Sony Open preview: Justin Thomas back to defend title with 'Bones' Mackay on bag

Justin Thomas began the 2017 Sony Open with a captivating 59, eventually defeating Justin Rose by seven shots. The reigning Player of the Year is back this year to defend his title.

Jimmy Johnson, Thomas’ full-time caddie, left the Tournament of Champions with an injury, forcing Thomas to use his father as a fill-in. Thomas has turned to former Phil Mickelson caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay this week.

The second of two annual Hawaii events, the Sony Open often gets overshadowed by its predecessor — the Tournament of Champions. But the event boasts an impressive field this week, featuring two of the top four players in the game.

Thomas and Kevin Kisner, both in the field this week, already have a competition Monday night. Thomas a former Alabama Crimson Tide, and Kisner, a former Georgia Bulldog, have an interesting bet riding on the college football national championship game.

The Course

Waialae Country club is one of the flattest courses on Tour, but it doesn’t lack in beauty. Difficult tee-to-green, players usually find low scores hard to find (don’t tell Thomas that). Wind plays a big factor here. If it gusts around 20 mph, players will struggle, but calm conditions leave the course exposed to birdies.

Holes 9 and 10 could be a key stretch for contenders. The short par-5 ninth hole provides eagle opportunities, while the 10th is the shortest par 4 on the course at 351 yards. 

Favorites

Thomas, ranked fourth in the world, emerged as a favorite every time he teed it up last year, and considering he already has a win this season, the same should be expected in 2018. 

Jordan Spieth finished third here last year, and his precision iron game and excellent putting bode well on this shot-maker’s course. Spieth hasn’t won since capturing the Open Championship, but he has rattled off seven straight top 10s.

Brian Harman, Tony Finau and Kisner are also top names to watch this week. Harman has recorded four straight top-8 finishes, Kisner finished t-4 here last year, and Finau has five top 16s in his last six starts.

Sleepers

Zach Johnson has been a top-10 machine here since winning in 2009, but his overall form has taken a tumble since finishing runner-up at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Jamie Lovemark and Peter Uihlein are two young stars poised to make noise this season. Lovemark has recorded two straight top 10s here, including a t-4 last season. Uihlein joined the PGA Tour this season after spending the majority of his career in Europe.

Horse for the Course

Charles Howell III has recorded five top-13 finishes here since 2012, including a t-3 in 2013 and a t-2 in 2012. Howell is one of the most accurate drivers on Tour and an excellent iron and wedge player. 

Howell recently picked up a t-4 at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, so he enters the week in good form. Expect to see Howell’s name near the top of the leaderboard this week.

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