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DraftKings DFS Fantasy Golf Cheat Sheet: 2023 PGA TOUR Sony Open in Hawaii Picks

Geoff Ulrich gets you set for the Sony Open in Hawaii with winning trends and his picks for your DraftKings fantasy golf lineups.

2022 ISPS HANDA Australian Open: Day 3 Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

The Cheat Sheet provides DraftKings fantasy golf players with course info, player history and the most noteworthy trends of the week to help them with their roster selections.

Set your DraftKings fantasy golf lineups here: PGA TOUR $600K Pitch + Putt [$200K to 1st]


THE FIELD

The field this week grows in size by about 100 players as we get our first official full event of 2023. There will be 144 players in the field this week, along with the usual Friday cut line, which will see just the top 65 players and ties play the weekend. For DFS purposes, getting all six of your players through will be crucial for a chance at high finishes in large field GPPs.

As has become customary with the Sony Open, the field loses many of the big names from the week before. This year, the event will be headlined by the 14th and 15th ranked players in the OWGR in Jordan Spieth and Tom Kim, who both played last week in Maui. There’s plenty of other names in the field from last week, as Corey Conners, Sungjae Im, Tom Hoge, Adam Scott and a handful of others will be in attendance, as well.

Sony Open winners tend to be a mixed bag. Young budding superstars like Justin Thomas and Cameron Smith have grabbed wins at this event recently, but veterans like Matt Kuchar and Kevin Na have also excelled. If the weather cooperates (see below), then expect lower scoring again, as the last two winners have both reached 21 under par or better.


THE COURSE

Waialae Country Club, Honolulu, Hawaii

Par-70, 7,044 yards; Greens: Bermudagrass

The Waialae Country Club is a traditional par-70 course that features trickier Bermuda greens and smaller, narrow fairways; in many ways, it’s a complete opposite to the venue we saw last week. The venue is one of the oldest on the PGA TOUR and maintains some quaintness for being a “classic track” that emphasizes tight driving chutes and strategy over daunting size. That said, the softer greens in play and lack of any penal rough don’t allow the technical nature of this track to overcome the skill of the PGA TOUR pros. Winning scores at this venue have been at 21 under par or better in three of the past four years, and only poor weather in 2020 kept that from being a clean four-year sweep.

Setup-wise, Waialae features just two par 5s, making par-4 scoring more crucial. Five of the par 4s measure between 450-500 yards in length and will require longer irons on approaches, especially if drives are off-center. There are a couple of opportunities for players to grip and rip off the tee, but the biggest test for the players off the tee will be placement. The fairways are some of the tightest on the PGA TOUR, with the field averaging between 52-54% accuracy most seasons. It’s not that Waialae has a ton of penalty areas or trouble to get into, but players can cut themselves off from accessing the green on approach if they get too wild.

Ultimately, strokes gained off the tee stats shouldn’t concern us too much this week. Accuracy off the tee is important, but traditionally, this is course very much favors players with great approach games who can get into a rhythm on these slower Bermuda greens. The 2018 winner, Patton Kizzire, ranked 67th in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee for the week but third in SG: Approach. Justin Thomas also didn’t rank in the top half of the field in accuracy off the tee the year he won — and he still won by seven strokes.

In 2019, Matt Kuchar gained +5.5 strokes on approaches and also gained over +7-strokes on the greens. Last year’s champion, Hideki Matsuyama, was solid in his ball-striking but struck gold with his putter, gaining a career best 7.3 strokes putting for the week. When it comes down to it, recent form in the major ball-striking categories is a certainly a great start for success on Waialae, but if a player doesn’t putt, he won’t get to the 20 under or better score needed to win.

Veteran players with good recent form — who have experience on these slower Bermuda greens — should definitely be given a solid look this week. Otherwise, we’re playing the positive regression game and hoping our supreme ball-strikers can put in a career week with the flatstick, much like Matsuyama did last year.

2023 weather outlook: The weather outlook this year looks divine at first glance. Winds aren’t expected to get up past eight mph on each of the first two days, with highs topping out in the 80 degrees Fahrenheit range. There’s really no wave advantage to be had at the moment, although it does look like Friday will be slightly warmer and feature slightly calmer winds (but only by a couple of mphs). The forecast this week should make this a great one for the approach-driven players, as the lack of wind will boost GIR% and make scrambling less of an issue.


LAST FIVE WINNERS

2022—Hideki Matsuyama -23 (over Russell Henley playoff)

2021—Kevin Na -21 (over Chris Kirk -20)

2020—Cameron Smith -11 (over Brendan Steele playoff)

2019—Matt Kuchar -22 (over Andrew Putnam -18)

2018—Patton Kizzire -17 (over James Hahn playoff)


WINNING TRENDS

- Ten of the past 12 winners of this event had a T6 or better finish in one of their last four starts prior to their Sony Open win.

- Nine of the past 12 winners of this event ranked inside the top 50 on the PGA TOUR in Strokes Gained: Putting for the year in which they won.

- Nine of the last 11 winners of this event played in the Tournament of Champions the week prior.


Winners Stats and Course Highlights

Hideki Matsuyama ($10,100; 2022 winner, 23-under-par)

2022 lead-in form (T13-T59-T67-T6-T26)

SG: OTT—+3.6

SG: APP—+2.6

SG: TTG—+7.4

SG: ATG—+1.2

SG: PUTT—+7.3

  • The weather the last two years has been more conducive to scoring. Matsuyama hit the ball very well most of the week but really converted his chances well, too, gaining over 7.0 strokes putting.
  • Over the past six years, only one winner at Waialae has gained less than +4.0 strokes on his approaches (Cameron Smith 2020). Strong putting can make up for some less-than-precise ball-striking, but generally, the winners also excel on approaches.
  • Waialae has some of the hardest to hit fairways on the PGA TOUR — the field averages around 52-54% of fairways hit — and even the most accurate players off the tee will miss a fair number of fairways.
  • Placement OTT is key though. If you are stuck between two players, going with the more consistent off-the-tee player (the one who will find more fairways) will likely mean a few more birdie looks — Matsuyama was 20th in accuracy OTT last year and fifth in SG: OTT stats.

FINDING VALUES

This section is going to detail a few of the players who have the best fantasy value comparative to their DraftKings Sportsbook odds of winning this week.

Brian Harman +1800 and $9,700

Comparable:

Hideki Matsuyama +1800 and $10,100

Russell Henley +2200 and $9,800

Tom Hoge +2800 and $9,900

Keith Mitchell +3500 and $8,300

Comparable:

Cameron Davis +4000 and $8,500

Adam Scott +3500 and $8,600

J.J. Spaun +4000 and $8,400

All odds provided by DraftKings Sportsbook and all odds subject to change.


HORSES FOR COURSES

(These players have had a lot of success at this event over their career.)

1. Russell Henley ($9,800; best finishes: 2nd-2022, win-2014): Henley has blitzed Waialae multiple times in his career. He famously blew a five-shot lead at this event last year on the back nine on Sunday but was also one of only two players to get to 23-under par. A winner here in 2014 (his first ever PGA TOUR start), he’s again a solid upside play in 2023 for DFS.

2. Webb Simpson ($7,400; best finishes: third-2020, T4-2018): With tight fairways, a shorter setup and small greens, Waialae is a prime Webb Simpson setup. The veteran has shown his affinity for these types of layouts over time and has now finished T13 or better in five of his last six Sony Open starts. He’s never missed a cut at this venue in 12 starts.

3. Matt Kuchar ($7,900; best finishes: win-2019, T7-2022): Kuchar won this event back in 2019 and finished top 10 at this event last year, as well. The smaller greens and tight driving chutes make it an ideal setup for a player who relies on accuracy over power. He’s gained over 2.0 strokes putting now in seven of his last nine starts at this event.

4. Russell Knox ($7,200; best finishes: T7-2022, T10-2018): Knox finished seventh at this event last season and has finished top 15 at this event in four of his last eight trips at Waialae. He was striking the ball extremely well in the fall but will need his putter to show up this week with ideal scoring conditions in play.

5. Patton Kizzire ($7,300; best finishes: win-2017): Kizzire won here in 2017 in his debut and also has grabbed finishes of T13 and T7 over the past three years. He has one missed cut on his record over four career starts at Waialae but sets up for this venue perfectly with a good blend of solid iron play and elite putting upside.


RECENT FORM

1. Tom Hoge ($9,900, Recent finishes: third-MC-MC): Hoge had a spectacular week in Maui, finishing T3 and gaining 6.7 strokes on approach for the week. He’ll be a popular pay-up target in DFS this week.

2. Tom Kim ($10,500, Recent finishes: T5-T10-T11): Kim showed no signs his career will be slowing down anytime soon. He struggled slightly on the greens last week but could easily bounce back this week given the easier green structures in play.

3. Brian Harman ($9,700, Recent finishes: T16-T2-T2): Harman gained strokes on approach and off the tee in Maui. He put in four rounds of 3-under or better last week and is a player who sets up better for the technical nature of Waialae.

4. Kyoung-Hoon Lee ($8,700, Recent finishes: T7-T42-T3): Lee has had a solid run of late and showed continued confidence with his putter in Maui. He’s yet to have a great finish at this week’s course, so a little regression would not be shocking this week.

5. Alex Smalley ($7,800, Recent finishes: T5-T4-T11): Smalley is the only player on our list who didn't play last week. He ranks out second in strokes gained total stats over the last six events and finished 2022 with three straight top 12 finishes.


DFS STRATEGY

Cash Games: Go balanced with Conners and Mitchell

Given the type of course and field in play, there’s a lot of mid-range targets this week with better-than-usual upside. Both Corey Conners ($9,600) and Keith Mitchell ($8,300) have displayed a fondness for this sort of track and provide solid made-cut rates with good upside built in. Conners played fine last week and actually leads this field in strokes gained stats at Waialae over the last five years. Mitchell loves putting on Bermuda and has finished top 20 at this event in three of the past four seasons. Neither of these two will break the bank and will also allow you to roster some $7K value targets like Adam Svensson ($7,500) and Brendan Steele ($7,300 - see below).

Tournaments: Go big with Sungjae and Henley

It seems like a week where a lot of the field will be paying up for Tom Kim ($10,500) or opting for a more balanced approach. Starting lineups with two top players — who are both over $9,700 in price — in Russell Henley ($9,800) and Sungjae Im ($10,300) should give us a unique starting point for lineups and plenty of upside given the style of course in play. Both players ranked top eight in strokes gained approach stats last week and will be on entirely different sorts of greens this week, with far less slope. Both players have gained multiple strokes on these greens in past seasons and are coming off strong falls. As we get further down, there’s plenty of options to consider at a venue like this, but the likes of Gary Woodland ($7,600), Ben Griffin ($7,300), Chez Reavie ($7,000) and Michael Kim ($6,400) all setup as somewhat interesting boom-or-bust GPP targets.


MY PICK: Cameron Davis ($8,500)

Even though this event takes place on an older, more technical track, it still requires winners to go super low, with the last two champions of this event getting to 21 and 23 under par. Despite being a bomber off the tee, Davis has proven to like these kinds of setups, where an emphasis on solid approach play and making birdies is at a premium. He posted top 15 finishes at Harbour Town (T3), Colonial (T7) and TPC Deere Run (T8) last season, all courses which correlate very nicely with Waialae and require a similar kind of approach.

Davis’ form shouldn’t be a concern here either. He’s ranked 11th in strokes gained approach stats over the last 50 rounds and first in the field over that same span of play in birdie or better percentage. While there’s always a concern his around-the-green game or putter holds him back, he showed demonstrable improvement in those areas towards the end of the year, gaining strokes in both of those categories in five of his last six starts of 2022. Much like Matsuyama last year, Davis has the kind of long game that can dominate a shorter, more technical venue, and if his putter shows up, 20-under par or better is very obtainable for him. Coming off a fall where he took part in his first ever President's Cup, Davis looks like a great upside target this week in DFS and solid outright play at +4000 on DraftKings Sportsbook.


MY SLEEPER: Brendan Steele ($7,300)

Waialae is very much a veteran’s track, and experience certainly plays a role here every season. Steele has played this track four times in his career, but three of those appearances have come over the last three seasons. He’s clearly become fond of the more technical layout, posting a playoff loss at this event in 2020 and a T4 finish back in 2021. He can be an absolute roller coaster on the greens, where he’s ranked just 125th in the field in strokes gained putting over the last 24 rounds, but he often makes up for that deficiency with elite ball-striking.

Steele ranks sixth and third in strokes gained approach and off the tee stats over the last 24 rounds, respectively, and he has found the smaller Bermuda greens at Waialae to his liking, gaining over a stroke putting at this event in each of the last three seasons. At $7,300, he gives us a couple of different ways to profit, as his recent form with the long game provides a solid floor with room for upside if the putter cooperates. Steele is a good GPP target for DFS and a player you should be thinking about in the top-20/40 markets on DraftKings Sportsbook.

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