • Michael Thompson. . . 60/1
  • Kyle Stanley. . . 60/1
  • Justin Leonard. . . 60/1
  • Briny Baird. . . 60/1
  • Lucas Glover. . . 80/1
  • Ricky Barnes. . . 80/1
  • Harrison Frazar. . . 80/1
  • Ryo Ishikawa. . . 80/1
  • Danny Lee. . . 80/1
  • Jimmy Walker. . . 80/1
  • Pat Perez. . . 80/1
  • Scott Piercy. . . 80/1
  • George McNeill. . . 80/1
  • Jhonattan Vegas. . . 100/1
  • Brendon de Jonge. . . 100/1
  • Cameron Tringale. . . 100/1
  • Heath Slocum. . . 100/1
  • Stephen Ames. . . 100/1
  • Nathan Green. . . 100/1
  • Field (All Others). . . 4/1
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