The Thunderclap

The Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, Hawaii is turning into a real story. What began as a soggy, hopeless, rain-bashed course with thoughts that the tournament might even be cancelled, has unfolded into a compelling story about mastery, a mystical change to the good in the weather and a good, old fashioned horse race on the final day where literally anybody in the field could win.

Because Thursday’s round was postponed due to driving rain and an underwater golf course, Friday and Saturday were devoted to getting the full field of 144 players through the first 36 holes. That done and with Stuart Appleby and Japan’s, Shigeki Maruyama, tied for the lead at 10-under par, Sunday will be devoted to getting the last 36 holes in.

In order to play 36 on Sunday, an extremely unusual, very creative solution has been put in place. This time of year, the problem is daylight. Normally, the cut is the top 70 players and ties. But that would be too many players to funnel through the limited daylight. So the Tour acknowledged the satisfactory play of all 70 players and ties by giving the last 14 credit for a cut made and a paycheck, but only the top 56 players will actually be playing the final 36 holes.

With the two leaders at 10-under and the 14 remaining last players tied at 3-under, it could be a final round ending with a miraculous thunderclap. Among those players are the defending champion, Ryan Palmer; Aussie, Aaron Baddeley, one of three players who shot a 6-under 64 yesterday; and flawless swinger, Jonathan Byrd, who has a whole new sense of himself after having won last week’s Tournament of Champions on Maui.

So the logic for those 14 players at 3-under is that if they could just shoot two 65’s, that wouldn’t be such an implausible reach and would leave them at 13-under and hoping that Appleby and Maruyama have a flat day. For his part, Appleby said that two 63’s might get it done. But inherent in that guess is his comfort in the improbability of that happening; nobody’s done it yet this week. And it would be hard to imagine doing it with the physical and mental rigor of a 36-hole day.

Appleby has ample personal experience with thunderclap shots, having holed out an eagle-2 in the first round. And yesterday, after a wallowing round that included hitting it into the grandstands on the par-3 17th for bogey (his 8th hole of the day), he finished off the round by making birdie on 7, 8 and 9. That stretch of salvation began with a 90-foot chip-in on the par-3 7th, where the tee shot was indicative of the wallowing and the chip shot, the thunderclap.

Trying to divine who would be capable of pulling this off today, I noted that every one of the first 11 players on the leaderboard has already shot a 65, as has four others including Ernie Els. And three guys, including rebounding Anthony Kim, shot 6-under 64’s.

And there’s one last issue to keep an eye on that may come under the category of, “Does voodoo work?” You will recall that Appleby “lost” his Odyssey putter in Maui when he accidently left it on the practice putting green. He was eventually reunited with it, but his absentmindedness caused him to have to play with spur-of-the-moment pro shop purchase. It was also an Odyssey, just a different model…which he played well with.

So when he arrived in Honolulu, he continued playing with it. But the “lost” putter was the same one that he shot 59 with last year. After having only 28 putts in the first round, he changed back to Old Faithful and had 28 putts with it. Why would he do that? And what does he do today?

As an excellent putter, I’ve used the same putter, a Ping Anser3, since 1986. As long as you have a properly engineered putter that feels right to you, your stroke matters more than your putter. As we’ve all seen with players who’ve suffered “broken” putters during a round, Tour players can putt with the leading edge of their sand wedges.

It could be quite a day. The Golf Channel at 7:00 PM (Eastern).

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