The Sony Open
It was a profitable start to 2020 for us all be it with a case of the ‘what might have beens’ as our headline pick at Kapalua Patrick Reed lost out in a three man play off to Justin Thomas at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
After a sluggish third round had seen Reed fall four shots off the pace he produced a final round of 66 in the wind to tie JT and Xander Schauffele. Allowing for the time difference here in the UK I saw none of the final round action however it sounds like there was an element of fortune to Patrick making the play off at all after Thomas took a six on the 18th and Xander took five after three putting the final hole, so although Reed then subsequently missed a couple of putts, which would have bagged him the trophy I don’t think we can complain too much.
Moving on and 2020 on the PGA Tour continues apace in to the second week of the ‘Hawaii swing’ as we island hop from Maui to Ohau and arrives in Honolulu the capital city of the state for the Sony Open, the first full field event of the new year.
The Sony Open was first played on the PGA Tour in 1965 and as been held at the same venue Waialae Country Club since its inception.
The first lead sponsor was United Airlines who took up the duties in 1991 before current sponsor Sony took over the reins in 1999.
23 players from the Sentry Tournament of Champions are due to tee it up at the Sony including defending champion Matt Kuchar.
At the time of writing the winner in Maui and 2017 winner in Honolulu [the year he landed the Hawaii double] Justin Thomas, is a clear market favourite, followed by the man he beat in last weeks playoff Patrick Reed.
This pair are then followed in the market by Webb Simpson, Hideki Matsuyama, Collin Morikawa, Matt Kuchar and Sungjae Im.
As noted above the event has been hosted at the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu since it was first played on tour in 1965.
The course was designed by Seth Raynor who also designed the Old White Course used for the Greenbrier.
The course is a Par 70 playing to just over 7000 yards and features Bermuda greens.
The two par 5s are the 9th and the 18th. Both are great birdie opportunities with the 9th usually playing to the easier stroke average of the two.
While the fairways aren’t overly tight at Waialae it is important to find them as the key to success here is accurate approach play in to smallish greens to set up plenty of birdie opportunities. In a nutshell strong iron play and a hot putter will be the order of the day to get the job done.
As is always the case in Hawaii wind is also a key factor here and how much it blows is largely responsible for dictating how tough or otherwise the course will play.
So, let’s take a look at the last ten winners;
2019 – M Kuchar
2018 – P Kizzire
2017 – J Thomas
2016 – F Gomez
2015 – J Walker
2014 – J Walker
2013 – R Henley
2012 – J Wagner
2011 – M Wilson
2010 – R Palmer
The most important factor to note here is that 7 of the last 10 editions of the event, including the last six, have been won by a player who had played in the Sentry Tournament of champions event the week before, so it pays to focus on those who teed it up at Kapalua.
The last player to win here without playing in Maui the week before was Russell Henley in 2013. Henley is also the only player in the last ten years to bag their first tour title here.
As we can see from the table below, which shows the finish of the winner of the Sony at Kapalua the week before, while it is not necessarily the case that the player who has won in Honolulu was right in the mix at Kapalua, a solid week there certainly appears to be the order of the day with Jimmy Walker’s 21st place finish in 2014 being the worst showing of any of the seven winners here who had played the previous week.
Sony Open Winners Sentry ToC Finish Previous Week
2019 – M Kuchar 19th
2018 – P Kizzire 15th
2017 – J Thomas 1st
2016 – F Gomez 6th
2015 – J Walker 2nd
2014 – J Walker 21st
2013 – R Henley DNP
2012 – J Wagner 9th
2011 – M Wilson DNP
2010 – R Palmer DNP
The highest winning score in the last 10yrs is -13 [KJ Choi] and in 5 of the last 7yrs the winning score has been -20 or lower so this is clearly a low scoring event.
Last year’s champion Matt Kuchar posted a total of -20.
Only 1 the last 10 winners was not American [Fabien Gomez]. Interestingly of the 9 American winners 4 were natives of Texas. Jimmy Walker [twice], Ryan Palmer & Johnson Wagner.
The other five winners to hail from the US over the past ten years, [Matt Kuchar, Patton Kizzire, Justin Thomas, Russell Henley & Mark Wilson] either hail from southern states or had a proven track record in events played in eastern/southern states of the US.
In other words while you can ‘never say never’ this is not historically an event won by players hailing from the West Coast of the US.
The next stat that certainly leaps out from the past couple of years is that the players who have won here in the shape of Matt Kuchar and Patton Kizzire also won the Mayakoba the previous fall, a feat that was also achieved in 2011/12 by Johnson Wagner.
There is no doubt that the two courses correlate well and on this basis I am sure Brendan Todd will do for many this week!
Finally while past course form is always useful it doesn’t seem hugely pertinent here. 2018 winner Patton kizzire had missed the cut on his only previous visit, whilst the likes of Fabien Gomez, Ryan Palmer & Mark Wilson had posted nothing higher than a 20th place between them before they won the event, and of course Henley was making his course debut.
It should be noted though that last years winner Matt Kuchar had a really solid bank of form here, which saw him finish 13th in 2016 and third, sixth and fifth in the three years prior to that.
Temperatures look set to sit in the low 80s throughout the week and while sunshine will predominantly be the order of the day like last week showers are likely to pop up throughout the week.
Also like last week the key factor in play looks like being the wind with all four days showing winds of 25mph+. Sunday in particular looks set to be challenging with gusts of up to 40mph in the forecast.
As I always say though this could all change!
Having completed the Hawaii double in 2017 it is hard to look past last weeks winner Justin Thomas with the only straw to clutch at being the fact that the nature of his victory in Maui, along with the conditions he battled, may have drained him mentally.
All in all though not many people, myself included, would be surprised to see JT lift the trophy again this week.
When considering backing someone around 5-1 though you really want everything to be spot on and that last concern is enough to put me off Thomas this week and instead I have gone with 5 other players who all teed it up in Kapalua last week.
JOAQUIN NIEMANN – 33-1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 57th
First up for us this week is Chilean superstar in the making Joaquin Niemann.
The 21yr old did us a huge favour last fall when he bagged his first PGA Tour title at the Greenbrier Classic when we were onboard.
Since then things have been slightly up and down for Niemann however he started his 2020 campaign in really positive style with a fifth place finish last week at the Sentry ToC.
Looking at Niemann’s numbers last week in Maui and the thing that stands out for me is that all departments of his game were really solid with no one area excelling hugely or letting him down.
Seventh in SGP, ninth in SGTTG and thirteenth in SGOTT all helped the Chilean to finish the week fifth in SGT. Basically everything seemed in good working order.
Last season was Niemann’s first full campaign on the PGA Tour and he posted five top 13 finishes. If we then look at these performances more closely the one thing that strikes me is that four of them came either on par 71 or par 70 tracks, which is of course what the youngster faces this week.
Moving on a step and the next thing we need to reference back to is Niemann’s victory at the Greenbrier, on not only another par 70 track but also a course designed by Seth Raynor who is also responsible for this week’s layout. We also shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that as well as winning at The Old White he has finished fifth and 29th there so he clearly loves the place. On this basis Joaquin should be licking his lips at the thought of getting to grips this week with the other Raynor designed track used on tour.
Niemann was quoted on several occasions last week as to how much he enjoys the challenge of playing in the wind so the anticipated conditions this week should hold no fear for him and ‘warmed up’ and ready to go on the back of a solid performance last week I can see him bagging his second tour title this time out on a course, which should be much more suited to his game.
SEBASTIAN MUNOZ – 60-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up for me this week is 27yr old Sebastian Munoz.
The Colombian’s has enjoyed a stellar start to his 2019/20 campaign on the PGA Tour with the obvious highlight being his victory at the Sanderson Farms Championship last September.
Last week at Kapalua Munoz finished in a creditable 17th place however what caught my eye is that he was fourth for the week in total birdies made, with the regular mistakes these birdies were interspersed with, preventing him from finishing much higher up the board.
This week however Munoz finds himself on a track that should be far more to his liking and where the strength of his game, his putting, can flourish.
Tenth on his only previous visit last year to Waialae Sebastian has shown in the past that he is far more at home on this type of shorter track having also finished third at the RSM last fall.
Like our first pick Niemann we should also note that Munoz has also shown a liking to The Old White finishing third and seventh in his two visits to date to the Greenbrier Classic so if you throw in his tenth place here last year that’s three top ten finishes in three visits to Seth Raynor designs on tour. Clearly Munoz is a fan of his set ups!
As noted earlier the wind is expected to blow again this week and therefore my feeling is that the warm up last week in similar climate conditions will be even more useful than normal, furthermore what I also like about the 27yr old this week is that having attended the University of North Texas he should be comfortable in windy conditions and of course ticks the ‘Texas box’ I mentioned earlier.
All in all in a week where in my mind we need to focus strongly on last weeks field Munoz ticks a lot of boxes and at the odds on offer I am more than happy to have him on side.
JT POSTON – 50-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next cab of the rank this week is 26yr JT Poston.
Like our first two selections Poston bagged his first PGA Tour title in the latter stages of last year at the Wyndham Championship since when he hasn’t looked back.
When claiming his maiden tour title Poston achieved the remarkable feat of going bogey free for 72 holes and he closed out the title in fine style on Sunday.
Aside from the quality of The Postman’s play in that win the more interesting fact for us is that he recorded this victory on another shortish par 70 track akin to what he will face this week.
The fact that JT recorded a win at Sedgefield CC should not surprise us that much as If we delve further in to his short time on tour we see that he has posted a succession of strong results on other shortish par 70 layouts including a sixth place at the Heritage. He has also posted three top 35 finishes in three visits to the Mayakoba, which as we know has strong links to this track. Finally we have a 20th place finish last year after a 64th on debut the year before as evidence that he can handle Waialae CC.
Since winning the final full field event of the 2018/19 season the North Carolina native has been in really strong form missing only one cut in nine starts and posting four top 16 finishes the latest of, which came with an 11th place last week at Kapalua.
98th on tour last season in DD the Plantation Course at Kapalua is not the sort of venue you would expect JT to flourish on so this was another admirable effort and I am confident he can deliver another big week this time out on a track that I would see as being far more suitable to his game.
RYAN PALMER – 80-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 4th
While my first three picks are all players in their 20s who are still in the earlier stages of their PGA Tour careers my final two selections this week are more grizzled veterans who were in action last week, and who should be more suited by the challenge ahead.
The first of these two is 43yr old Ryan Palmer who is quietly putting together some really solid results of late with the most recent of these being his 17th place finish last week at the Sentry ToC.
To back this up we only need to look at Palmer’s last eight months or so on tour and we will see that he has not missed a cut on US soil since the USPGA at Bethpage last May, during which time he has posted five top 12 finishes.
Palmer has performed poorly at Waialae in his last two visits however both of those performances came in consecutive years and over a twelve month period when Palmer was fighting far greater battles off the course as he supported his wife through breast cancer treatment, while also undergoing shoulder surgery himself at the back end of 2017.
If we look back further in to Ryan’s history here though we will see that he actually lifted the trophy at Waialae in 2010 and more recently has finished 13th, 17th and eighth here.
The final piece of the jigsaw for me with Palmer this week is his undoubted prowess in the wind, something which comes from being a native of Texas.
It is of course ten years to this week since Ryan last tasted victory in a solo PGA Tour event, however buoyed by his pairs victory with Jon Rahm last year at the Zurich and his great form of late, I can see him going very close to getting back in the winners enclosure this week on a course he loves.
GRAEME MCDOWELL – 150-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 4th
My final selection this week is a roll of the dice that conditions will be tough enough to be to the liking of Gmac.
23rd last week in a 34 runner field is hardly an advert to the fact that Gmac’s game is exactly where he wants it to be however despite finishing third at Kapalua in 2011 I can’t help thinking that McDowell’s game of 2020 is not one designed to compete with the modern day golfer on that type of track, something born out by the fact that he ranked 165th on tour last year in DD.
Instead a windy four days on a 7000 yard par 70 should hopefully be much more to his liking.
Gmac has done nothing of note at Waialae over the years and has in fact only tee’d it up once here in the last ten years, in 2016 when he missed the cut.
What we do know though of course is that this type of venue, particularly when the wind blows, is ideal for him and the fact that his four PGA Tour wins have come at The Heritage, The Corales, The Mayakoba and of course in the US Open at Pebble Beach, stands out like a Belisha Beacon when looking at the pointers for this week.
I noted earlier that Graeme hardly set the world alight at Kapalua last week finishing 23rd however one stat that did stand out to me is that he finished third for the week in SGATTG [behind Cantlay and JT] so his iron play is clearly in decent nick. This week my hope and belief is that he can harness that strong iron play to his experience in the wind and on this kind of track, and deliver a great performance for us at juicy three figure odds.
UPDATED 7th JANUARY
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - HARRY HIGGS - DK VALUE $6700 - FINISHED 57th - DK POINTS 65.5
After finishing 19th at the Seth Raynor designed Old White TPC on his PGA Tour debut, Higgs went on to finish 2nd at Bermuda, 33rd at The Mayakoba and 35th at the RSM, thus showing his liking for shorter coastal tracks.
Based in Texas it is no surprise that Higgs is comfortable in the wind and I would anticipate another solid cut making performance from him this week.
PICK 2 - MATTHEW NeSMITH - DK VALUE $6400 - FINISHED 32nd - DK POINTS 62.5
Another shorter hitter NeSmith makes no secret of the fact that his favourite course to play is Hilton Head, where he proposed to his wife on the 18th green.
On this basis it was no surprise to see the South Carolina native record his best performance on tour to date in his most recent start when he finished 14th on another short coastal track at the RSM Classic.
Known for an accuarate long game/iron game I would expect the 26yr old to relish this weeks similar challenge at Waialaeto the above two mentioned venues and expect to see him competing over all four days.