SONY OPEN IN HAWAII PREVIEW
This week players head to Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, Hawaii for the Sony Open. As has been the case for as long as I can remember, the Sony Open represents the first full field event on the PGA Tour calendar. The field is relatively strong (who wouldn’t want to play in Hawaii in January?) with many names from last week’s Tournament of Champions heading over to the Main Island. Justin Thomas will be seeking his second Hawaii double after winning last week and will be joined by the likes of Reed, Simpson, Matsuyama, Leishman, Kisner, Im, Niemann, Morikawa and defending champ Matt Kuchar. Waialae has been the host for this event since its inception way back in 1965, making this track one of the most familiar on Tour. Before we further break down what players will see this week, let’s recap last week’s TOC.
TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS RECAP
2020 opened with some exciting, Sunday evening primetime viewing. JT entered 18 in regulation with a one shot lead and proceeded to toe shank a 3 wood into the hazard resulting in a bogey. Xander told JT to hold his beer and 3 putted for par. Both players finished regulation tied with Patty Reed who drained a 25 footer on 18 to shoot 67 and get to 14 under 2 groups prior. Xander was eliminated in the first playing of 18 and JT and Reed went back to the tee roughly a million times before a birdie finally crowned JT the 2020 TOC winner, his 2nd title at Kapalua. Nothing better than primetime golf! The Outrights offered here last week were very underwhelming. Gary was in a position to put together a round and get into contention (he was 1 up on Reed going into the day) but couldn’t get anything going, finishing T7 with Morikawa. Cantlay played well but finished 3 back at 11 under, 4th overall. Now, onto the second stop of the Hawaii swing, Waialae.
Waialae Country Club is a relative straight forward Par 70 measuring at 7,044 yards. Whereas last week players faced blind shots with an abundance of elevation changes, Waialae plays like a traditional Country Club with a flat design, relatively tight fairways and small greens. The two Par 5s come on 9 and 18 and play as the easiest holes on the course. Honestly, compared to what we saw last week Waialae is a boring track.
Waialae will offer a somewhat difficult test off the tee as it has consistently ranked in the top 15 for hardest fairways to hit as it plays fast and drives will constantly run off the short cut and into the Bermuda rough. In recent years the rough height simply hasn’t been penal which has tended to result in extremely low scores.
Without penal rough, Waialae turns into a second shot course. The Bermuda greens are flat, but if anyone has ever putted on Bermuda they know they can be very tricky to read. I will be looking for players that have displayed comfort on Bermuda surfaces (I HATE putting on Bermuda!)
Let’s be real here. All that matters to the difficulty and playability of any Hawaii course is the strength of the Trade Winds. We have seen winners here from -13 to -27, doesn’t take a seasoned handicapper to figure out why. Currently the forecast calls for extremely strong winds which will put the pure ball strikers in even more of an advantage. Frankly, I hope there Is some absolute carnage and I anticipate the wind resulting in an extremely bunched leaderboard and another competitive Sunday evening, primetime tournament.
I’m not much of a trend guy, frankly most are absolutely worthless. With that said, there are a few here that are impossible to ignore and will shape my card to a certain extent (I hit Kuchar here last year following these trends). Players who played at Kapalua last week have historically had an advantage at the Sony Open. Of the past 21 champions, 15 played in Maui the week before. I will be looking for guys who played decent last week. Further, 13 of the past 14 champs have played the Sony at least once prior to winning, suggesting a bit of familiarity is required. With those factors in mind, lets look at this week’s Plays.
Joaquin Niemann +3300 – This kid is an absolute ball striking machine. Niemann is coming off a solo 5th last week after gaining strokes in all 5 main strokes gained categories. He has a recent swing season win at the Greenbrier where he absolutely HOUSED the field is coming off a decent performance at the President’s Cup where he gained valuable experience being paired with Marc Leishman against Tiger and Thomas in Day One’s Four Ball competition.. While stroke gained data is limited for swing season events, he has gained strokes on approach in every tournament recorded since the end of May, 14 events. Now, this will be his debut at Waialae but last week was also his first TOC appearance and he clearly had no issue with the Bermuda greens, gaining 3.5 strokes putting. This is an absurd price for a kid with this kind of firepower and I’ll gladly take Joaquin anywhere close to this price.
Corey Conners +5000 – Long time readers know my love for Mr. Conners. Corey is an absolute ball striking machine who putts like he has never seen a putter before. Talk about tilting! Let’s get the trends out of the way before we gush over his ball striking acumen. Conners played the TOC last week and while he didn’t fare too well score wise, he did gain 2.4 strokes on approach. Check that box. Conners made his Sony Open debut last year, finishing 3rd and gaining a whopping 7.1 strokes on approach in doing so. Another check. Now the best part. Conners finished 7th on tour in Strokes Gained Approach last year. SEVENTH! Guy can absolutely stripe it and when the rough isn’t penal he will have birdie opportunity after birdie opportunity given his ball striking ability. The question will be whether or not he can make a 15 footer of 3. If he can, he wins going away and if I can check those trend boxes and get a ball striking machine at 50/1 I will take it every time.
Vaughn Taylor Top 20 +300 – This is a pure form play as Taylor has displayed very good form his last two appearances notching a 10th and 2nd in consecutive outings. Taylor’s game is all around solid, but his Bermuda putting is what is really special. Taylor ranks 7th in Strokes Gained Putting in this field over the last 50 rounds putting on Bermuda, gaining a half shot per round on average. While Taylor is basically an average putter on the other two most seen surfaces, Bent and Poa, but he shines on Bermuda. This may be attributed to growing up in the South where Bermuda is prevalent. Whatever the reason, his all around form and clear advantage on this surface makes a 3/1 number for a top 20 an excellent wager.
(from the editor: Originally, James had a fade of Kevin Na in the matchup section vs. Daniel Berger, but with Na’s withdrawal, we have edited the post. Check JD ‘s Twitter to see if he adds anything else to his plays for the tournament and follow @bangthebook as we’ll be sure to RT any adds to the card)
That is it for this week’s breakdown! Thank you for reading. Make sure you follow my Twitter @jmazzjd for my full card, usually out Wednesday Morning. Also, I will be adding to my Outright card as the tournament progresses and will post all additions there as well.