Maruyama and the rest of the field are facing strong winds in Honolulu.
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Friday, January 16, 2009

HONOLULU (AP) — A half-dozen years ago, when Shigeki Maruyama was a regular fixture on golf's leaderboards, there was a memorable photo of him crouching behind the tee box at Muirfield during a third round of 40 mph wind and rain in the British Open.

Maruyama emerged from PGA Tour obscurity Thursday with a 5-under 65 for a one-shot lead in the Sony Open.

And if he thought the wind was bad in the opening round at Waialae, the Japanese star might want to seek shelter again.

Even as Maruyama was discussing his poor performance last year, his worst season of the decade, tour officials were huddled around forecast monitors that showed potential gusts of up to 50 mph.

Public schools in Honolulu were closed for Friday. A few hours later, Waialae lost power.

If the wind is so strong that golf balls wouldn't stay still on the green - or even the tee - Maruyama might have the lead on the weekend if the second round can't be played.

``We're going to take every precaution,'' rules official Mark Russell said.

Thursday was tough enough, with a steady 20 mph wind that caused the tour to move tees forward at least 30 yards on two holes. Maruyama, trying to rebuild his confidence after a year of physical and mental strain, kept himself grounded.

``I knew the weather report was for a lot of wind today, so I was mentally prepared when I got to the golf course,'' Maruyama said. ``Then I snap-hooked one on the first hole, but all I was trying to do really all day was just keep my rhythm, keep my tempo.''

He managed just fine, taking the outright lead with a tee shot to 5 feet on the par-3 17th for a one-shot lead over Geoff Ogilvy, Boo Weekley, Brian Gay, Nathan Green and PGA Tour rookie Webb Simpson.

Maruyama is playing on a sponsor's exemption because his only other status is as a past champion. He's won three times on the PGA Tour, all earlier in the decade when he was in the top 20 in the world rankings, played on the Presidents Cup team and was smiling around the course.

Then came shoulder and knee injuries, and he tried to swing harder to compensate for a gradual loss of power, which made him hit it shorter and crooked, the worst combination in golf.

He fell to No. 207 on the PGA Tour money list, losing his card, and is ranked No. 255.

Maruyama, whose son goes to school in Los Angeles where he has a second home, went back to Japan for the final five months of the season to recharge. He tried to rebuild his swing, picked up a pair of top 3 finishes on the Japan Golf Tour, and brought that momentum to the shores of Waikiki Beach.

``I really like the Waialae Country Club. I've always played well,'' Maruyama said. ``Maybe the main reason is it's not as long as some of the courses we play on tour. It's a course that I can play well distance-wise.''

His birdie on the 17th knocked Ogilvy off the top of the leaderboard for the first time this year.

Then again, the Sony Open is only the second tournament of the year. Ogilvy led from start to finish last week in the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship at Kapalua, and had few complaints Thursday in making six birdies for his 66.

``Everyone who played last week is at an advantage coming here, because they have all got a week of tournament golf under their belt, a week in the wind under their belt, same sort of grass,'' Ogilvy said.

That would explain Weekley and Gay also having good starts, but the surprise was Simpson.

An engaging graduate of Wake Forest, he tried to get his card without going to Q-school last summer by taking sponsors' exemptions on the PGA Tour, but that made him wonder if he was good enough. He made it through qualifying a month ago to get his card, and his first tee shot was a short par 4 lined with palm trees swaying in the morning sunshine.

``I was pretty nervous,'' Simpson said. ``I said a quick prayer before I teed off, and I was fine.''

The group at 67 included Luke Donald, Charles Howell III and Brendon de Jonge, who won the Nationwide Tour money title last year.

The teenagers held their own, too.

Tadd Fujikawa, an 18-year-old senior in high school playing the Sony Open for the third straight year, took double bogey on the tough opening hole and settled down the rest of the way for a 71, leaving him a good chance to make his first PGA Tour cut as a pro. He tied for 20th two years ago as an amateur.

Lorens Chan, the 14-year-old who earned the amateur exemption, had two birdies in his round of 72.

Defending champion K.J. Choi bogeyed the par-5 18th for a 68 in the afternoon, when sunshine was interrupted by a downpour that lasted 10 minutes before the sun returned. He spoke for many in the field when he described the difficulty of the wind.

``First time in the Kona wind,'' he said ``Today is more difficult than the last time, especially short putts. The grain is going left-to-right, the wind is blowing left-to-right. Very confusing.''

As for the rain?

``Six times with the umbrella,'' he said.

You May Like