The field this week grows in size by about 100 players as we get our first official full event of 2022. As usual, there will be a Friday cut that takes place, allowing only the top 65 and ties to play on the weekend. As has become customary with the Sony Open, the field loses many of the big names from the week before — several top players simply don’t feel the need to make it a double-dip in Hawaii with bigger events on the horizon. Some of the bigger-named players that did come over this week include Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas (Bryson DeChambeau also did, but he was a late WD on Monday morning).
Sony Open winners tend to be a mixed bag, with young superstars like Justin Thomas and Cameron Smith grabbing wins over the last five years, but also veterans like Matt Kuchar and Kevin Na seeing their games surge here, as well. Wind and rain can make this event a bit tougher, and we have seen winning scores here remain tame (under 20-under-par) in two of the last four versions of this event. Check the weather and course previews to see how this year may play out.
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 scoring at this venue has fluctuated a lot the last few years, and at times, it has turned into a figurative pitch-and-putt for the modern PGA TOUR players. 2017 saw Justin Thomas open with a 59 and set the scoring record at 27-under-par. Four of the last six winners here have also been at 20-under par of better. Weather can make things tougher, and 2020 saw rain and wind make this event a serious grind, with the winner coming in at just 11-under-par.
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 as approaches, especially if drives are off-center. There are opportunities for players to grip and rip, but the biggest test for the players here off the tee will be placement, as many of the holes feature some kind of dogleg setup that requires hitting specific landing spots. The fairways also make placement key, as they’re some of the tightest on the PGA TOUR, with the field averaging between 52-54% accuracy most seasons. The rough isn’t hard to hit out of, but wet weather can make it more difficult.
Accuracy doesn’t hurt off the tee, but traditionally, this is course very much favors players with great approaches who can figure out these slower Bermuda greens. 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. Cameron Smith actually lost strokes on approach in 2020 but gained over +8-strokes putting — a type of split you likely won’t see much from winners here unless the weather becomes a big factor again.
Waialae has lots of great corollary type courses on the TOUR, including the likes of Sedgefield, Hilton Head and Colonial. The same names tend to pop up every year at these venues, so checking past leaderboards is never a bad idea for this week.
2022 weather outlook: There’s not much poor weather in the forecast, with highs expected to hover around 77-78 degrees Fahrenheit most of the week. The thing to watch will be the wind, which could become a bigger factor on the weekend. While Thursday morning bears watching, the early forecast has winds remaining very calm most of the day. Friday has a similar forecast, with wind expected to stay relatively calm (for Hawaii) and around 10 mph. Things could pickup on the weekend and turn this into a more difficult event though. Gusts in the 15-mph range are expected, and things could even be heavier on Sunday. Overall, the weather is good enough that we should keep emphasizing great iron players and putters, but short games could also be put to the test on the weekend.
LAST FIVE WINNERS
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)
2017—Justin Thomas -27 (over Justin Rose -20)
- Nine of the past 10 winners of this event had a T6 or better finish in one of their last three starts prior to their Sony Open win.
- Nine of the past 11 winners of this event ranked inside the top 50 on the PGA TOUR in Strokes Gained: Putting for the year in which they won.
- Eight of the last 10 winners of this event played in the Tournament of Champions the week prior.
Winners Stats and Course Highlights
Kevin Na ($9,900; 2021 winner, 21-under-par)
2020 lead-in form (T38-T18-T28-T45-T43)
· The weather last year was more conducive to scoring, and we again saw a winner go past 20-under-par. Na gained strokes across the board but was best with his irons and putter — a typical combo at this venue.
· Over the past six years, only one winner here 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 excel on approaches.
· Winners here generally don’t gain a ton of strokes off the tee either, so Na’s +0.4 strokes OTT was not atypical.
· Waialae has some of the hardest to hit fairways on the PGA TOUR — the field averages around 52-54% of fairways hit — and we often see fairway accuracy stats sit eight to 10% lower than the PGA TOUR average.
· With everyone missing the fairway here, approach play and around the green play around some very small greens tends to be the deciding factor.
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.
Russell Henley +2200 and $8,500
Kevin Na +2500 and $9,900
Abraham Ancer +2200 and $9,700
Talor Gooch +2500 and $9,100
Joel Dahmen +5000 and $7,600
Si Woo Kim +7000 and $7,700
Chris Kirk +7000 and $7,900
Keith Mitchell +8000 and $7,600
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. Charles Howell III ($8,000; best finishes: T2-2012, T3-2013): Howell has only missed two cuts at Waialae in his last 16 appearances and has an incredible eight top-10 finishes here in his last 13 starts. The veteran finished in the top 20 at this course the last two seasons and has only finished outside the top 30 here once in his last nine starts.
2. Webb Simpson ($10,500; 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 his last five appearances at the Sony and has gone T3 and T4 at Waialae the last two seasons. Simpson has gained +4.0 or more strokes putting here in his last three appearances.
3. Marc Leishman ($10,000; best finishes: T3-2019, T9-2013): Leishman has a great history of success at Waialae. He is now 11-for-11 in terms of making the cut and has four top-10 finishes in his last eight starts at this event, including a T2 finish last season. He’s another veteran to watch on a venue that has catered to older players.
4. Cameron Smith ($11,200; best finishes: win-2020): Smith will be playing Waialae for the seventh time in a row, and he is a perfect 7-for-7 here in terms of made cuts. Perhaps it’s the climate or the fact they’re used to playing golf in January, but Aussies do have a great record at this event. The 2020 champion and last week’s winner already has two career wins in Hawaii, and his style of game sets up perfectly for this venue.
5. Patton Kizzire ($7,300; best finishes: win-2017): Kizzire won here in 2017 on 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.
1. Cameron Smith ($11,200, Recent finishes: win-T4): Smith beat out the best player in the world last Sunday and shot 34-under-par. He’s finished no worse than T15 in five straight events.
2. Sungjae Im ($10,300, Recent finishes: T8-T19): Im looked solid all week in Maui and landed himself a T8 there in the process. He grabbed a win over the fall and ranks second in SG: TTG stats over the last 50 rounds.
3. Seamus Power ($8,100, Recent finishes: T15-T4): Power landed a T15 last week in Maui but has now finished T21 or better in five of his last six starts on TOUR. He’s also sixth in SG: TTG stats over the last 50 rounds.
4. Marc Leishman ($10,000, Recent finishes: T10-T19): Leishman finished a quiet T10 last week and also racked up two top-five finishes over the fall. He has gained strokes putting and on approach in four of his last five starts.
5. Talor Gooch ($9,100, Recent finishes: T15-win): He won the last event of 2021 and grabbed a T15 last week. His form has been great for a while, stretching back to the start of the fall.
Cash Games: Load up on Webb and Henley
This venue and event have always catered to those players who can hit a ton of fairways then dice up the course with great iron approaches throughout the week. Both Russell Henley ($8,500) and Webb Simpson ($10,500) have had great success at this event, and both players look like great values here, especially for high-floor contests like 50/50’s and Heads-up matches on DraftKings. Henley leads this field in SG: Approach stats over the last 50 rounds, and Webb gained +9.8 strokes on approach in his last start at the RSM, so the recent form is strong, too. Other potential targets for this format here include the likes of Seamus Power ($8,100), Aaron Rai ($7,700) and Zach Johnson ($7,100).
Tournaments: Si Woo and Bezuidenhout can deliver
This is a time of year where good fall momentum can help, but also we want players who have been active (i.e. played last week). I mentioned Christiaan Bezuidenhout ($7,800) below, so I won’t get further into him here, but both he and Si Woo Kim ($7,700), who have very similar salaries, make for great GPP targets. Both are young players with plenty of upside who have won multiple pro events (against solid fields), and Kim specifically has already played his warm-up event in Hawaii last week. Kim finished T4 in his debut at the Sony back in 2016 and has dominated at Sedgefield (Wyndham), another shorter Bermuda-style venue. These two make for a great value coupling and shouldn't be heavy chalk. Other GPP targets here include the likes of Brian Harman ($7,500), Keith Mitchell ($7,600) and Stephan Jaeger ($6,500).
MY PICK: Christiaan Bezuidenhout ($7,800)
Much like last week’s winner, Bezuidenhout is a young, up-and-coming foreign player who likely doesn’t get enough press because he’s not American. He has won four times as a professional since 2019 and gained full-time TOUR status on the PGA after a great effort in the Korn Ferry playoffs last fall. Bezuidenhout’s fall didn’t include a ton of PGA events, but his T3 at the Korn Ferry Tour finals was followed by a T5 in an elite field at the BMW PGA Championship in England and a T6 at the South African Open.
He’ll be playing the Sony Open, and Waialae, for the first time this year but sets up well for the course. Bezuidenhout ranks in the top 20 in approach proximity from 125-150 yards and 150-175 yards and ranks first in the field in strokes gained putting — all over the last 50 rounds. Bezuidenhout winning here on his debut would be somewhat trend-breaking, but he sets up great for this week’s test and won’t be hindered as much by an inconsistent off-the-tee game. Much like last week’s winner, he’s an elite putter and comes in with great momentum from the fall swing, making him a good upside target for DFS this week.
MY SLEEPER: Henrik Norlander ($7,100)
Of the many journeymen on the PGA TOUR every week we have to choose, Norlander has become one of the better spike candidates for DFS. He actually had a consistent year in 2021 (for him) and comes in having missed just two cuts in his last 12 PGA starts. Norlander has typically excelled at the more classic-style setups on TOUR, and if we look at his OWGR page, five of his top 10 career results have come at the RSM Classic, Sanderson Farms and this week’s Sony Open — all events with Bermuda greens and venues that stress accuracy and good iron play over power.
Norlander definitely sets up well for success at Waialae, as he’s 18th in SG: Approach stats and 11th in approach proximity from 125-150 yards over the last 50 rounds of play. For DFS purposes, his history of spiking for a top-10 finish or better on venues like this — and his above-average recent form — makes him a good GPP target and a player you should be thinking about if you’re looking for a long shot bet in the top-10 or top-20 markets on DraftKings Sportsbook.
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