The PGA TOUR stays in Hawaii for another week but hops over to Oahu for this week’s Sony Open.
The first thing I noticed is the strength of field this week. This is the strongest field I’ve ever seen at this event. Perhaps that’s partially influenced by the new rule that forces golfers to play at least one event they haven’t over the past four years, or perhaps it’s just how the schedule lined up this year. Whatever the case is, we have a really nice lineup of golfers here in Honolulu this week.
The course is Waialae Country Club, a short and tight par 70 layout. The greens are bermudagrass and they don’t get them running too quickly. In fact, having a look at slow green specialists could prove quite valuable by week’s end.
Last week we saw a course with wide-open fairways and eight par 4s under 420 yards. Thanks to the elevation and winds, we saw some of the big bombers turn those wee par 4s into par 3s, basically.
Golfers will need to use more of their bag this week. Many of the tee shots will require some kind of shot-shaping and with only two par 4s under 410 yards, it won’t be a complete wedge-fest.
This seeps over into relevant stats, as well. Most weeks, I may find one or two stats that pop but this week it’s basically “everything this relevant” type of week. That might lead to using a stat like all-around ranking. If I’m narrowing it down, I would look to target great scramblers first.
As for correlated events, I am using the Byron Nelson, Valspar, CareerBuilder, Riviera, and Colonial. Those are my top 5 corollary events but I’m not ignoring the St. Jude Classic, Wyndham, or Honda Classic either.
Check out the Fantasy Golfanac for more course details and golfer quotes from previous years.
Players to Watch
Charles Howell III… Has the benefit of consistent course history on his side. He is 15-for-15 at Waialae with eight top 10s. The only thing missing is a win. I wouldn’t consider him the “man to beat” this week, but his reliability at this venue makes him a great play in all formats, especially One-and-Done.
Paul Casey… If we are talking about the man to beat, I think the Englishman deserves consideration. Ended 2016 with T21 or better in eight of his last nine starts. He was circling the winner’s circle but never landed in it. He’s only made two trips to Wailalae with aT30 in his latest appearance (2015).
Hideki Matsuyama… You can’t argue that he’s the hottest golfer in the world right now. The problem this week is his course history. In four trips he’s packed his bags early all four times (missing the cut three times and MDF in 2015). He was still an amateur during his first three starts here, so that can be slightly excused. However, it’s very, very rare for a golfer to go from NEGATIVE strokes gained at a course to winning in one year. I’m not foolish enough to expect a missed cut this week, but I would be very shocked if he continues his incredible form and finds another podium finish. If I had to bucket his likely finishing position, I would put 10th to 20th place as the likely landing spot this week.
Justin Thomas… While I’m not foolish enough to fully fade Matsuyama, I will be a fool and get behind a full fade of Thomas this week. In fact, he missed the cut here last year so it wouldn’t be that outrageous to see another one. On the flip side, he did finish T6 in his 2015 debut here. Plus, there is the fact that he’s one of the best DraftKings scorers on TOUR. And he’s fun to watch. I’m not completely decided on whether I will fully fade Thomas this week or just lower my exposure, but my early thought is that a let-down week may be on the horizon. This week’s layout only has two par 5s, doesn’t allow him to grip-it and rip-it as much as last week, and he’s traditionally a better putter on faster greens even though he just won last week on slow greens. Coming fresh off a victory, we should see an increase in exposure, which is yet another reason we should be okay with a fade here.
Jimmy Walker… Some people laugh at the Hawaiian narrative but it continues to hold true. Keep playing him in Hawaii and continue to profit.
Tony Finau… Last week’s greens were bermuda but the correlation between bermuda performance and TOC finishes checked in very low. This week, the type of grass is more relevant, so that gives us reason to fade Finau as he’s typically much, much worse on bermuda.
Zac Blair… The short-game extraordinaire has four top 10s on TOUR, and two of them have come here at Waialae. The downside with ZB is that his game is not fantasy friendly when he brings his ‘B’ game or worse. This is a week where we can take a few shots on Blair, though.
John Peterson… Sticking with boom-or-bust options, JP looks like a great course fit this week. He’s a ball-striking machine and the slower greens should only help him. He’s also on the record for loving him some windy conditions, which is always in the cards in Hawaii. Peterson has been inside the Top 20 thru 54 holes on nine occasions. Two of those have come here at Waialae CC. In my Projected Earnings post I called for a Peterson breakout in 2017, and this is a great spot to start that big season. Also has #HoneymoonSwag on his side.
Chris Kirk… Has a pair of top 5s at the Sony Open and was 5-for-5 here before last year’s MC. Last year he will still trying to play his way back into form after suffering from a wrist injury the year before. I will give him a pass for that MC, and think he makes for a very good play this week as some may remember the MC he provided in his latest start as well (RSM Classic). Before that he opened the season with top 10s in 3-of-4 events.
Harris English… Another Georgia Bulldog who loves the layout this week. Had this to say in 2015, “Playing at Waialae is one of my favorite golf courses. It kind of reminds me of growing up in South Georgia, playing on Bermudagrass, firm and fast greens.” That happened to come during the 2015 edition where the greens were faster than they typically are here. He went on to finish T3 that week, but he also has two other top 10s here when the greens played slower. That tells us the green speeds aren’t actually that important to his success here but the fact that he calls it one of his favorite courses is definitely promising.
Cheng Tsung Pan … Tremendous short game and accurate off the tee, not unlike Zac Blair who I just mentioned a moment ago. As a side note, if you took a trip from the University of Washington (where he attended college) to Taiwan then Honolulu would be nearly the exact midpoint in terms of miles between the flight. Okay, that actually means absolutely zero here but he should be a nice fit for Waialae as me makes his debut.
My Top 25 for the 2017 Sony Open
1. Paul Casey
2. Harris English
3. Charles Howell III
4. Jordan Spieth
5. Jimmy Walker
6. Justin Rose
7. Chris Kirk
8. Zach Johnson
9. Kevin Na
10. Jason Dufner
11. Hideki Matsuyama
12. Gary Woodland
13. Ryan Palmer
14. Bill Haas
15. Daniel Berger
16. Brandt Snedeker
17. Cheng Tsung Pan
18. Russell Knox
19. Daniel Summerhays
20. Marc Leishman
21. Billy Horschel
22. Keegan Bradley
23. Webb Simpson
24. Zac Blair
25. Kevin Kisner