The 2023 PGA Tour calendar started last week with a bang as John Rahm rallied from a 6-shooting deficit on the last nine holes to catch up with Collin Morikawa at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Hawaii.
The tour stays in the islands for one more week at the Sony Open in Honolulu before starting its California swing with stops at the American Express, Farmers Insurance Open and AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
It’s still a week away from the start of the LPGA Tour at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in Orlando, Florida, and more than a month before the start of the second season of the LIV Golf League in Mexico, but there’s still a lot going on in professional golf. Here’s what to watch this week:
What’s Next on the PGA Tour
Sony Open in Hawaii
Where: Waialae Country Club, Honolulu
Current champion: Hideki Matsuyama
Wallet: $7.9 million
THREE STORYLINES TO WATCH
Matsuyama goes for titles in a row: Japan’s Matsuyama seemed to be heading towards another big season in 2021-2022 after he won the Zozo championship in October 2021 and then the Sony Open in January 2022. But neck and back injuries derailed the 2021 Masters champion campaign. He has been forced to pull out of three tournaments since April, including the Houston Open in November. The 21st-place draw at last week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions was his best finish since August.
Matsuyama, ranked 21st in the official world golf rankings, told reporters in Hawaii on Tuesday that he is still recovering from injuries.
“I’ve been having a little neck trouble lately,” Matsuyama said through his translator. “I haven’t had the opportunity to train as much as possible over the past few months, but the game is moving forward. So I can’t expect too much, but I’m really looking forward to this week.”
Matsuyama, 30, said the injury bothered him after the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March.
“It happened last year at Bay Hill,” Matsuyama said. “The disease came back and then returned, especially last November, October, November. Every time I played golf, the pain returned. so I feel like it’s getting better and better.”
At last year’s Sony Open, Matsuyama wiped out Russell Henley’s 5-stroke lead over the last nine holes to beat him in the playoffs. Matsuyama made an eagle on the 18th playoff par-5 hole, extending the 3-tree cut from 276 yards to 32 inches. It was a blind shot, so Matsuyama didn’t see how close his ball was to the cup.
“I couldn’t track this shot, so after watching this video, I realized how good this shot was,” Matsuyama said. “It was good.”
UNREAL SHOT. 😳
Hideki hits beautifully from 277 yards on the first playoff hole! pic.twitter.com/qT8ByiAVrm
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 17, 2022
Henley comes to his senses: Henley’s crushing loss to Matsuyama in the final round of last year’s Sony Open marked the fifth time in his PGA Tour career that he failed to turn a 54-hole lead into a win. His struggle in the final round had him uttering words you rarely hear from a professional athlete: “I just choked, you know? My nerves gave me nerve and I made serious mistakes, serious mental mistakes. , and just didn’t make it on Sunday.”
This admission came after Henley closed the deal at the Mayakob World Tech Championship in November. It was his fourth PGA Tour win and his first since 2017. His first career win came at the 2013 Sony Open.
“Looking back at last year, of course, it hurts, but I find a lot of positive things,” Henley told reporters this week. “Last year I had a putt to win and I thought I hit pretty well. I had a 2 hit lead, threw 65 and lost in the playoffs, so it doesn’t happen very often.”
Henley jokingly said that he ran into Matsuyama at the WM Phoenix Open the previous year and pretended to break his triple on his knee.
“I just walked up and said, ‘Hey buddy,’ grabbed his 3-wood and almost broke it on his knee,” Henley said. “I mean, he played amazing. He hit 63-63 on the weekend and that will just happen in golf where you lose. But obviously no hard feelings. I just messed around.”
Perhaps Henley can draw inspiration this week from his alma mater, the Georgia Bulldogs, who bounced back from an uneven run against Ohio State in the college football playoff semi-finals to thrash TCU 65-7 to win their second national title in a row.
“I think at the end of the first half, when we kept scoring in the last couple of minutes, I just couldn’t believe [it]like we already basically won,” Henley said. “I think we were 38-7 up in the half and their only game they scored was some kind of weird broken pass. I think for me it’s just basically amazing. I wish we could win the national championship by the age of 60 every year, but I’m still a little surprised. I mean, it was crazy.”
Castillo debut: Michael Castillo, top pro at Kapalua, which hosted last week’s Tournament of Champions, entered the Sony Open field by winning the Aloha Section PGA Championship in September. He hit the 18th hole and won by 1 stroke.
Castillo will make his debut at the tournament at the age of 60. He is the oldest player on the field and is three times older than Tom Kim. He is the fourth member of his family to take part in the tournament; his father Ron made 10 starts and two of his brothers also competed in the event.
Castillo will embark on his first PGA tour two months after undergoing radiation therapy for cancer. He told The Associated Press that he was diagnosed with colon cancer five years ago. It traveled to his liver, lungs, and then back to his liver.
“I went with radiation and next month I’ll find out if it was successful,” Castillo told AP. “In December he cleared my body and I feel pretty good. I’m ready for Sony.”
.@GolfatKapalua plantation course, @PGA Chief Golf Specialist and @Trun partner, Michael Castillo plays this week @SonyOpenHawaii Today he will take part in the training round with the 37th number of the world Adam Scott. Get down this week, Adam and Michael! pic.twitter.com/TnnmoRPOFM
— Throne (@Throne) January 11, 2023
Adam Scott, 42, jokingly said he was happy he wasn’t the oldest player this week.
“I get these youthful vibes,” Scott said. “Most weeks it feels like I’m the oldest person on tour or on the field these days. I think it’s a great story. He qualified at age 60 for his first Sony Open. I think it’s a great story about the game. It’s like Fred Koop, who is obviously a superstar, but throws 60. How would he, [he] is, 63? It’s a great game when things like this happen.”
PGA Tour Power Ranking
1. John Ram: The Spaniard rallied after throwing back seven-six in a turn to stun Collin Morikawa at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. It was Ram’s third win in his last five worldwide starts; he also won the Acciona Open de Espana and DP World Tour championships on the DP World Tour. He is first in tee shots (1.123) and third in shots: total (2.821).
2. Rory McIlroy: The #1 golfer in the world is set to make his debut in 2023 at the Dubai Desert Classic on January 26-29. Last year, he blasted his 72nd hole approach into the water to miss the playoffs and finished third. He will make his first PGA Tour start at the WM Phoenix Open and Genesis Invitational.
3. Patrick Cantley: In the 2021–2022 season, Cantley won just one individual heat (he also won the Zurich Classic with teammate Xander Schauffele), but it was a big hit in the BMW Championship, the second leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs. He lost in the playoffs to Scheffler at the WM Phoenix Open and Jordan Spit at the RBC Heritage and has been runner-up two more times since. If Cantley can make a deal, he could win multiple times next season.
4. Tony Finau: Few players were hotter than Finau at the end of last summer, when he won back-to-back starts at the 3M Open and the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Then he was first again at the Houston Open in November. Every aspect of his game is trending and he can look forward to a big, big year – maybe even winning his first major tournament.
5. Scotty Sheffler: Barely aside from the stick, the reigning Masters champion seems to be heating up again. He finished seventh in Kapalua, his third top 10 in a row. The usually reserved Scheffler also offered the best quote of the season.
Scheffler told reporters at the Tournament of Champions that he and his wife ran into Bubba Watson and his wife at a restaurant while on vacation in Tennessee. Asked about hosting the Dinner of Champions at the Augusta National in April, Scheffler joked: “I said [Bubba] that I’m just going to set aside a separate table for him in the corner. I’m kidding, obviously.”
Watson, a two-time Masters winner, is one of six former greenjacket wearers who now compete in the LIV Golf League.
6. Xander Schauffele: Along with beating Kantley in New Orleans, Schauffele has won back-to-back starts at the Traveler Championship and the Scottish Open in 2022. Championship. A nagging back injury forced him to withdraw from the Tournament of Champions.
7. Viktor Hovland: The Norwegian struggled with his short game and consistency last season, but his extra work with short game guru Josh Gregory seems to be paying off. Hovland ranked 191st in scoring: around the field (-.651) last season. He’s 41st (.330) so far this season. He won the Hero World Challenge, an unofficial event hosted by Tiger Woods in the Bahamas, for the second time in a row and placed 10th at Mayakob.
8. Justin Thomas: With his alma mater, Alabama, missing out on the college football playoffs, the reigning PGA Championship winner had a busy December. He won the latest iteration of The Match with Spieth and competed against his father Mike in the PNC Championship….