Steve Bamford Golf Tips

Steve Bamford's Sony Open In Hawaii Tips

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Justin Thomas delivered a second win for me this wraparound PGA Tour season with a gutsy play-off victory over Patrick Reed and Xander Schauffele. After shooting bogey on both the 16th and 18th holes in regulation play, it took grit and determination to hold off the defending champion and course specialist Reed in extra time. Thomas’s 12th victory at the age of just 26 puts him level with Jason Day, Zach Johnson and Bubba Watson on the all-time list, and one victory ahead of Jordan Spieth.

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. A strong enough field which includes Thomas, Reed, Simpson, Matsuyama, Na, Leishman, Kisner, Im, Ancer, Niemann, Morikawa and defending champion Matt Kuchar 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 4 renewals highlight this perfectly with Matt Kuchar at 40/1, Patton Kizzire at 80/1, Justin Thomas at 14/1 and Fabian Gomez at 100/1.

Before we go into the detail surrounding my 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.

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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 depending upon rough length (short 2″ is the norm), speed of the course and – naturally in Hawaii – the strength of the wind. After years of relative tranquillity here, forecasts suggest that the Sony Open will see strong easterly trade winds in-play for the first time that I can remember here at Waialae.

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 Hazards: 2; Fairways Bermudagrass; Rough: Bermudagrass, 2″; Greens: 6,650 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.

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: 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, and for the first time that I can remember, the players this week are likely to see gusting, 25-35 mph, easterly trade winds across Thursday, Friday and Saturday. That should make for a real challenge on a course that Matt Kuchar describes as, “tight, it’s narrow, it’s flat, but, man, it’s tricky.”

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, for the past 6 seasons, has ranked as the easiest (2013, 2016, 2017), 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 that 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 a prerequisite for victory here as 2016 playoff protagonists Snedeker and Gomez, 2017-winner Thomas and Kizzire all struggled to hit 1 in 2 fairways. Fact is that hitting masses of fairways therefore 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 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 is ultimately iwon 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.

sony open in hawaii tips

Winners: 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).

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.

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 Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Matt Kuchar, Sebastian Munoz, Webb Simpson, Corey Conners, Russell Knox, Jimmy Walker, Russell Henley and Charles Howell III.

Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the CJ Cup and Open de France, which includes PGA Tour, European Tour and the Dunlop Phoenix (Japan Golf 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) Ryan Armour; 3) Brian Stuard; 4) Chez Reavie / Brendon Todd; 6) Scott Brown / Vaughn Taylor; 7) Tyler Duncan / Henrik Norlander; 9) Emiliano Grillo / Nick Taylor / D.J. Trahan; 12) Matt Kuchar; 13) Collin Morikawa / Doc Redman / Chase Seiffert; 16) Adam Long; 17) Kyle Stanley; 18) Abraham Ancer; 19) Brice Garnett; 20) Carlos Ortiz.
  • Greens in Regulation: 1) Nick Taylor; 2) Kyle Stanley; 3) Corey Conners; 4) Justin Thomas; 5) Emiliano Grillo / Hideki Matsuyama; 7) Matthew NeSmith / J.J. Spaun; 9) Henrik Norlander; 10) Keegan Bradley; 11) Ryan Palmer; 12) Cameron Percy / Brendon Todd; 14) Ben Taylor; 15) Tyler Duncan / Ben Martin / Collin Morikawa; 18) Sung Kang / Chase Seiffert; 20) Cameron Smith.
  • Scrambling: 1) Brendon Todd; 2) Carlos Ortiz / Patrick Reed; 4) Abraham Ancer; 5) Dylan Frittelli; 6) Adam Schenk; 7) Hideki Matsuyama / Kevin Na; 9) Alex Noren; 10) Sung Kang / Nate Lashley / Ryan Palmer / Chez Reavie; 14) David Hearn / Vaughn Taylor / Justin Thomas; 17) Russell Knox / Rob Oppenheim; 19) Corey Conners / Doc Redman.
  • Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Carlos Ortiz; 2) J.T. Poston; 3) Sungjae Im / Hideki Matsuyama; 5) Brendon Todd; 6) Justin Thomas; 7) Patton Kizzire; 8) Charley Hoffman; 9) Brian Gay / Harry Higgs / Patrick Reed; 12) Cameron Smith; 13) Brice Garnett / Collin Morikawa; 15) Joaquin Niemann; 16) Kevin Na; 17) Ryan Palmer / D.J. Trahan; 19) Sung Kang; 20) Adam Long.

Winners & Prices: 2019: Matt Kuchar 40/1; 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 6 Renewals Average: 49/1. Overall Average: 87/1.

Historical Weather:

  • 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. Some light rain in the immediate build-up should have softened the course a little, but Waialae is known for its fast course conditions. There’s a 50% chance of rain across Friday and Saturday, but the real tournament shaper that we should take note of this week is wind. Forecasted 25-35 mph, easterly trade winds across Thursday, Friday and Saturday, if accurate, will turn the course from its standard scoreable proposition into something a lot tougher. Expect fast finishers in easier conditions Sunday.

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

  • 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).

Tournament Skill Averages:

Driving Distance: 28th, Driving Accuracy: 35th, Greens in Regulation: 8th, Proximity to Hole: 16th, Scrambling: 21st, Putting Average 6th.

Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:

  • 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: 4th, SG Around the Green: 25th, SG Tee to Green: 8th, 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:

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 10 Sony Open winners:

  • 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 10 winners and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:

  • 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:

  • 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 group and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.

  • 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:

  • 5 – Justin Thomas.
  • 4 – Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed.
  • 3 – Brian Gay, Matt Kuchar, Ryan Palmer, Brandt Snedeker.
  • 2 – Daniel Berger, Jason Dufner, Matt Every, Fabian Gomez, Russell Henley, Chris Kirk, Kevin Kisner, Marc Leishman, Scott Piercy, Jimmy Walker.
  • 1 – Ryan Armour, Keegan Bradley, Tyler Duncan, Lanto Griffin, James Hahn, Charles Howell III, Mackenzie Hughes, Jerry Kelly, Patton Kizzire, Satoshi Kodaira, Adam Long, Peter Malnati, Graeme McDowell, Keith Mitchell, Sebastian Munoz, Pat Perez, J.T. Poston, Rory Sabbatini, Webb Simpson, Cameron Smith, Robert Streb, Brian Stuard, Hudson Swafford, Nick Taylor, Michael Thompson, Brendon Todd, D.J. Trahan, Aaron Wise.

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 21 Champions, 15 (71%) had played on Maui the week before triumphing here. Since the introduction of the wraparound season however, Waialae winners namely Walker (x2), Gomez, Thomas, Kizzire and Kuchar, have all 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 Henley, Wilson and Palmer have proven since 2010. Trends are always broken at some stage!

Course experience seems to be pay real dividends at Waialae as 13 of the past 14 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 23 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 8 winners here since 2012 finished in the top 10 for Strokes Gained Putting on the week.

My Sony Open In Hawaii Tips Are As Follows:

Joaquin Niemann 2pts EW 33/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfair

With the last 6 winners of the Sony Open having played the Tournament of Champions the week previous, names like Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Matt Kuchar and Collin Morikawa all have obvious chances.

JT went win/win in Hawaii back in 2017, but back then we were getting 14/1 for his second victory here at Waialae, when he was actually third favourite in the betting. Patrick Reed’s shortest priced full-field PGA Tour win was his 2016 Barclays victory when he won at Bethpage Black at 50/1. I’ll pass on the 12/1. Matt Kuchar has never defended one of his previous titles in 8 attempts on the PGA Tour and Collin Morikawa is always on the short side.

So I’m going with Joaquin Niemann who played very nicely on the Plantation Course to finish 5th last week. Shooting a -7/66 on Thursday to take the First Round lead grabbed the attention, and from that point onwards he mixed with the likes of Fowler, Johnson, Rahm, Reed, Schauffele, Woodland and ultimate winner Thomas throughout.

On a course that’s known for being very difficult for debutants, such a strong performance which included a -3/70 in the worst of the wind on Sunday, highlights to me a player who’s going to be at elite level and who’s blossoming when it comes to confidence.

A first-time PGA Tour winner only 7 appearances ago at Old White TPC which, as per Waialae Country Club, is a Seth Raynor original design, Niemann ranked 9th for Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 7th for Strokes Gained Putting in a beautifully balanced performance. Being a course debutant is undoubtedly a small negative this week, but the likes of Blair, Every, Spieth and Thomas have all contended and placed in the each-way money in recent renewals here. And let’s not forget Russell Henley who won here on course debut in 2013. Result T57

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Abraham Ancer 1.5pts EW 50/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

I’ve always had the feeling that Abraham Ancer needs a tougher test to get over the line for his maiden PGA Tour title, and this week could be the perfect fit for him.

2 outings here have produced a Missed Cut (2018) and 29th (2019), but Waialae is likely to play far tougher in 2020 with strong winds a very likely feature, and the World Number 38 arrives with plenty of momentum this week.

Following on from a first Tour Championship appearance in August, Ancer finished 4th at the WGC HSBC Champions in Shanghai in November. That was a high-class breakthrough. Then under the pressure of playing under the spotlight in his home country of Mexico, Abraham finished 8th at the Mayakoba Golf Classic. 33rd when defending his Australian Open title preceded an amazing debut at the President’s Cup where he won in partnerships with Louis Oosthuizen, Mark Leishman and Sungjae Im. Beaten in the lead singles by none other than Tiger Woods, Ancer still tied with Sungjae Im and Justin Thomas for high points scorer at Royal Melbourne Golf Club.

Abraham has always performed well by the coast and both of his professional victories, namely the 2015 Nova Scotia Open and the 2019 Australian Open, came at -13/271 and -16/272 respectively. I think that mid-score level is the right kind of target score for the Sony Open this week. Result: T38

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Brendon Todd 1.5pts EW 50/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Coral

He undoubtedly disappointed at Kapalua last week, but I’ll stick with Brendon Todd for the second consecutive week.

Whether you’re a half empty or half full kind of individual very much drives whether you include him in your Sony Open plans this week, but for me the 7,000 yard assignment at Waialae will suit far more than the Plantation Course did.

Prior to 29th at the Sentry, Todd finished 3rd at the QBE Shootout with Billy Horschel in mid-December, finishing 3 back of victors Sabbatini and Tway. Form prior to that of 4th at the RSM Classic, 1st at the Mayakoba Golf Classic and 1st at the Bermuda Championship speaks for itself. All coastal courses, measuring 7,005 yards, 6,987 yards and 6,828 yards respectively, Sea Island and Port Royal both featured Bermudagrass greens. So I undoubtedly think that Waialae will be more to Brendon’s tastes especially as he ranks 4th for Driving Accuracy, 12th for Greens in Regulation, 1st for Scrambling and 5th for Putting Average across my 8-week skill set trackers.

4 pay cheques from 5 appearances here at the Sony Open include 13th (2012) and 20th (2014). I also like correlating course form across Kapalua (9th 2015), PGA West (6th 2014), Colonial (5th 2014), Muirfield Village (8th 2014) Old White TPC (4th 2014) and Harbour Town (4th 2015). Todd is an excellent wind player who has the short game to be competitive in Honolulu. Result: T21

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Sebastian Munoz 1pt EW 60/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfair

The last member of this week’s team is Sebastian Munoz.

Up to a career high 100th in the OWGR, Munoz had a best ever 2019 campaign. 10th here at Waialae, 10th at Trinity Forest, 11th at Hamilton (RBC Canadian Open), 9th at Keene Trace and 11th at Montreux were the highlights in a PGA Tour where he qualified for the FedEx Cup Playoffs for the very first time.

But season 2019/20 has seen Munoz go to a new level. 7th at Old White TPC, was the prelude to his maiden PGA Tour title at the Sanderson Farms Championship at the Country Club of Jackson where he beat none other than Sungjae Im in a play off (breaking many punters hearts into the bargain). That win came on grainy Champion Ultra Dwarf Bermudagrass putting surfaces.

28th at the Houston Open followed before Munoz again lit the blue touch paper at the RSM Classic, shooting rounds of 65-63-66-68 to finish 3rd behind Tyler Duncan and Webb Simpson. 17th on his Tournament of Champions debut was a good effort, featuring a closing -3/70 in the worst of the wind – 6th best round of the day tied with Joaquin Niemann and Xander Schauffele.

Sebastian, who hails from Colombia, is clearly comfortable on Bermudagrass set-ups and is handy enough in windy conditions. He finished 10th here on his course debut 12 months ago. Tie that in with 3rd (2017) and 7th (2019) at Old White TPC and Munoz clearly has a liking for Raynor original golf courses. 4th in this week’s Predictor model at odds that fit with previous winners of the Sony Open. Result: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:55GMT 6.1.20 but naturally subject to fluctuation.