Sony Open Preview and Picks
All right, y’all this one is quick and dirty because your intrepid golf analyst had too much fun the last couple of days celebrating his NFL season, and not enough time producing content.
But I’m here now, just under the starting time for this of you who may want to book some golf sweats for the next four days.
Waialae Country Club is fairly short by Tour standards, and as such we’ve seen a lot of different types of players win here. Because the course is just over 7,000 yards and par 70, we’ve seen guys who tend to struggle with their driver but make up for it with iron play and short game do very well here. When guys like Patton Kizzire are reeling off wins here, you probably don’t need to be awesome with the driver to get the job done.
There aren’t a ton of courses that compare, but think hard about guys who have done well here in the past or have put up solid results at venues like Colonial or Hilton Head, which also tend to favor precise irons and short games.
Dudes will need to make birdies here. This isn’t quite as much of a birdie-fest as last week at the Sentry TOC, but expect the winner to be at least -18 this week unless the wind kicks up in a big way.
What we’re looking for
There are a few trends that tend to guide handicapping events where very particular guys tend to play well. On Tour, some shorter hitters simply have a hard time being competitive on long bomber-friendly courses, so they are pretty easy to toss out for handicapping purposes on those weeks. Guys who make a living around the greens and putt well on Bermuda are worth a long think in this event.
Five of the last six winners played in the Sentry TOC the week before. A lot of the upper-tier participants tend to skip the Sony, but guys like Sungjae and Tom Kim are here this week because this is a really good course for them to be competitive as comparatively shorter hitters on Tour.
Seventeen of the past eighteen winners have played this course before, so we’re also looking for guys who are familiar with this funky short layout.
Add in precision iron play and single out stats that measure iron proximity from 125-150 and 150-200 yards.
You can pretty much toss out driving stats here. Shorter hitter will play driver when they can, and it won’t hold them back much. Bombers like Gary Woodland can keep their wild driver in the bag and move around the course just fine with a three wood or driving iron.
I’m going to go ahead and give out a list of guys who fit the criteria we’re looking for this week. I’m going to put them in tiers and for the purposes of wagering, I’ll tell you how many I think you should snag from each tier.
Horse for the Course
These guys aren’t fooling anyone this week. This is a course that they should play well at and their odds reflect that. Tom Kim (11/1) and Sungjae (14/1) are at the top of the board on DraftKings and they should be. I expect them to do well, but I simply cannot bring myself to take a player at those odds.
Corey Conners (22/1) and KH Lee (30/1) are also solid options if you’re looking at guys with a very realistic shot of taking home some hardware at slightly longer odds.
If you’re grabbing a guy from this group for your betting card, I’d suggest taking only one for right now. Maybe Sungjae or someone else starts slow and you can grab them after the first round at inflated odds. Stacking a bunch of these players onto the card will kill your payouts in a hurry.
Mid-tier guys who fit the profile, but have some flaws
Mav McNealy (40/1) is a guy who I always expect more from. He makes cuts, but he doesn’t threaten the top of the board very often. His style of play and elite putting should make this a good fit.
Billy Horschel (30/1) could have gone in the previous section, but he played like garbage to start of his 2023 campaign at the Sentry TOC and slowly knocked off the rust. He shot three-over to begin the tourney last week, but managed to go nine-under on Saturday. The game is trending in the right direction, but a slow start like last week will effectively end his chances early.
J.T. Poston (40/1) is fun to think about here. He won at the John Deere which is a shorter, birdie-friendly tournament not dissimilar to this week. He’s an elite putter, so we just need the ball striking to make the trip from the Plantation Course over to Waialae.
Harris English (40/1) is another guy who should do well here. He gained six strokes on the field last year on the greens, so he’s clearly comfortable here. That being said, he’s been mired in golf purgatory as of late. He tends to shoot a couple good rounds and at least one garbage round every tournament. Free English from this prison and he could contend. The course should suit him just fine if his game shows up for four consecutive days. If you wanted to book him as a first-round leader, I don’t hate that bet either.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout (45/1) is a another strong short game guy who doesn’t hit it very far. He can compete here. He missed the Sentry TOC (because he didn’t qualify), but he did knock the rust off in South Africa recently, so it’s not like this is his first tourney back. He played pretty well here last year in his only appearance at this tournament, so look for him to improve on that.
Mackenzie Hughes (50/1) is the last short game wizard I’ll draw your attention to his week. He did not drive the ball well last week, but that won’t factor as much this week. The short game and iron play are there. At 50/1, not everyone is going to be perfect.
The last player I like is Gary Woodland (65/1). The man won a U.S Open in 2019, and these odds just feel disrespectful. He hasn’t played since November, and he’s been going through some equipment changes. He did finish top-10 in his previous start where he struck his irons particularly well. Gary doesn’t fit the mold of most of these guys as we typically consider him a bomber. That being said, he tends to do well on courses where his sometimes inaccurate driver can stay in the bag. He’s content to pound fairway woods and irons off the tee to keep himself in play. That won’t be a disadvantage this week.
The Japanese Contingent
There are a couple of guys headed to Hawaii with basically zero experience on the PGA Tour, but who have been absolutely tearing up the Japan Tour. We’re getting one of our first good looks at them this week and they are worth noting. Kazuki Higa (250/1) snared a special exemption to the Masters last week. He picked up four wins last year, mostly in Japan. He’s someone to keep an eye on this season.
Likewise with Taiga Semikawa (350/1). This man balled in Japan last year, winning three times on their premier tour. He turned pro after winning the Japanese Open (a major on the Japan Tour) where he beat some pretty solid players. He’s taking a stab at the PGA Tour now and is another guy to keep your eye on.
I’d recommend taking one of those top tier guys this week, whichever one calls out to you. Then I’d pair him with maybe three of the other guys we’ve mentioned at longer odds.This gives you a deep card with a shot at some really solid payouts. You’ll have some flexibility if you wanted to tack on someone like Taiga just for kicks, if you play it like this, as well. Or you can add someone you were eyeballing after they start off slow and the odds get a little longer.