Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's Sony Open In Hawaii Tips

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Congratulations if you were on Harris English at up to 33/1 last week at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Credit to English who carried forward the momentum of winning the QBE Shoot Out with Matt Kuchar – and the mere matter of 4 top-10 finishes this season already – to beat Joaquin Niemann in a play-off. We were on Justin Thomas at 15/2 who missed out on the play off by a single shot – typical!

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 English, Morikawa, Simpson, Berger, Hovland, Im, Matsuyama, Scott, Ancer, Leishman, Kokrak, Kisner and defending champion Cameron Smith 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 5 renewals highlight this perfectly with 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.

Before we go into the detail surrounding the Sony Open in Hawaii, 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 every Tuesday of the golfing calendar), the Steve Bamford Golf Channel on YouTube and our hugely popular 5,700+ strong private 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 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 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 -11/269 (last year) 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. 2021 looks like a return to low scoring with little wind and favourable course conditions.

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.

Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for the 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.
  • Winged Foot: 19-23 yards wide.
  • Silverado: 250 yards from the tee: 27 yards wide; 275:26; 300:24; 325:25; 350:24.

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 2020 saw plenty of that 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 this 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 2019, 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 pre-requisite 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 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 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. Even last year in very tough, windy conditions, 32 eagles were scored over the 2 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 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 non-putt ball-strikers.

sony open in hawaii tips

Winners: 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).

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 Harris English, Webb Simpson, Ryan Palmer, Cameron Smith, Kevin Kisner, Patton Kizzire, Daniel Berger, Joaquin Niemann, Matt Kuchar and Marc Leishman.

Recent Player Skill Rankings: These top 25 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Bermuda Championship and Cyprus Open, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Driving Accuracy: 1) Matt Kuchar / Mike Weir; 3) Austin Cook; 4) Abraham Ancer / Michael Thompson; 6) Brian Gay; 7) Henrik Norlander; 8) Collin Morikawa; 9) Ryan Armour / Daniel Berger / Russell Henley / Si Woo Kim / Brendon Todd; 14) Kevin Na / Matthew NeSmith; 16) Chris Baker / Keegan Bradley / Brian Harman / Danny Lee / Webb Simpson; 21) J.J. Spaun; 22) Brice Garnett / Erik van Rooyen; 24) Hideki Matsuyama / Ryan Palmer.
  • Greens in Regulation: 1) Ryan Palmer; 2) Daniel Berger; 3) Kramer Hickok; 4) Abraham Ancer; 5) Billy Horschel; 6) Charles Howell III / Collin Morikawa / Webb Simpson; 9) Jim Herman / Kevin Na / Kevin Tway; 12) Brian Harman; 13) Brian Gay; 14) Harris English / Carlos Ortiz; 16) Doug Ghim; 17) Hideki Matsuyama / Michael Thompson; 19) Robert Streb; 20) Joaquin Niemann; 21) Zach Johnson / Matt Jones; 23) Russell Knox / Jason Kokrak / Henrik Norlander.
  • Scrambling: 1) Cameron Smith; 2) Harris English; 3) Roger Sloan; 4) Brian Gay; 5) Billy Horschel; 6) Webb Simpson; 7) Daniel Berger / Kevin Na / Carlos Ortiz / Ben Taylor; 11) Scott Piercy; 12) Anirban Lahiri; 13) Abraham Ancer / Kevin Kisner / Nelson Ledesma / Collin Morikawa / C.T. Pan; 18) Sergio Garcia; 19) Hideki Matsuyama; 20) Mackenzie Hughes / Troy Merritt; 22) Scott Brown; 23) Jim Herman / Michael Thompson; 25) Sungjae Im.
  • Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Ryan Palmer; 2) Brian Gay; 3) Anirban Lahiri; 4) Adam Scott / Cameron Smith / Michael Thompson; 7) Patton Kizzire; 8) Matt Kuchar; 9) Matthew NeSmith; 10) Harris English / Martin Trainer; 12) Kevin Kisner; 13) Hideki Matsuyama; 14) Harry Higgs / Nelson Ledesma; 16) Robert Streb; 17) Collin Morikawa / Carlos Ortiz / Pat Perez; 20) Si Woo Kim; 21) David Hearn / Sungjae Im; 23) Joaquin Niemann; 24) Talor Gooch; 25) Billy Horschel.

Recent Player Strokes Gained Rankings: These top 25 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Bermuda Championship and Cyprus Open, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Top 25 SG Off The Tee: 1) Sergio Garcia; 2) Daniel Berger; 3) Charles Howell III; 4) Billy Horschel / Matthew NeSmith; 6) Collin Morikawa / Jhonattan Vegas; 8) Hideki Matsuyama; 9) Si Woo Kim / Adam Schenk; 11) Keegan Bradley / Ryan Palmer; 13) Joaquin Niemann / Cameron Smith; 15) Matt Every / Erik van Rooyen; 17) Michael Gligic / Webb Simpson; 19) Harris English / Kevin Kisner / Carlos Ortiz; 22) Henrik Norlander; 23) Lanto Griffin / Charley Hoffman / Marc Leishman.
  • Top 25 SG Approach: 1) Kyle Stanley; 2) Doug Ghim; 3) Ryan Palmer; 4) Sepp Straka; 5) Adam Scott; 6) Marc Leishman; 7) Daniel Berger; 8) Kramer Hickok; 9) Keegan Bradley / Michael Thompson; 11) Abraham Ancer; 12) Emiliano Grillo; 13) Brian Gay / Harris English / Collin Morikawa; 16) Russell Henley / Matthew NeSmith; 18) Chase Seiffert; 19) Brian Stuard; 20) Hideki Matsuyama; 21) Will Gordon; 22) Joseph Bramlett / J.T. Poston; 24) Webb Simpson / Erik van Rooyen.
  • Top 25 SG Around The Green: 1) Aaron Baddeley / Brendon Todd; 3) Marc Leishman; 4) Patton Kizzire / Roger Sloan; 6) Kevin Kisner; 7) Joaquin Niemann / Scott Piercy; 9) Harry Higgs / Cameron Smith; 11) Hideki Matsuyama; 12) Ryan Palmer; 13) Carlos Ortiz; 14) Collin Morikawa / Kevin Na; 16) Satoshi Kodaira / Peter Malnati; 18) Andrew Landry / C.T. Pan; 20) Brian Gay; 21) Harris English; 22) Daniel Berger / Brandt Snedeker; 24) Billy Horschel / Robert Streb.
  • Top 25 SG Tee to Green: 1) Ryan Palmer; 2) Daniel Berger / Kyle Stanley; 4) Marc Leishman; 5) Collin Morikawa / Joaquin Niemann; 7) Harris English / Hideki Matsuyama; 9) Scott Piercy / Webb Simpson; 11) Russell Henley / Carlos Ortiz; 13) Kevin Kisner / Roger Sloan; 15) Keegan Bradley / Billy Horschel; 17) Cameron Smith; 18) Doug Ghim / Sepp Straka; 20) Scott Brown / Charley Hoffman / Brian Stuard; 23) Brian Gay / Charles Howell III / Kramer Hickok.
  • Top 25 SG Putting: 1) Abraham Ancer; 2) Matt Kuchar; 3) Kevin Kisner / Brendon Todd; 5) Michael Thompson; 6) Harris English / Brian Gay; 8) Zach Johnson / Cameron Smith; 10) Billy Horschel / Carlos Ortiz; 12) Ryan Palmer / Erik van Rooyen; 14) Robert Streb; 15) Brice Garnett; 16) Daniel Berger; 17) Hideki Matsuyama / Collin Morikawa; 19) Mackenzie Hughes / Patton Kizzire; 21) Hunter Mahan / Rory Sabbatini; 23) Austin Cook / Kevin Na / Martin Trainer.
  • Top 25 SG Total: 1) Ryan Palmer; 2) Harris English; 3) Collin Morikawa; 4) Daniel Berger; 5) Kevin Kisner / Patton Kizzire; 7) Joaquin Niemann; 8) Kyle Stanley; 9) Abraham Ancer / Erik van Rooyen; 11) Michael Thompson; 12) Carlos Ortiz / Webb Simpson; 14) Roger Sloan; 15) Hideki Matsuyama / Brendon Todd; 17) Billy Horschel / Marc Leishman / Cameron Smith; 20) Charley Hoffman / Robert Streb; 22) Scott Piercy; 23) Adam Scott; 24) Brian Gay / Zach Johnson.

Winners & Prices: 2020: Cameron Smith 55/1; 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 7 Renewals Average: 50/1. Overall Average: 82/1.

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

Historical Weather:

  • 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 has been precipitation across December and January, so the course should have some cut in it. Greens are likely to be watered and new putting surfaces that we have seen introduced across recent years will be established. Temperatures of 25 degrees Celsius throughout and the very lightest of winds will make this another low-scoring tournament.

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

  • 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).

Tournament Skill Averages:

Driving Distance: 26th, Driving Accuracy: 35th, Greens in Regulation: 9th, Proximity to Hole: 18th, Scrambling: 21st, Putting Average 6th.

Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:

  • 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: 30th, SG Approach: 14th, SG Around the Green: 22nd, SG Tee to Green: 12th, SG Putting: 3rd.

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

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 11 Sony Open winners:

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

  • 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:

  • 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.

  • 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, Zach Johnson.
  • 3 – Sergio Garcia, Billy Horschel, Matt Kuchar, Ryan Palmer, Brandt Snedeker.
  • 2 – Daniel Berger, K.J. Choi, Harris English, Matt Every, Fabian Gomez, Russell Henley, Si Woo Kim, Chris Kirk, Kevin Kisner, Marc Leishman, Davis Love III, Scott Piercy, Adam Scott, Webb Simpson, Cameron Smith, Robert Streb, Jimmy Walker.
  • 1 – Ryan Armour, Aaron Baddeley, Keegan Bradley, Wesley Bryan, Austin Cook, Branden Grace, Lanto Griffin, Jim Herman, Mackenzie Hughes, Charles Howell III, Sungjae Im, Patton Kizzire, Satoshi Kodaira, Andrew Landry, Peter Malnati, Keith Mitchell, Sebastian Munoz, Grayson Murray, Carlos Ortiz; C.T. Pan, Pat Perez, Rory Sabbatini, Brian Stuard, Hudson Swafford, Nick Taylor, Michael Thompson, Brendon Todd, D.J. Trahan, Jhonattan Vegas, Nick Watney, 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 22 Champions, 15 (68%) had played on Maui the week before triumphing here. Since the introduction of the wrap-around season, Waialae winners – namely Walker (x2), Gomez, Thomas, Kizzire and Kuchar, – all played the Tournament of Champions. That changed 12 months ago though with 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 Henley, Wilson, Palmer and now Smith have proven since 2010.

Course experience seems to be pay real dividends at Waialae as 14 of the past 15 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 9 winners here since 2012 finished in the top 10 for Strokes Gained Putting on the week.

Kevin Kisner 2pts EW 30/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfair

Kevin Kisner is an auto-bet for my podcast colleague Barry O’Hanrahan right now and as I write this tip I find him 11th favourite in the betting market for the Sony Open at 30/1.

A natural Bermudagrass putter, he’s ranked 30th, 12th, 20th and 15th for Strokes Gained Putting across the last 4 seasons. And Kisner is undoubtedly trending towards his 4th PGA Tour victory in my opinion. 3rd at the Rocket Mortgage Classic (June), 3rd at the Wyndham Championship (August), 4th at the Northern Trust (August) and 2nd at the RSM Classic (November), that’s 4 top-4 finishes across his last 14 starts.

Kisner is the sort who dissects short golf courses and Waialae Country Club is right up his alley. 5th (2016), 4th (2017), 25th (2018) and 4th (2020) across his last 5 starts here, the Sony Open has been a happy hunting ground of late.

In this field across my 8-week trackers, Kisner sits 19th for Strokes Gained Off the Tee, 13th for SG Tee to Green, 3rd for SG Putting and 5th for SG Total. And he finished on Sunday at last week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions with a -5/68 in a round where he hit 16 of 18 Greens in Regulation, ranked in the top 14 for SG Tee to Green and in the top 9 for SG Putting – a category where he ranked 7th across the whole week. He has a great chance this week at an event where mid-prices winners have been the norm over the past 7 renewals. Result: T32

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Zach Johnson 1.5pts EW 40/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfair

Zach Johnson didn’t play the Sentry Tournament of Champions but, as I stated above, 4 champions since 2010 – namely Ryan Palmer, Mark Wilson, Russell Henley and defending champion Cameron Smith – didn’t play Kapalua either. Yes it’s an advantage, but it’s certainly not a cast-iron trend. So Zach for me this week is a must-back, especially as he’s always made a habit of starting the season well on his yearly opening appearance.

From 2008 through to 2020, Zach’s first outing of the year has generated finishes of 20/6/18/23/54/18/1/7/21/6/14/MC/28 – so a win apiece at Kapalua (2014) and here at Waialae (2009) which isn’t too shabby. His results here at the Sony Open have generated $1.793m in prize money, and on top of his win in 2009 he’s finished 12th (2010), 8th (2014), 9th (2016), 6th (2017) and 14th (2018).

In late 2020 we undoubtedly started to see seeds of recovery from the 2-time Major winner. Buoyed by receiving the Payne Stewart Award, he shot 61/65 over the weekend to finish 7th at Sedgefield in August. That was his first top 10 finish for 20 months and he followed that up with 8th at the U.S. Open, 19th at the Shriners Open and 6th last time out at the RSM Classic in late November. Zach went out in the Sunday final group with Bronson Burgoon and eventual winner Robert Streb, where a triple-bogey 8 at the par-5 8th took away his chances of victory – he finished 3 shots back of Streb and Kisner at -16/266. But let’s be frank here, Johnson is re-immersing himself with contending on Sundays and he must arrive in Hawaii in great spirits.

5 of his 12 PGA Tour victories have come off preceding top-9 finishes and Season 2020/21 has already thrown up some significant wins for players who haven’t triumphed for many years on the World’s biggest golf Tour. Stewart Cink (11+ years), Sergio Garcia (3 and a half years), Martin Laird (7 and a half years), Brian Gay (7 and a half years), Robert Streb (6+ years) and now Harris English (7+ years) have all ended periods of winless drought. So Zach doing the same on a short. coastal, Par 70 would not surprise me at all, especially as in this field he ranks 21st for Greens in Regulation and 8th for Strokes Gained Putting across my 8-week trackers. Result: T62

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Brendon Todd 1.5pts EW 45/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfair

Brendon Todd is starting to hit greens and score well and that makes him a real danger for a course such as Waialae Country Club.

Arrow straight off the tee, averaging 250 yards off the tee is just too big a deficit to seriously contend on the Plantation Course at Kapalua. Todd’s 3 PGA Tour victories have come on set-ups measuring 7,166 yards, 6,828 yards and 6,987 yards – so Waialae at 7,044 yards is right up his street. And the 35 year-old University of Georgia graduate is starting to play some nice stuff.

When defending his title at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in December he shot 67-69-67-66 to finish in 8th spot – no mean feat. From Mexico he travelled to Florida to partner Billy Horschel at the QBE ShootOut, finishing in 5th spot. And last week at Kapalua Brendon was again punching above his weight finishing 13th.

2020 was undoubtedly a year of maybes, with Todd leading both the Travelers Championship and WGC St Jude Invitational after 54 holes – he went on to finish 11th and 15th respectively after Sunday collapses. He was also 17th at the PGA Championship, 8th at the BMW Championship and qualified comfortably for the Tour Championship – guaranteeing him spots in all 2021 WGCs and Majors.

His Sony Open form is under-the-radar but 13th (2012), 20th (2014) and 21st (2020), highlights the potential he has to go very well here. 46th in the OWGR marries up well with recent winners here Walker (2014), Kuchar (2019) and Smith (2020) as does Brendon’s 45/1 price point. Result: T41

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Brian Gay 1pt EW 200/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Think back to early November and Brian Gay surprised many when he won the Bermuda Championship, which was his 5th PGA Tour victory.

The 48 year-old Texan showed nerves of steel to chase down Wyndham Clark and then beat him in a play-off. 4th for Driving Accuracy, 15th for Greens in Regulation, 6th for Total Accuracy and 6th for Putting Average (Putts per GIR), Brian put on a masterclass. Just a single outing later, after he finished 29th at Kapalua last week, and we find him at exotic odds once again.

Now Waialae Country Club is a course where Strokes Gained Off the Tee is not the be-all and end-all, so players like Brian can undoubtedly be competitive. 5 top-13 finishes here include 10th (2001), 5th (2009), 13th (2011), 6th (2012) and 13th (2017). Indeed just the matter of 2 renewals ago he was 22nd and that was after 6 weeks of no competitive golf.

Across my 8-week skill trackers in this field he ranks 6th for Driving Accuracy, 13th for Greens in Regulation, 4th for Scrambling and 2nd for Putting Average (Putts per GIR). From a Strokes Gained perspective, he was also 14th for Approach and 13th for Putting on the Plantation Course. Waialae this week will undoubtedly play more to his strengths and it’s worth noting that all of Gay’s wins, El Camaleon (2008), Harbour Town (2009), TPC Southwind (2009), PGA West (2013) and Port Royal (2020), have come with low winning scores of -16/264, -20/264, -18/262, -25/263 and -15/269. Result: T72

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 18:10GMT 11.1.21 but naturally subject to fluctuation.