Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's Sony Open In Hawaii Tips 2022

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Congratulations to you if you were on Cameron Smith at anything up to 28/1 pre-event at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. 9th for Birdie Average and 3rd for Scoring Average across the early part of this season on the PGA Tour, he was a great selection at the same kind of price as Harris English in 2021. It wasn’t a total write-off for me with Morikawa squeaking a slither of each-way return back at 11/1, but he was never at the races in terms of victory.

We move forward to the Sony Open in Hawaii which is the traditional first full-field tournament of the calendar year on the PGA Tour. Waialae Country Club hosts the Sony, which has had full PGA Tour status since 1965. This Par 70 offers up an ‘old school’ type test, where obvious winners along with shocks occur in equal measure. Indeed the last 6 renewals highlight this perfectly, with Kevin Na at 80/1, Cameron Smith at 55/1, Matt Kuchar at 40/1, Patton Kizzire at 80/1, Justin Thomas at 14/1 and Fabian Gomez at 100/1. 

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Before we go into the detail surrounding the Sentry Tournament of Champions we always have new visitors to Golf Betting System, Welcome and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published every Tuesday of the golfing calendar), the Steve Bamford Golf Channel on YouTube and our hugely popular, +6,000 strong, private Group on Facebook – you can Join Here.

Course Guide: Waialae Country Club has changed in recent years from a tight, technical track by the coast to a course where low scoring is more than achievable if the wind allows.

The 1927 Seth Raynor-designed property used to be the domain of the short, accurate hitter, but in recent renewals longer hitters such as Ryan Palmer (2010), Jimmy Walker (2014 and 2015) and Justin Thomas (2017) have won in Honolulu where accurate driving has become immaterial despite the players making out that it is.

This is a real Jekyll and Hyde course where the winning score has varied from -11/269 (2020) to a resort-level -27/253 dependant upon rough length (short 2″ is the norm), speed of the course and – naturally in Hawaii – the strength of the wind. 2022 looks like another birdie-fest with little wind and favourable lush course conditions, although scoring may slow a little at the weekend.

Waialae Country Club, Honolulu, Hawaii: Designer: Raynor, 1927 with Tom Doak restoration 2017/18; Course Type: Coastal, Resort; Par: 70; Length: 7,044 yards; Holes with Water In-Play: 5; Fairways Bermudagrass; Rough: Bermudagrass, 2.25″; Greens: 7,100 sq.ft TifDwarf Bermudagrass; Stimpmeter: 11ft. Course Scoring Average 2012: 69.77 (-0.23), Difficulty Rank 28 of 49 courses. 2013: 68.90 (-1.10), Difficulty Rank 33 of 43 courses. 2014: 69.30 (-0.70), Rank 36 of 48 courses. Course Scoring Average 2015: 69.01 (-0.99), Difficulty Rank 37 of 52 courses. 2016: 68.50 (-1.50), Difficulty Rank 45 of 50 courses. 2017: 68.31 (-1.69), Difficulty Rank 43 of 50 courses. 2018: 68.90 (-1.10), Difficulty Rank 39 of 51 courses. 2019: 68.92 (-1.08), Difficulty Rank 32 of 51 courses. 2020: 70.51 (+0.51), Difficulty Rank 9 of 41 courses. 2021: 67.98 (-2.02), Difficulty Rank 45 of 51 courses.

Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Raynor input designs include:

  • Old White TPC – Greenbrier Classic.

Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Waialae Country Club and how they compare to recent courses that we’ve seen on Tour:

  • Waialae: 250 yards from the tee: 34 yards wide; 275:32; 300:34; 325:37; 350:34.
  • Plantation Course: 250 yards from the tee: 59 yards wide; 275:61; 300:65; 325:60; 350:62.
  • Seaside Course: 250 yards from the tee: 42 yards wide; 275:40; 300:34; 325:31; 350:23.
  • TPC Summerlin: 250 yards from the tee: 35 yards wide; 275:37; 300:33; 325:30; 350:31.
  • CC of Jackson: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:28; 300:29; 325:28; 350:25.
  • Silverado: 250 yards from the tee: 27 yards wide; 275:26; 300:24; 325:25; 350:24.

Course Overview: The scoring at Waialae, as per Kapalua last week, is always shaped by the level of wind. -21/259 was the winning score last year, when a breeze of 14 mph was the maximum across the 4 days, whereas 2020 saw plenty of wind with 35-40mph easterly trade winds on Thursday/Friday which dropped slightly to 20-25 mph over the weekend. The result was Cameron Smith winning at -11/269 which was the highest winning score of the Sony Open since Vijay Singh in 2005.

One thing to note with Waialae is a trend of new green complexes across the property. Holes 1, 11 and 13 were re-modelled in 2017 with overhauls of the greens on the par-4 6th hole, par-3 17th and par-5 18th in 2018. In tranquil conditions Waialae Country Club is a pretty straightforward 7,044 yard Par 70 which, from 2014 through 2021, ranked as the easiest (2013, 2016, 2017, 2021), second easiest (2014, 2015), or third easiest (2019) Par 70 on the PGA Tour. It’s a flat design with generous enough fairways and fairly small green complexes which can yield plenty of birdies as long as you’re consistently hitting greens. It’s a traditional Par 70 format which features a couple of par-5s, both of which are reachable.

Waialae is one of the more difficult tests for driving accuracy (7th, 12th, 14th and 14th toughest in 2015/16/17/18) with fairways which traditionally run very fast seeing drives run through into light Bermuda rough. The view from players that getting close to the pin from off the fairway is difficult, is backed up by the fact that Waialae is traditionally in the top 20 most difficult courses in terms of Rough Proximity. However the need for driving accuracy has been significantly negated in recent years as lower rough height has played into the hands of the longer hitters or just the wayward. Accuracy no longer appears to be a critical factor for victory. Fact is that hitting masses of fairways is not a prerequisite to winning the tournament as long as you can consistently hit excellent approach shots.

The key to success is fairly simple. Waialae over recent renewals has been the easiest course for par-5 Birdie or Better Conversion – indeed the 9th and 18th holes yielded a whopping 62, 56 and 54 eagles across 2016-18 renewals. Last year we saw 57 eagles and an incredible 539 birdies across 9th and 18th par-5s.

Allied to this, now that we have Strokes Gained data to peruse, it’s clear that SG Approach and SG Putting are the key factors when it comes to winning around Waialae. It’s undoubtedly a second shot golf course, which is ultimately won with a very progressive putter. Green complexes are pretty flat, but many a player finds the TifDwarf Bermudagrass difficult to putt on. So look for players who are confident with the putter on Bermudagrass and who can convert birdie chances, rather than the purest of non-putt ball-strikers.

sony open in hawaii tips

Winners: 2021: Kevin Na (-21); 2020: Cameron Smith (-11); 2019: Matt Kuchar (-22); 2018: Patton Kizzire (-17); 2017: Justin Thomas (-27); 2016: Fabian Gomez (-20); 2015: Jimmy Walker (-23); 2014: Jimmy Walker (-17); 2013: Russell Henley (-24); 2012: Johnson Wagner (-13); 2011: Mark Wilson (-16); 2010: Ryan Palmer (-15).

Cut Line: 2021: -4; 2020: +1; 2019: -2; 2018: -2; 2017: -3; 2016: -5; 2015: -3.

Lead Score Progression:

  • 2021: Round 1 -8; Round 2 -12; Round 3 -18; Round 4 -21.
  • 2020: Round 1 -5; Round 2 -6; Round 3 -12; Round 4 -11.
  • 2019: Round 1 -9; Round 2 -14; Round 3 -18; Round 4 -22.
  • 2018: Round 1 -7; Round 2 -13; Round 3 -16; Round 4 -17.

Tournament Stats: We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s event that are well worth a look. Naturally they’ll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Combined Stats | Strokes Gained Stats.

Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 10 of my published predictor are Marc Leishman, Webb Simpson, Cameron Smith, Kevin Kisner, Kevin Na, Abraham Ancer, Harris English, Billy Horschel, Charles Howell III and Jason Kokrak.

Tournament Winners & Prices: 2021: Na 80/1; 2020: Smith 55/1; 2019: Kuchar 40/1; 2018: Kizzire 80/1; 2017: Thomas 14/1; 2016: Gomez 100/1; 2015: Walker 18/1; 2014: Walker 40/1; 2013: Henley 100/1; 2012: Wagner 125/1; 2011: Wilson 80/1; 2010: Palmer 250/1. Past 8 Renewals Average: 53/1; Overall Average: 82/1.

For a full summary of winner’s odds on the PGA Tour since 2010 click here.

Historical Weather:

  • 2021: Thursday: Partly cloudy. High of 80. Wind ENE 10-15 mph, gusting to 18 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy. High of 82. Wind E 6-12 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy. High of 81. Wind ESE 8-14 mph. Sunday: Chance of scattered showers throughout the afternoon, mostly sunny. High of 81. Wind SW 8-12 mph.
  • 2020: Thursday: Partly cloudy with scattered showers throughout the day. High of 80. Wind ENE 20-30 mph, with gusts to 40 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy with scattered showers throughout the day. High of 80. Wind ENE 20-30 mph, with gusts to 40 mph. Saturday: Cloudy with scattered showers throughout the day. High of 79. Wind ENE 15-25 mph. Sunday: Cloudy with showers throughout the day. High of 78. Wind E 15-25 mph. Lift, clean and place all 72 holes.
  • 2019: Thursday: Partly cloudy. High of 80. Wind ESE 7-12 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy. High of 80. Wind SSE 7-12 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy. High of 80. Wind ESE 7-14 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy. High of 79. Wind ESE 7-14 mph.
  • 2018: Thursday: Partly cloudy. High of 83. Wind ENE 6-12 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy. High of 84. Wind W 4-8 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy. High of 83. Wind NW 5-10 mph. Sunday: Mostly sunny. High of 84. Wind NE 8-16 mph.
  • 2017: Thursday: Partly cloudy. High of 82. Wind S 5-10 mph. Friday: Mostly sunny. High of 82. Wind S 5 mph. Saturday: Mostly sunny and hazy. High of 83. Wind S 4-8 mph. Sunday: Mostly cloudy and hazy. High of 83. Wind SSE 6-12 mph.
  • 2016: Thursday: Sunny. High of 83. Wind WSW 5-10 mph. Friday: Mostly cloudy with scattered showers in the area. High of 79 degrees, wind NE from 5-10 mph. Saturday: Sunny turning partly cloudy in the afternoon. High of 82. Wind ENE 4-8 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy skies with warm temperatures. High of 82. Wind E 5-10 mph.
  • 2015: Thursday: Partly cloudy. High of 80. Wind S at 7-12 mph. Friday: Cloudy, with a high of 80. SSW wind at 7-15 mph in the afternoon. Saturday: Sunny, with a high of 80. Wind S at 5-10 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 82. Wind SW at 7-12 mph.

Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Honolulu is here.

I’d suggest we see a carryover from Maui, with ideal scoring conditions set for Waialae Country Club. There’s been some serious precipitation across December and January, so at the very least the course should have some cut in it. Greens are likely to receptive. Temperatures of 24 degrees Celsius throughout are the order of the day. Scoring across the opening 36 rounds will be low, with a freshening 10-15 mph Trade (north easterly) on Sunday potentially slowing scoring just a tad. All-in-all another low scoring tournament is imminent.

Player Strokes Gained Rankings: These top 25 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Shriners Open / Open de Espana which includes both PGA Tour and DP World Tour events. Players’ rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Top 25 SG Off The Tee: 1) Corey Conners; 2) Sungjae Im; 3) Charles Howell III; 4) Joel Dahmen / Vincent Whaley; 6) Keith Mitchell / Ryan Palmer; 8) Austin Smotherman; 9) Billy Horschel; 10) Lucas Glover; 11) Alex Smalley; 12) Abraham Ancer; 13) Brendan Steele; 14) Joshua Creel; 15) Michael Gligic; 16) Maverick McNealy / Cameron Young; 18) K.H. Lee / Marc Leishman; 20) Chad Ramey; 21) Davis Riley; 22) Tyler Duncan; 23) Lee Hodges / Kevin Na / Erik van Rooyen.
  • Top 25 SG Approach: 1) Andrew Novak; 2) Tom Hoge / Cameron Smith; 4) Austin Smotherman; 5) Talor Gooch; 6) K.H. Lee; 7) Max McGreevy; 8) Adam Schenk; 9) Sungjae Im; 10) Rory Sabbatini / Dylan Wu; 12) Aaron Rai / Scott Piercy; 14) Hayden Buckley / Russell Henley; 16) Marc Leishman / Seamus Power / Hudson Swafford; 19) Hideki Matsuyama / Chad Ramey; 21) Mark Hubbard; 22) Billy Horschel / Brendon Todd; 24) Russell Knox / Jason Kokrak.
  • Top 25 SG Around The Green: 1) Rory Sabbatini; 2) David Skinns; 3) Mark Hubbard; 4) Michael Thompson; 5) Matt Jones; 6) Luke Donald; 7) Charles Howell III / Justin Lower; 9) Branden Todd; 10) Billy Horschel / Cameron Smith; 12) Talor Gooch; 13) Kevin Na; 14) Peter Malnati; 15) Sungjae Im / Matt Kuchar; 17) Lee Hodges; 18) Marc Leishman; 19) Michael Gligic / Jimmy Walker; 21) Tom Hoge; 22) Russell Henley; 23) Denny McCarthy; 24) Stephan Jaeger / K.H. Lee / Ryan Moore / Camilo Villegas.
  • Top 25 SG Tee to Green: 1) Rory Sabbatini; 2) Sungjae Im; 3) Michael Gligic; 4) Cameron Smith; 5) Talor Gooch / Tom Hoge / Austin Smotherman; 8) Russell Henley; 9) K.H. Lee; 10) Mark Hubbard / Marc Leishman; 12) Seamus Power; 13) Aaron Rai; 14) Joel Dahmen / Charles Howell III; 16) Max McGreevy / Keith Mitchell / Webb Simpson; 19) Andrew Novak; 20) Denny McCarthy; 21) Maverick McNealy; 22) Keegan Bradley / Lucas Glover / Billy Horschel; 25) Cameron Davis / Hideki Matsuyama / Ryan Palmer.
  • Top 25 SG Putting: 1) Cameron Smith; 2) Adam Schenk; 3) Billy Horschel / David Skinns; 5) Joshua Creel; 6) Adam Long; 7) Kevin Na / Robert Streb; 9) Sung Kang / J.J. Spaun; 11) Marc Leishman; 12) Brian Gay / Kramer Hickok; 14) K.H. Lee; 15) Dylan Wu; 16) Andrew Novak; 17) Max McGreevy; 18) Andrew Putnam; 19) Harry Higgs / Brandon Wu; 21) Chesson Hadley / Hank Lebioda; 23) Joel Dahmen; 24) Hayden Buckley / Sungjae Im / Denny McCarthy.
  • Top 25 SG Total: 1) Rory Sabbatini; 2) Cameron Smith; 3) Sungjae Im; 4) K.H. Lee; 5) Adam Schenk; 6) Marc Leishman; 7) Max McGreevy; 8) Joel Dahmen; 9) Andrew Novak; 10) Russell Henley / Tom Hoge / Denny McCarthy / Webb Simpson; 14) Talor Gooch; 15) Michael Gligic; 16) Billy Horschel / Keith Mitchell / Robert Streb; 19) Corey Conners / Charles Howell III; 21) J.J. Spaun; 22) Aaron Rai / Austin Smotherman; 24) Kramer Hickok / Seamus Power.

For a summary of the Strokes Gained Performances from this week’s field here at the host Waialae Country Club since 2016 click here.

Strokes Gained Tournament Trends: Analysing the Strokes Gained final stats of Sony winners since 2015 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 2021, Kevin Na (-21). SG Off the Tee: 44th, SG Approach: 5th, SG Around the Green: 8th, SG Tee to Green: 2nd, SG Putting: 23rd.
  • 2020, Cameron Smith (-11). SG Off the Tee: 18th, SG Approach: 53rd, SG Around the Green: 9th, SG Tee to Green: 30th, SG Putting: 1st.
  • 2019, Matt Kuchar (-22). SG Off the Tee: 7th, SG Approach: 7th, SG Around the Green: 29th, SG Tee to Green: 3rd, SG Putting: 3rd.
  • 2018, Patton Kizzire (-17). SG Off the Tee: 67th, SG Approach: 3rd, SG Around the Green: 34th, SG Tee to Green: 20th, SG Putting: 3rd.
  • 2017, Justin Thomas (-27). SG Off the Tee: 1st, SG Approach: 4th, SG Around the Green: 23rd, SG Tee to Green: 1st, SG Putting: 2nd.
  • 2016, Fabian Gomez (-20). SG Off the Tee: 54th, SG Approach: 2nd, SG Around the Green: 14th, SG Tee to Green: 7th, SG Putting: 5th.

Strokes Gained Tournament Skill Averages:

  • SG Off the Tee: 32nd, SG Approach: 12th, SG Around the Green: 20th, SG Tee to Green: 11th, SG Putting: 6th.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of Sony winners since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 2021, Kevin Na (-21). 296 yards (64th), 55.4% fairways (50th), 76.4% greens in regulation (29th), 29’8″ proximity to hole (15th), 82.4 % scrambling (4th), 1.64 putts per GIR (6th).
  • 2020, Cameron Smith (-11). 297 yards (6th), 64.3% fairways (41st), 70.8% greens in regulation (20th), 35’4″ proximity to hole (22nd), 66.7 % scrambling (20th), 1.69 putts per GIR (2nd).
  • 2019, Matt Kuchar (-22). 312 yards (14th), 71.4% fairways (4th), 83.3% greens in regulation (1st), 29’7″ proximity to hole (8th), 75.0 % scrambling (9th), 1.62 putts per GIR (5th).
  • 2018, Patton Kizzire (-17). 303 yards (54th), 51.8% fairways (56th), 73.6% greens in regulation (23rd), 32’7″ proximity to hole (19th), 68.4 % scrambling (19th), 1.57 putts per GIR (2nd).
  • 2017, Justin Thomas (-27). 320 yards (9th), 44.6% fairways (66th), 77.8% greens in regulation (12th), 29’1″ proximity to hole (6th), 75.0 % scrambling (14th), 1.59 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 2016, Fabian Gomez (-20). 307 yards (27th), 50.0% fairways (60th), 77.8% greens in regulation (7th), 29’3″ proximity to hole (6th), 75.0 % scrambling (9th), 1.68 putts per GIR (17th).
  • 2015, Jimmy Walker (-23). 309 yards (8th), 62.5% fairways (13th), 81.9% greens in regulation (1st), 30’1″ proximity to hole (10th), 53.8 % scrambling (60th), 1.58 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 2014, Jimmy Walker (-17). 320 yards (1st), 53.6% fairways (25th), 73.6% greens in regulation (7th), 37’10” proximity to hole (50th), 68.4 % scrambling (34th), 1.66 putts per GIR (10th).
  • 2013, Russell Henley (-24). 293 yards (51st), 55.4% fairways (15th), 83.3% greens in regulation (2nd), 30’4″ proximity to hole (14th), 83.3% scrambling (4th), 1.62 putts per GIR (4th).
  • 2012, Johnson Wagner (-13). 276 yards (68th), 41.1% fairways (58th), 70.8% greens in regulation (10th), 33’1″ proximity to hole (13th), 61.9% scrambling (25th), 1.67 putts per GIR (6th).
  • 2011, Mark Wilson (-16). 289 yards (24th), 73.2% fairways (2nd), 75.0% greens in regulation (10th), 35”1″ proximity to hole (36th), 72.2% scrambling (10th), 1.67 putts per GIR (5th).
  • 2010, Ryan Palmer (-15). 299 yards (24th), 46.4% fairways (50th), 76.4% greens in regulation (4th), 30’1″ proximity to hole (1st), 64.7% scrambling (24th), 1.69 putts per GIR (8th).

Traditional Skill Set Averages:

  • Driving Distance: 29th, Driving Accuracy: 40th, Greens in Regulation: 11th, Proximity to Hole: 17th, Scrambling: 19th, Putting Average 6th.

So let’s take a view from players as to how the Waialae Country Club course sets up and what skills the course favours:

Kevin Na (2021): “I’m striking the ball very well. I’m making my share of putts. These greens can be really tricky out there and the grains can fool you. And it’s tough to read. If I can make some momentum putts tomorrow, I think I’ll be all right. It’s not a golf course you need to overpower. Just keep hitting it straight.”

The greens roll great but the only difficult part is the grains are sometimes difficult to judge. You know, we’ve had a couple putts this week and just not — not just myself, even my fellow playing partners, where it looks like it’s going to do one thing and it doesn’t. If you can just read these greens well, you’re going to be really ahead of the field.”

Cameron Smith (2020): ” Yeah, I think that’s what you kind of to lean on in weeks like this. You’re going to miss greens, and with the greens being so small and the fairways being so small, yeah, definitely need a good short game around here.

I think with the Presidents Cup being so late I didn’t get a chance to kind of put the clubs down. Probably only had four or five days off, whereas usually have three or four weeks off. Yeah, just kind of a bit of momentum from those tournaments. I felt like I played really good in Australia all three weeks. Obviously not with the results that I wanted with all three tournaments, but, yeah, I felt as though I played pretty solid.”

Matt Kuchar (2019): “If you drive it well you can play well. This course is tricky, it’s tight, there are a lot of doglegs. Finding fairways are a tough thing to do and I drove it really well. Certainly this course is unique. We don’t play many like it. Reminds me a little bit of Hilton Head, a little bit of Colonial. It’s tight, it’s narrow, it’s flat, but, man, it’s tricky.

Similarities between El Camaleon and here? Both courses are very tight, very demanding driving golf courses. That would probably be the biggest similarity. The state of my game has felt similar; I’ve felt very much in control of what I’ve been doing with the golf ball.”

Patton Kizzire: “There’s a lot of birdies out there. You just have to make the most. I think it’s going to be a shootout. There’s a lot of opportunities on those par 5s and the par 4s. If you hit good shots, you can make birdies on almost every hole. But if you’re in the rough or out of position, you’re really scrambling for par. So I think there’s a lot of guys that are going to be making birdies. I just got to keep the pedal down and try to make a bunch.

Justin Thomas: “Yeah, that same round, I was driving it well. And I know this course, if you drive it well, you can play it really well. It’s the hardest fairways to hit on Tour I think, and the greens aren’t big, and the rough is kind of that length to where you can get some flyers or it can come out dead. The biggest thing is just getting it in play, because I can just hit a lot of 2-irons out here and then I’m having short irons in, and I felt comfortable enough with those that I could hit my numbers. It wasn’t windy. Going back to that round, I remember, like I said, hitting it well and just kind of, it was an easy 61. Not that, you know, today wasn’t easy by any means, but it’s just low stress. It’s fairway, green under the hole, make the putt, not very much break, sort of thing. That’s just kind of what I did today. Yeah, it’s obviously two total and completely different golf courses. A lot more drivers last week. Just kind of whaling away more so. The fairways are huge this week. It’s a lot of position, and getting in the fairways, but I am kind of starting to hit a decent amount of drivers. Just to use my length to my advantage, and I feel comfortable with some of the drives.

Kevin Kisner: “I have to keep it in the fairway, which is difficult with some of the winds and how fast the fairways were going, but today I was able to do that and hopefully keep doing it through the weekend. I love these greens. They were a little less grainy than last week and more like what I grew up on, so I feel very comfortable with them. I must have gotten better since the last few times I played here. I’ve always struggled at this course, coming over, being a little rusty from the East Coast and cold weather and trying to adjust. But this year I got to go to Maui and get kind of the rust off and the game feels good.

Jimmy Walker: “Obviously I know this is one of the harder weeks on Tour to hit fairways, I think, is what this statistically comes down to. I always joke with my buddies that that plays into my hands because I don’t hit any fairways anyway. But it is nice to be in the fairway here. I remember I did drive it well here last year. I drove it really well, and that helps you set up to attack some of these greens and attack the pins. The greens are small. I mean, they’re tiny compared to last week. Fairways are tiny. It’s a much smaller course, but it does still play long. We were hitting a lot longer mid irons today with no wind, and it’s just a fraction soft. But you’ve still got to hit really good second shots. Driving it good here is nice because the rough is up and greens are small and you don’t want to be catching fliers into these greens and then you’ve got tough chip shots. I think it’s kind of get it in the fairway, get it on the green and get some putts to go in. It seems like you always go about 4 under a day out here or 5 under, that usually gets you right where you want to be.

Zach Johnson: “Compare Waialae to Kapalua? Completely different. You’re talking about the hardest walk in golf at Maui to potentially and arguably the easiest golf on the PGA TOUR here at Waialae. Vastly different, but also challenging, too, because you’re going for some of the biggest fairways and some of the smallest fairways, and you’re going for some of the biggest greens and some of the smallest greens. Everything you would want in a golf course where you’ve got to pick it apart and plot your way around I think this golf lends itself to. If there’s any wind here, it’s hard, and it usually is blowing. This is hit the ball in the fairway, however you do it, get the ball in the fairway and then stay below the pin, keep the golf course in front of you and make those four and five footers. A great test.

Johnson Wagner: “It’s so hard to hit the fairways out here. The crosswinds are strong, and I play pretty much a draw, so when the winds get hard right to left it’s hard for me to hold a lot of the fairways, so then you’re coming into small, firm greens out of jumpy Bermuda rough. I think driving is probably the most difficult thing at Waialae. And if you don’t drive it well, you’re going to have trouble coming into these greens.

Matt Kuchar: “I told people that coming from Kapalua, these greens are much friendlier to putt. I feel like I have really good chances to see the ball go in. I love Kapalua, but the amount of slope and the amount of grain in the greens is challenging. It’s challenging to make putts there. Here these greens are much flatter with much less grain and much less slope, and it seems like it’s a much easier place to make putts now. The biggest difference is you can make putts more easily here, but hitting fairways is a much tougher task here than it is over at Kapalua. Here hitting fairways is so critical and today I did a very good job of that. There are a number of holes that can be extremely tough, that are tough holes, particularly finding the fairway, and if you don’t find the fairway, you’re struggling for pars. I found a lot of fairways today and was able to take a little more advantage. A hole can be taken advantage of when you’re in the fairway.

Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 12 Sony winners:

  • 2021 – Kevin Na: Round 1: 40th, Round 2: 19th, Round 3: 2nd.
  • 2020 – Cameron Smith: Round 1: 31st, Round 2: 3rd, Round 3: 2nd.
  • 2019 – Matt Kuchar: Round 1: 3rd, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2018 – Patton Kizzire: Round 1: 20th, Round 2: 7th, Round 3: 2nd.
  • 2017 – Justin Thomas: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2016 – Fabian Gomez: Round 1: 68th, Round 2: 16th, Round 3: 5th.
  • 2015 – Jimmy Walker: Round 1: 12th, Round 2: 8th, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2014 – Jimmy Walker: Round 1: 5th, Round 2: 5th, Round 3: 4th.
  • 2013 – Russell Henley: Round 1: 2nd, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2012 – Johnson Wagner: Round 1: 30th, Round 2: 7th, Round 3: 3rd.
  • 2011 – Mark Wilson: Round 1: 2nd, Round 2: 3rd, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2010 – Ryan Palmer: Round 1: 1st, Round 2 1st, Round 3: 1st.

Shots From the Lead: Below are the last 12 Sony winners and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:

  • 2021 – Kevin Na: Round 1: 5 back, Round 2: 5 back, Round 3: 2 back.
  • 2020 – Cameron Smith: Round 1: 5 back, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: 3 back.
  • 2019 – Matt Kuchar: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 1 ahead, Round 3: 2 ahead.
  • 2018 – Patton Kizzire: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 4 back, Round 3: 1 back.
  • 2017 – Justin Thomas: Round 1: 3 ahead, Round 2: 5 ahead, Round 3: 7 ahead.
  • 2016 – Fabian Gomez: Round 1: 6 back, Round 2: 5 back, Round 3: 4 back.
  • 2015 – Jimmy Walker: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 4 back, Round 3: 2 ahead.
  • 2014 – Jimmy Walker: Round 1: 3 back, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: 2 back.
  • 2013 – Russell Henley: Round 1: 1 back, Round 2: 2 ahead, Round 3:  level.
  • 2012 – Johnson Wagner: Round 1: 5 back, Round 2: 4 back, Round 3: 2 back.
  • 2011 – Mark Wilson: Round 1: 1 back, Round 2: 2 back, Round 3: 1 ahead.
  • 2010 – Ryan Palmer: Round 1: level, Round 2: 1 ahead, Round 3: level.

Incoming form of winners since 2010:

  • Kevin Na: 38th ToC/2nd Shark Shoot/13th Masters/28th ZOZO.
  • Cameron Smith: 10th Aus PGA/27th Aus Open/60th HSBC/3rd CJ Cup.
  • Matt Kuchar: 19th ToC/23rd Aus Open/1st Mayakoba/57th Shriners.
  • Patton Kizzire: 15th ToC/45th RSM/1st Mayakoba/4th Shriners.
  • Justin Thomas: 1st ToC/5th Shark Shoot/4th Dunlop Phoenix/23rd HSBC/1st CIMB.
  • Fabian Gomez: 6th ToC/44th RSM/1st Personal Classic/MC Argentine Open.
  • Jimmy Walker: 2nd ToC/9th Shark Shoot/15th World Challenge/35th HSBC.
  • Jimmy Walker: 21st ToC/44th HSBC/6th CIMB/12th Shriners/1st Fry’s.com.
  • Russell Henley: 25th Callaway Inv/6th web.com/ 1st Jacksonville/ 3rd Miccosukee.
  • Johnson Wagner: 9th ToC/MC Disney/44th McGladrey/MC Dunhill Links.
  • Mark Wilson: 6th Disney/22nd Shriners/MC Fry’s.com/33rd McGladrey.
  • Ryan Palmer: 40th Disney/48th Fry’s.com/MC Shriners/MC PGA.

First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.

  • 2021 – Kokrak/Niemann/Malnati – 1AM/2PM Split -8/62 – 60/1, 40/1 & 125/1
  • 2020 – Morikawa – PM -5/65 – 33/1
  • 2019 – Svensson – PM -9/61 – 200/1
  • 2018 – Z Johnson / Kirk – AM/PM Split -7/63 – 33/1 & 80/1
  • 2017 – Thomas – AM -11/59 – 33/1
  • 2016 – Barnes / Hoffmann/ Kisner / Singh / Snedeker – 3AM/2PM Split -7/63.
  • 2015 – Casey / Simpson – Both AM -8/62.
  • 2014 – Bae – AM -7/63.
  • 2013 – Langley – PM -7/63.
  • 2012 – Delaet – AM -7/63.
  • 2011 – Appleby – AM -6/64.
  • 2010 – Allenby / Z Johnson / Love III / Merrick / Merritt / Palmer 3AM/3PM Split -5/65.

For the record, here’s the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:

  • 4 – Jim Furyk, Brian Gay, Bill Haas, Billy Horschel, Zach Johnson.
  • 3 – Si Woo Kim, Kevin Kisner, Matt Kuchar, Ryan Palmer, Cameron Smith, Brandt Snedeker.
  • 2 – Luke Donald, Harris English, Russell Henley, Marc Leishman, Chris Kirk, Scott Piercy, Webb Simpson, Robert Streb, Jimmy Walker.
  • 1 – Abraham Ancer, Keegan Bradley, Wesley Bryan, Austin Cook, Stewart Cink, Tyler Duncan, Talor Gooch, Branden Grace, Jim Herman, Charles Howell III, Sungjae Im, Matt Jones, Sung Kang, Jerry Kelly, Satoshi Kodaira, Jason Kokrak, Patton Kizzire, Adam Long, Peter Malnati, Graeme McDowell, Keith Mitchell, Kevin Na, J.T. Poston, Rory Sabbatini, Brian Stuard, Hudson Swafford, Michael Thompson, Brendon Todd.

There’s no doubt that players who have played at Kapalua the week before the Sony Open have historically had an advantage. Of the past 23 Champions, 16 (70%) had played on Maui the week before triumphing here. Since the introduction of the wraparound season, Waialae winners namely Walker (x2), Gomez, Thomas, Kizzire, Kuchar and Na, all played the Tournament of Champions. 2019 though saw Cameron Smith beating long-term leader Brendan Steele in a play-off to take his 2nd PGA Tour title. Neither had played the Tournament of Champions. My advice though is don’t get caught in the ‘must play Kapalua’ camp – it helps but certainly isn’t totally critical as the talented Australian plus Henley, Wilson and Palmer have proven since 2010.

Course experience seems to be pay real dividends at Waialae as 15 of the past 16 champions had played the Sony Open prior to lifting the trophy. The only exception to this rule was Henley in 2013 when he beat the rest of the field by a huge margin in his first PGA Tour start in his rookie season, having arrived in Honolulu fresh from 2 late season wins on the web.com Tour.

The key skill attributes at Waialae are Greens in Regulation and Strokes Gained Putting – it’s that simple. Since 2010 every winner here has featured in the top 30 of GIR%. However with small, flat greens this tournament eventually comes down to who converts the most chances, i.e. who putts the best on fairly grainy TifDwarf Bermudagrass greens.  9 of the past 10 winners of the Sony since 2012 finished in the top 10 for Strokes Gained Putting on the week.

My final selections are as follows:

Marc Leishman 2pts EW 22/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Let’s start with Marc Leishman who’s definitely the sort to win a Sony Open.

As we know both Australians and South Africans as countrymen win in bunches, so Cameron Smith winning at Kapalua could well ignite Marc this week, and as it’s President’s Cup year I’m expecting Leishman to win again on the PGA Tour very soon. Recent form includes 10th last week at the Sentry, 3rd at the QBE Shoot Out when partnering Jason Day, and across the autumn segment of this season he was 3rd at the Shriners Open and 4th at the Fortinet Championship. He’s in good nick.

The sort who can win on any format of golf course, on any green type and at any target score, Marc won the 2017 BWW Championship at Conway Farms at -23/261 and also won the last ever 2018 CIMB Classic at TPC Kuala Lumpur at -26/262, so he can undoubtedly hit this week’s resort-level target score, and his form here at Waialae Country Club is excellent. From 12 appearances he’s finished 12th on course debut (2009), 9th (2013), 5th (2014), 3rd (2019) and 4th (2020). Amongst those with 3 or more Sony Open appearances in this field he ranks T2 for Sony Open Scoring Average (behind only Patton Kizzire), and sits comfortably within the top 10 for both Strokes Gained Tee to Green and Strokes Gained Total here at Waialae since 2016.

10th for Strokes Gained Approach, 16th for Tee to Green and 9th For Putting last week on the Plantation Course, I was vey impressed with his Greens in Regulation rank on Maui which was 2nd to only Jon Rahm. The last time he achieved such consistent approach play was here 12 months ago, when finishing 4th. RESULT: T36

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Kevin Kisner 1.5pts EW 35/1 (8EW, 1/5) with William Hill

Kevin Kisner doesn’t need a lot of explanation from me. I scored with him at 45/1 back at the Wyndham Championship in August, and when it comes to Bermudagrass performers on short course formats there are few better in this field, especially on a course which is likely to be soft and scoreable.

5th (2016), 4th (2017) and 4th (2020) here at the Sony Open across his past 6 appearances, Waialae Country Club is a great spot for him. 9th in this field since 2016 for Strokes Gained Total here at Waialae, “KK” has been active enough for me in recent weeks. 5th at the QBE Shootout in December with partner Max Homa, he backed that up with 8th at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Now for me, last week’s Plantation Course is verging on enemy territory for Kevin, who simply cannot compete for Strokes Gained Off the Tee on such an open and undulating golf course. 34th for Off the Tee, Kisner was fantastic both with his Approach play (8th) and his Putting (3rd). He also ranked 6th for weekend scoring at Kapalua, arriving off a Saturday -7/66 and Sunday -8/65.

Wins at Sea Island (2015), Colonial (2017), Austin Country Club (2019) and Sedgefield (2021) are bang on what we are looking for in terms of correlating courses, plus I have Kisner ranking as the 3rd best Bermudagrass putter in this field from a Strokes Gained perspective going back to 2016. RESULT: T3

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Billy Horschel 1.25pts EW 45/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

I picked Billy Horschel on the Golf Betting System podcast to win the BMW PGA Championship at 28/1, which he duly did. That was his 7th main Tour victory and clearly meant a lot to the 35 year-old University of Florida graduate. He then stayed on the DP World Tour across the autumn, racking up 36th at St Andrews and 32nd at the Earth Course, spread-eagling 33rd at El Camaleon on the PGA Tour. From there forwards Billy has kept busy in the winter. Back in his home state of Florida he finished 2nd with Sam Burns at the QBE Shoot Out and was 23rd last week at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he fired a career-equalling Plantation Course best -7/66 on Sunday.

A premium ball-striker, I have always liked Billy on Bermudagrass greens, mainly as he putts so well on them. 4 of his 6 PGA Tour victories have been on Bermuda across TPC Louisiana (2013 and 2018), East Lake (2014) and Austin Country Club (2021), and across 2017-2021 he ranks 12th in this field for Strokes Gained Putting on Bermudagrass plus 4th in this field for Strokes Gained Total on Par 70s.

54th (2013) and 68th (2017), the World Number 23 finished 7th here 12 months ago. Personally I think he’s just the sort of player from just below the “elite” category who can take this title. RESULT: T36

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Jason Kokrak 1.25pts EW 45/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

I’ll stick with Jason Kokrak for another week. The uneven lies and large sloping greens at the Plantation Course last week seem to bamboozle the World Number 22, but when looking for the winner here immediate form at Kapalua is hardly a blueprint for success. 12 months ago Kevin Na finished with a Sunday round 79 (worst of the day) on the Plantation before winning the Sony. Prior to Na, Matt Kuchar (2019) was 19th and Kizzire (2018) 15th at the Sentry, before winning at Waialae.

Prior to the Sentry, form of 1st at the QBE Shootout when partnering Kevin Na in December and 1st at the Houston Open is not to be sniffed at and Jason has had plenty of positive appearances here at Waialae Country Club. 5 pay cheques from 6 appearances have gleaned a couple of top-20 finishes – 20th in 2014 and 17th in 2015. Across those, Jason was 5th after 36 holes in 2014 and 8th after 54 holes in 2015. He was also joint First Round Leader here 12 months ago with Joaquin Niemann and Peter Malnati, so he clearly gets on well with this course.

And you cannot argue that 3 wins in his last 30 PGA Tour appearances is nothing but impressive. A winner last May on the Par 70 at Colonial in a true head-to-head with “home boy” Jordan Spieth, Kokrak has previous on shorter course formats and he’s undoubtedly far more confident these days with his 36-inch putter. Indeed he ranked 6th for Strokes Gained Putting last season, within a top 10 which also included Sony winners Zach Johnson (2009) and Cameron Smith (2019). RESULT: T17

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Keith Mitchell 1pt EW 66/1 (8EW, 1/5) with William Hill

Keith Mitchell has an extremely consistent Waialae Country Club record. 25th on course debut (2018), 16th (2019) and 14th (2021) is upwardly mobile from 4 appearances. I have had Keith in mind for this since he finished 3rd at the CJ Cup at The Summit Club, Las Vegas, in October. Now The Summit was a resort-style Par 72, which played closer to 7,100 yards due to altitude and featured Bentgrass greens. Keith can undoubtedly perform on all putting surfaces, but factually to this point he’s a bomber who performs best on Bermudagrass greens.

The 2019 Honda Classic winner at PGA National, Keith the week after went on to finish 6th at Bay Hill, a feat he bettered by one position in 2020 when finishing 5th. Keith has also played well at the long, classical, Major-hosting Par 71 at Quail Hollow finishing 8th (2019) and 3rd in 2021. That course features Champion Bermudagrass greens. So he can roll the rock on Bermudagrass, no questions asked.

Across my 8-week Strokes Gained tracker in this field, he ranks 6th for Off the Tee, 16th for Tee to Green and 16th for Stokes Gained Total, plus he also ranks 7th in this field for Strokes Gained Total on Short Courses so far this 2021/22 season. Came close here in 2019 when 3rd going into Sunday, and must arrive in Honolulu boosted by 12th last time out at the RSM Classic, which was his best ever finish at his home event. If he can continue putting as he did at both The Summit and Sea Island then “Killer Keith” has a real chance this week. RESULT: T7

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:20GMT 10.1.22 but are naturally subject to fluctuation.