A quite stunning finish of -11/62 from Xander Schauffele saw him win last week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions at 22/1. Gary Woodland, who did nothing wrong except par the par-5 18th, must be wondering what he needs to do to win his 4th PGA Tour title. His time will come – it could even be this week. My 3 selections all finished in the top-8 so we must be doing something right, although I had strong chances for DeChambeau and Leishman going into Sunday.
Before we talk Sony Open in Hawaii tips, we always have new visitors to Golf Betting System as the golfing year kicks off. Welcome to you all and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published Tuesday) our Golf Betting Show on YouTube and our hugely popular private Facebook Group on Facebook – you can Join Here.
We move forward to my Sony Open in Hawaii tips, an event which is the traditional first full-field tournament of the calendar year on the PGA Tour. A strong enough field which includes Thomas, DeChambeau, Spieth, Woodland, Leishman, Reed, Casey, Watson and Matsuyama line up at the Waialae Country Club for an event which has had full PGA Tour status since 1965. Waialae offers up an ‘old school’ type test, where obvious winners along with shocks occur in equal measure. Indeed the last 3 renewals highlight this perfectly with Patton Kizzire at 80/1, Justin Thomas at 14/1 and Fabian Gomez at 100/1 each getting over the line.
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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. 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 helps but is seemingly not as critical to the final result as players make it out to be. This is a real Jekyll and Hyde course where the winning score has varied from -13/267 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, which is a prevailing easterly trade wind here. Recent renewals though have seen Waialae yield plenty of birdies for those whose approach and putting games are both on song.
Waialae Country Club, Honolulu, Hawaii: Designer: Raynor, 1927; Course Type: Coastal, Resort; Par: 70; Length: 7,044 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 2; Fairways Bermudagrass; Rough: Bermudagrass, 2″; Greens: 6,500 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.
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: 35 yards wide; 275:32; 300:33; 325:37; 350:34.
- Plantation Course: 250 yards from the tee: 53 yards wide; 275:58; 300:63; 325:58; 350:62.
- Seaside Course: 250 yards from the tee: 39 yards wide; 275:38; 300:33; 325:29; 350:23.
- TPC Summerlin: 250 yards from the tee: 32 yards wide; 275:30; 300:26; 325:25; 350:24.
- CC of Jackson: 250 yards from the tee: 28 yards wide; 275:27; 300:28; 325:28; 350:24.
- Silverado: 250 yards from the tee: 27 yards wide; 275:27; 300:24; 325:25; 350:24.
- East Lake: 250 yards from the tee: 27 yards wide; 275:25; 300:24; 325:23; 350:22.
- Conway Farms: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:29; 300:29; 325:26; 350:28.
- TPC Boston: 250 yards from the tee: 34 yards wide; 275:34; 300:32; 325:31; 350:32.
Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Raynor input designs include:
- Old White TPC – Greenbrier Classic.
Course Overview: The scoring at Waialae, as per Kapalua last week, is always shaped by the level of wind. Unlike Kapalua though, light winds are forecast for this week making this another scoreable test. 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 and par-3 17th hole last year – the firmer greens certainly affected scoring negatively 12 months ago.
Waialae Country Club is a pretty straightforward 7,044 yard Par 70 which, for the past 6 seasons, has ranked as the easiest (2013, 2016, 2017), second easiest (2014, 2015), or third easiest 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 simply the wayward. Accuracy no longer appears to be essential for victory here as 2016 playoff protagonists Snedeker and Gomez, 2017-winner Thomas and reigning champion Kizzire all struggled to hit 1 in 2 fairways. Fact is that hitting masses of fairways therefore is not a pre-requisite to winning the tournament as long as you can consistently hit excellent approach shots.
The key to success is fairly simple: Waialae over the past 4 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. 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 ultimately is 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 ball-strikers.
Winners: 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).
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 Charles Howell III, Justin Thomas, Gary Woodland, Marc Leishman, Bryson DeChambeau, Patton Kizzire, Cameron Champ, Scott Piercy, Kevin Kisner and Matt Kuchar.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 8-tournament window that stretches back to the CJ Cup and Valderrama Masters, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
- Driving Accuracy: 1) Satoshi Kodaira; 2) Johnson Wagner; 3) Chez Reavie; 4) Joel Dahmen; 5) Matt Kuchar; 6) Ryan Armour; 7) Brice Garnett; 8) Keegan Bradley / Bryson DeChambeau / Brian Gay; 11) James Hahn / J.J. Henry; 13) Roberto Diaz / Kramer Hickok / Scott Piercy / Ben Silverman; 17) Ted Potter Jnr.; 18) Andrew Landry; 19) Paul Casey / Bubba Watson.
- Greens in Regulation: 1) Bubba Watson; 2) Marc Leishman; 3) Patrick Reed; 4) Bryson DeChambeau; 5) Justin Thomas; 6) Gary Woodland; 7) Andrew Putnam / Cameron Smith; 9) Matt Kuchar; 10) Ian Poulter; 11) Emiliano Grillo / Danny Lee / Adam Scott; 14) Dylan Frittelli; 15) Paul Casey / J.J. Henry; 17) Hideki Matsuyama; 18) Charles Howell III / Scott Piercy; 20) Cameron Champ / Adam Hadwin / Johnson Wagner.
- Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Bryson DeChambeau; 2) Jimmy Walker / Gary Woodland; 4) Keegan Bradley; 5) Patton Kizzire; 6) Scott Piercy; 7) Paul Casey; 8) Dominic Bozzelli / Marc Leishman / Justin Thomas; 11) Cameron Champ; 12) Ted Potter Jnr.; 13) Brian Gay; 14) Hank Lebioda; 15) Adam Hadwin / Ben Silverman / Bubba Watson; 18) Si Woo Kim / Pat Perez; 20) Andrew Putnam / Russell Knox.
Winners & Prices: 2018: Patton Kizzire 80/1; 2017: Justin 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 5 Renewals Average: 50/1; Overall Average: 90/1.
- 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: Weather: 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. Compared to Kapalua there is little to report this week on the neighbouring island of Oahu. Light Trade (easterly) winds are forecast throughout, with nothing over 10mph forecast. With little significant rain in the build-up to the tournament, expect firm fairway conditions with plenty of run, the likes of which is pretty standard here at Waialae. The course should be more than gettable, with 25 degree Celsius temperatures expected throughout.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of winners since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
- 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).
Tournament Skill Average:
- Driving Distance: 30th, Driving Accuracy: 38th, Greens in Regulation: 8th, Proximity to Hole: 17th, Scrambling: 22nd, Putting Average 7th.
Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:
- 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: 41st, SG Approach: 3rd, SG Around the Green: 24th, SG Tee to Green: 9th, SG Putting: 3rd.
So let’s take a view from players as to how Waialae Country Club sets up and what skills the course favours:
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 9 Sony Open winners:
- 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.
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
- Patton Kizzire: 15th ToC/45th RSM/1st OHL/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 group and winning score since 2010.
- 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 – Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas.
- 3 – Brian Gay, Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker, Jordan Spieth.
- 2 – Luke Donald, Jason Dufner, Fabian Gomez, Si Woo Kim, Chris Kirk, Marc Leishman, Davis Love III, Scott Piercy, Adam Scott, Jimmy Walker, Bubba Watson.
- 1 – Ryan Armour, Jonas Blixt, Keegan Bradley, Paul Casey, Cameron Champ, Harris English, Adam Hadwin, James Hahn, Charles Howell III, Mackenzie Hughes, Jerry Kelly, Kevin Kisner, Patton Kizzire, Satoshi Kodaira, Peter Malnati, Grayson Murray, Sean O’Hair, Pat Perez, Rory Sabbatini, Cameron Smith, Robert Streb, Steve Stricker, Brian Stuard, Hudson Swafford, Nick Taylor, Michael Thompson, Johnson Wagner, Gary Woodland, Y.E. Yang.
There’s no doubt that players who’ve played at Kapalua the week before the Sony Open have historically had an advantage. Of the past 20 Champions, 14 (70%) had played on Maui the week before triumphing here. My advice though is don’t get caught in the ‘must play Kapalua’ camp – it helps but certainly isn’t totally critical as Henley, Wilson and Palmer have proven since 2010. Since the introduction of the wrap-around season however, Waialae winners namely Walker (x2), Gomez, Thomas and Kizzire have all played the Tournament of Champions.
Course experience seems to be pay real dividends at Waialae as 12 of the past 13 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 20 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. All 7 winners here since 2012 finished in the top 10 for Strokes Gained Putting on the week.