HONOLULU (AP) — K.J. Choi is leading the Sony Open, and 18 players who made the cut won’t be around to chase after him.
Choi made quite a turnaround from last week, when he was in last place among the 31 winners at Kapalua for the Mercedes-Benz Championship. Seven days later, he birdied his last three holes for a 5-under 65 and a two-shot lead over Kevin Na.
“I knew that I was going to play better than last week, but I didn’t really think about being in the lead or anything,” Choi said.
He was long gone from Waialae Country Club when a volcano of sorts erupted on Oahu.
Far down the leaderboard, several players were hot under the collar. The PGA Tour changed its cut policy for this year, and it sent 18 players home early with $9,699 in official money, 46 points toward the FedEx Cup, but no tee time for the weekend.
One of those players was John Daly, who birdied the last hole for a 68 to finish at even-par 140. Only when he was on the 18th green did Daly learn that top 70 and ties might not be enough to keep playing.
The new policy allows for top 70 and ties, but when the number of players who make the cut exceeds 78 players, only the closest number to 70 players return for the final two rounds. In this case, 69 players finished at 1 under.
“I don’t understand the rule. I think it’s crazy. It’s a stupid rule, I’m sorry,” Daly told the Golf Channel. “I grinded my butt off to shoot even. Then I find out on 18 you may not be playing. I just wish we would have known.”
Brandt Snedeker was another guy who didn’t read the memo.
He finished at even-par 140, went into the scoring trailer and was told that 1 under likely would be the playing cut, and even par would make the cut. He didn’t know the difference, and wasn’t pleased when he found out after a call to a tour official in Florida.
“A non-playing cut I don’t think is going to help the tour,” he said. “You lose that chance.”
That chance refers to players like Brad Faxon, Chris Couch and Jose Maria Olazabal, all of whom have made the cut on the number over the years and went on to win the tournament.
But with weekend fields reaching the upper 80s, leading to five-hour rounds starting on both tees, the Players Advisory Council recommended a change in the cut policy. The board, after twice tabling the proposal, approved it November.
Daly was most furious that he didn’t know, and he suspects most players didn’t.
But he probably doesn’t know Parker McLachlin, who read the memo in November and talked to policy board member Joe Ogilvie about it during the offseason. He knew exactly what was at stake when he made birdie on his final hole to finish at 1 under.
“Right now it’s easier to talk about it being on the inside,” he said. “But it’s yet to be seen how it affects us.”
It didn’t affect Tadd Fujikawa either way.
A year after he became the youngest player in 50 years to make the cut on the PGA Tour, the 17-year-old from Honolulu couldn’t make enough birdies and was doomed late by a double bogey that sent him to an even-par 70 for 144, missing the cut by four shots.
In nine tournaments on five tours since turning pro last summer, he still hasn’t cashed a check.
“I gave it a good run,” said Fujikawa, who returns to the 11th grade Monday. “I didn’t want it to end, but I had fun.”
No one is having more fun than Choi.
His fortunes began to change last week at Kapalua when he closed with 69-69 on the weekend, and it carried over at Waialae. He followed his opening 64 with solid golf, then poured it on at the end with three birdies, all of them inside 10 feet.
“After the third round (last week), I really found my rhythm coming back,” Choi said. “My putting was getting better, and I was actually motivated.”
Na was motivated by seeing Choi at 11-under 129. He was on the putting green, still at 3 under, when he set a goal of playing with Choi in the final group Saturday. It sure didn’t start out that way. Na hooked his tee shot into the trees, had to pitch out sideways, and saved par from 70 yards. Then he hit into a bunker and scrambled for another par.
“First two holes were a shaky start,” he said. “Then I got back on track and started playing real well again.”
Na still struggles with his vision, having eye surgery last month and wondering if it got worse. But he can see the ball when he swings, and he can see it disappear into the hole, so that’s enough for him at the moment.
Stephen Marino also had eye surgery in the offseason.
“I went through a few caddies last year, and they all told me I was blind,” he said.
Marino is seeing much better, and he shot a 67 to be in third place at 132, three shots behind. He holed a couple of birdie putts from 20 feet, hit a few irons close enough not to worry and was atop the leaderboard coming to the par-5 ninth, the easiest scoring hole on the course. But he found a bunker, with the ball on a slope, and just got it out into tricky rough.
His chip ran 8 feet by the hole, and Marino took bogey that felt much worse.
“That kind of halted me a little bit, to make bogey on that hole,” he said. “But I made a couple of long birdie putts earlier, and it all evens itself out in the end.”
He will be paired with 51-year-old Fred Funk, who got a swing tip from his wife after Thursday’s round and put that to good use with a 64, including a birdie-eagle finish.
“Not bad for an old guy,” Funk said.