After an exciting week (and eventful finish) to the year’s first event, the PGA Tour stays in Hawaii for the Sony Open. It’s time to head to Oahu and Waialae Country Club, which has hosted the tournament for all 55 years of its existence. For many players this marks the first start of the new year, while some decorated holdovers will make the short trip from Maui. With topics ranging from a red-hot winner to slumping veterans and one particular course horse, here are four questions to ponder as the Aloha swing continues: Golf Central JT betting favorite to complete Hawaiian double BY Will Gray — January 7, 2020 at 1:52 PM Fresh off his playoff win at Kapalua, Justin Thomas is listed as the betting favorite this week at the Sony Open as the PGA Tour stays in Hawaii. What can JT do for an encore? Three years ago Justin Thomas captured the Sentry Tournament of Champions, hopped a short flight to Oahu and put an opening-round 59 on the board at Sony. It was the start of what turned into a career year, complete with five wins including a major. This time around, Thomas returns to Honolulu after surviving a chaotic playoff at Kapalua for his third win in his last seven starts. His form may not be quite as red-hot as it was back in 2017, but it’s probably not that far off, either. Another strong performance would only further stamp Thomas’ name as one to watch as the new year gets underway – even if he doesn’t break 60 this time around. Getty Images Did this week’s winner play last week? There might not be two Tour venues more disparate than Kapalua and Waialae: one is a sprawling, hilly landscape where drives can push 400 yards while the other is a cozy, flat layout where players can almost leave the driver at home. But there’s been a significant correlation in recent years as each of the last six winners of the Sony Open started their year the week before at Kapalua. It’s not exactly a fair fight, given that a spot at the Sentry means you played well enough to win an event the previous year, but it’s something to keep an eye on as 21 of the 34 players from last week are in the Sony field. The last time the trophy went to a player who wasn’t in Maui the week prior? That would be 2013, when Russell Henley won in his first start as a rookie. Sony Open in Hawaii: Full-field tee times | Full coverage Getty Images Can two former champs get back on track? Zach Johnson and Jimmy Walker have several traits in common. They’re both former major champs, both north of 40 years old and both former winners at the Sony: Johnson in 2009, while Walker went back-to-back in 2014-15. But the two also return to Hawaii in the midst of similar slides, as they both missed the FedExCup playoffs entirely last season. Johnson has fallen outside the top 200 in the world and is more than a year removed from his last top-10 finish, while Walker hasn’t completed 72 holes since the Rocket Mortgage Classic in June and will be making his first start since the Sanderson Farms Championship nearly four months ago. Getty Images Is this the year CH III gets over the hump? Charles Howell III has had success at Waialae. A ton of success, actually: 10 top-10 finishes in 18 prior appearances, with only one over-par round since 2012. It’s a set of credentials that could set him up to run for mayor of Honolulu down the road, but there’s a conspicuous asterisk involved: despite his affinity for the venue, Howell has not yet won the event, coming closest in 2012 when he tied for second. Consistent play not translating into victories is nothing new for Howell, who hasn’t played since a missed cut in defense of his RSM Classic title. But he would love nothing more than to finally get his name on the trophy after feasting on Waialae for nearly 20 years, and coming off a fall that included four top-20 finishes there’s ample reason to think this might (finally) be his week.
Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti has dismissed rumours he is set to quit the club after the team’s string of poor performances.The West London club have lost three of their last four Premier League matches, including their worst home defeat since 2002 and have not suffered consecutive defeats since the 2005-06 season.Ancelotti even admitted after the Birmingham match he was not in complete control of the club. In a press conference on Monday however, he rubbished suggestions he is going to quit the side.He said, “I don’t know if it’s enough to clarify my position to close these rumours and speculation. These rumours are totally untrue. I don’t know why they came out.”The Italian also quashed reports he had contacted the League Managers’ Association [LMA] about resigning.“I didn’t speak with the LMA,” he added. “They called me [on Sunday night] when I was at home, quiet, to find out what was happening. “These rumours are totally untrue. I have my contract until 2012, here, in this club. I’ve said a lot of times that I’d like to stay here.”During the club’s run of poor form, assistant coach Ray Wilkins, who Ancelotti had praised glowingly in his autobiography, was sacked. Many senior players decried the situation and there were implication a civil war was raging at Stamford Bridge.Ancelotti has rejected these suggestions. He said: “I love not just this club, but these players. I have a lot of confidence in these players, in this squad, so there’s no reason to change my ideas.”The 51-year-old admitted the losses were hurting the team, but he believes this is merely the lot of a coach.“I think that when the team don’t reach the right results, obviously the coach is under pressure,” he added. “Obviously I am under pressure because I’d like Chelsea to win every game, but just this. “I am the coach and I have to train my players to maintain the team, the club, at the best level. Now, this moment is not so good on the pitch and we have to do better there.“Obviously I understand very well because I had a lot of occasions like this in my career. The coach is in trouble when the team doesn’t produce results, but this is my life. I like my life.“I’m not disappointed about this. I’m disappointed because Chelsea have lost three in four games, and this is not good: for me, the players, the club, for my job. We want to do better there.”
Still, the Tigers will stay in the top four as long as they don’t lose a game. Chances are they won’t either, knowing their remaining opponents entered Week 8 with a combined 18-11 record. Wake Forest — the only one-loss team left on the schedule — comes to Death Valley.If Clemson does what it’s supposed to do and wins out, then it will take a 28-game win streak into the College Football Playoff. If they tie Florida State’s win streak at 29 in the national semifinals, then nobody can complain about the ACC competition.The Tigers will be playing for a chance at their third national championship in four seasons, and that would end that comparison with those Seminoles once and for all. MORE: Lawrence meets Clemson’s most important standard: Get the winWe know how Florida State and Winston’s season ended in 2014. The Seminoles saw their decade-best 29-win streak snapped in a 59-20 loss to Oregon in the first CFP semifinal at the Rose Bowl. The perception is Clemson will suffer the same faceplant in 2019, even if they run through the rest of their regular season schedule without a loss.Are those comparisons to FSU accurate? Let’s do some myth-busting:Are Lawrence’s interceptions like Winston’s?Lawrence put up 3,280 yards, 30 touchdowns and four interceptions in a 2018 season in which he took the starting job from Kelly Bryant and led the Tigers to a 44-16 victory against Alabama in the national championship. That created over-the-top expectations for 2019, which Lawrence has not met compared to the other contenders such as Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, LSU’s Joe Burrow and Ohio State’s Justin Fields.Winton broke out in 2013 with a Heisman Trophy-winning season that included 4,057 yards, 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Those totals regressed to 3,907 yards, 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in 2014, even though FSU still finished the regular season with a perfect 13-0 record.The perception is Lawrence is having a Winston-like season, but that’s not exactly the case. To this point, Lawrence’s interceptions haven’t hurt Clemson. On Saturday, the first interception was a miscommunication with Amari Rodgers. The second pick was on Lawrence. He finished 3 of 7 for 9 yards and two interceptions in the first quarter, and it did not matter.That’s because Lawrence also threaded touchdown receptions to Joe Ngata and Justyn Ross that built a 17-3 halftime lead against the Cardinals. He hit Cornell Powell for a third score in the second half. The risky throws evened out, and Lawrence finished 20 of 29 passing for 233 yards and added 10 carries for 47 yards.Lawrence has been picked apart more for his on-field performance than Winston, who was criticized more for his off-field behavior at Florida State. Lawrence might not be in the Heisman Trophy discussion, but he can win a game against those other contending quarterbacks.A few more interceptions do not change that fact.MORE: Clemson’s Andrew Booth ejected after punching Louisville playerPoint differentialThrough seven games, Clemson has outscored opponents 280-84, a 196-point differential that is almost identical to last season’s mark of 294-94 (plus-200) through seven games.So the notion the Tigers aren’t beating ACC competition as much this season is also false, and there are two factors not being talked about as much as they should. Clemson can still play defense and run the football. The Tigers’ defense is playing better this season despite heavy losses to the 2019 NFL Draft. That defense forced three turnovers Saturday and has allowed more than 14 points just once this season. The running game is on track with Travis Etienne (14 carries, 192 yards, touchdown).FSU had plus-277 point differential through its first seven games in 2013, and that dropped to plus-114 after seven games in 2014. The Seminoles played three one-score games in that stretch, too. Clemson has played one game decided by one score or less, and it dropped from No. 1 to No. 2 after that 21-20 victory against North Carolina. The Tigers are being penalized because of the perception of their ACC competition. The reality is, not much has changed from 2018.Florida State dealt with that too, but that wasn’t the whole story in 2014.MORE: UNC’s upset bid of Clemson falls flat with curious 2-point conversion attemptBiggest difference between Clemson, Florida StateThat Florida State run came with off-field distractions around Winston for two seasons, and despite going unbeaten in the regular season, the Seminoles were ranked No. 3 behind one-loss Alabama and Oregon heading into the first Playoff. The committee was right in that decision, too. Clemson is operating with the same slim margin for error given the one-loss pileup that could occur in 2019. The Tigers could land in a similar spot in the CFP rankings at No. 3, even if they finish undefeated this season. When Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw his second interception in the first half of Saturday’s 45-10 victory against Louisville, the comparisons flared up again.The Tigers, coming off 15-0 national championship season, are perceived as this year’s version of 2014 Florida State, which had a tough time defending its national championship during the first season of the College Football Playoff. Likewise, Lawrence has drawn comparisons to former FSU quarterback Jameis Winston with each interception. Lawrence now has eight interceptioins on the season, double his picks totals from last season in half as many games.