(Reuters) - Deflated though he was after his playoff loss at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Monday, Jimmy Walker knows his game is in good shape ahead of his title defense at this week’s Sony Open on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
The 35-year-old American was especially sharp with his iron game last week at the Kapalua Resort on Maui, where his title bid was undone by a few putts that got away over the closing stretch.
“I was hitting it good,” world number 17 Walker, a three-times winner on the PGA Tour, told reporters after being edged out by fellow American Patrick Reed at the first extra hole in the elite winners-only event at Kapalua.
“No doubt about it. I felt like I could do whatever I wanted with the golf ball with an iron. Even off the tees, it felt good. I was hitting the ball good all week. Just a couple of (missed) putts.
“So I look forward to taking that into Waialae where it’s even more of a premium there. That’s a real shot-shaper golf course.”
While Kapalua’s par-73 Plantation Course is the hilliest venue on the PGA Tour with expansive fairways, the par-70 layout at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu is flat, tight and fringed with palm trees.
“It’s one of the harder courses on Tour to hit fairways ... but I like the golf course, and I’ll keep coming back,” said Walker. “I’ve always felt like I could play well here.”
Walker won last year’s title at Waialae by one shot after storming clear of a crowded leaderboard with four birdies in the last six holes.
“I stayed real patient on the front, only made one birdie through the first eight holes,” he said of his victory, one of three in his first eight starts on the 2013-14 PGA Tour.
“Made some birdies on the back, hit some really good shots ... and I felt in control all day with my emotions.”
Apart from Walker, four other members of the world’s top 20 will be competing this week at Waialae — eighth-ranked Australian Jason Day, Americans Matt Kuchar (11th) and Zach Johnson (20th), and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama (15th).
Johnson, who won the Sony Open in 2009 and completed the Hawaiian ‘double’ with victory at last year’s Tournament of Champions, has been paired with Walker and 2013 champion Russell Henley for Thursday’s opening round.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue