The field this week grows in size by about 100 players as we get our first official full event of 2023. There will be 144 players in the event this week, along with the usual Friday cut line, which will see just the top 65 players and ties play the weekend. For DFS purposes, getting all six of your players through will be crucial for a chance at high finishes in large-field GPPs.
As has become customary with the Sony Open, the field loses many of the big names from the week before. This year, the event will be headlined by two top 10 players, Brian Harman and Matthew Fitzpatrick, and also includes Swedish sensation Ludvig Aberg who is also the betting favorite at +1400 on DraftKings Sportsbook.
There are plenty of other names in the field from last week, including Sentry winner Chris Kirk, Corey Conners, Tyrrell Hatton, and Russell Henley.
Overall, the past winners at the Sony Open tend to be a mixed bag. Young budding superstars like Justin Thomas and Cameron Smith have grabbed wins at this event, but veterans like Matt Kuchar and Kevin Na have also excelled. If the weather cooperates (see below), then expect lower scoring again, as two of the last three winners have reached 21 under par or better.
Waialae Country Club, Honolulu, Hawaii
Par-70, 7,044 yards; Greens: Bermudagrass
The Waialae Country Club is a traditional par-70 course that features trickier Bermuda greens and smaller, narrow fairways; in many ways, it’s the complete opposite in style to the venue we saw last week. Waialae is one of the oldest courses on the PGA TOUR and maintains some quaintness for being a “classic track” that emphasizes tight driving chutes and strategy over daunting size. That said, the softer greens in play and lack of any penal rough often don’t allow the technical nature of this track to overcome the skill of the PGA TOUR pros. Winning scores at this venue have been at 21 under par or better in three of the past five years. The greens did play a little tougher (firmer) last season, which led to tougher conditions and an 18-under-par winner in South Korean Si Woo Kim.
Setup-wise, Waialae features just two par 5s, making par-4 scoring more crucial. Five of the par 4s measure between 450-500 yards in length and will require longer irons on approaches, especially if drives are off-center. There are a couple of opportunities for players to grip and rip off the tee, but placement is vital off the tee. The fairways are some of the tightest on the PGA TOUR, with the field averaging between 52-54% accuracy most seasons. It’s not that Waialae has many penalty areas or trouble to get into, but players can cut themselves off from accessing the green on approach if they get too wild. And with smaller greens, having the best sightlines into the greens is vital — especially if you are not a great around-the-green player.
Accuracy off the tee is important, but traditionally, this is a course that favors players with great approach games who can get into a rhythm on these slower Bermuda greens. The 2018 winner, Patton Kizzire, ranked 67th in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee for the week but third in SG: Approach. Justin Thomas also didn’t rank in the top half of the field in accuracy off the tee the year he won — and he still won by seven strokes.
In 2019, Matt Kuchar gained +5.5 strokes on approaches and also gained over +7 strokes on the greens. In 2022, Hideki Matsuyama was solid in his ball striking but struck gold with his putter, gaining a career-best 7.3 strokes putting for the week. Last year, Sio Woo Kim put on a ball-striking clinic gaining 8.2 strokes on approach (first in the field) but was barely positive putting (+0.9 strokes). When it comes down to it, recent form in the major ball-striking categories is certainly a great start for success on Waialae, but the need to sink as many 5-15 footers this week is just as vital.
Veteran players with good recent form — who have experience on these slower Bermuda greens — should be given a solid look this week and can be great value options for DFS or betting options in the top 40 or top 20 markets. Otherwise, we’re playing the positive regression game and hoping our supreme ball-strikers can put in a decent week with the flat stick, much like Kim and Matsuyama have done the past two years.
2024 weather outlook: The weather this year could keep scoring somewhat higher (compared to historical norms over the past decade) once again. Winds on Thursday afternoon aren’t terrible but they are set to reach 12-15 mph later in the day. Friday could be worse. Day 2 has winds rising past 15 mph in the early afternoon, with gusts potentially reaching 20 mph. Even on a more protected course like Waialae, that is significant and will likely make scoring tougher on Friday. Sunday may be the calmest day of the event, so it may be worthwhile to look at some players off the lead for live betting purposes — as we may get the best scoring day of the event on day 4. If the forecast holds, the Friday afternoon wave may be a fade this week for DFS lineups as well. It’s a week where you’ll want to keep yourself updated on the weather as it develops.
LAST FIVE WINNERS
2023—Si Woo Kim -18 (over Hayden Buckley -17)
2022—Hideki Matsuyama -23 (over Russell Henley playoff)
2021—Kevin Na -21 (over Chris Kirk -20)
2020—Cameron Smith -11 (over Brendan Steele playoff)
2019—Matt Kuchar -22 (over Andrew Putnam -18)
- 11 of the past 13 winners of this event had a T8 or better finish in one of their last four starts prior to their Sony Open win.
- Nine of the past 13 winners of this event ranked inside the top 50 on the PGA TOUR in Strokes Gained: Putting for the year in which they won.
- 9 of the last 12 winners of this event played in the Tournament of Champions the week prior.
Winners Stats and Course Highlights
Si Woo Kim ($10,100; 2022 winner, 23-under-par)
2022 lead-in form (T35-T52-T45-T8-T62)
- Kim didn’t play in the Sentry TOC event the week prior in Maui but he had played a lot of over the fall in 2022 and landed a T8 in one of his previous four starts at the Shriners.
- Kim excelled on approach, to the point that he could afford to miss some shorter putts. Kim gained the lowest number of strokes putting (+0.9 strokes) of any winner of this event over the past decade.
- Over the past six years, only one winner at Waialae has gained less than +4.0 strokes on his approaches (Cameron Smith 2020). Strong putting can make up for some less-than-precise ball-striking, but generally, the winners also excel on approaches.
- Waialae has some of the hardest-to-hit fairways on the PGA TOUR — the field averages around 52-54% of fairways hit — and even the most accurate players off the tee will miss a fair number of fairways.
- Placement OTT is key, though. If you are stuck between two players, going with the more consistent off-the-tee player (the one who will find more fairways) will likely mean a few more birdie looks — Matsuyama was 20th in accuracy OTT last year and fifth in SG: OTT stats.
This section is going to detail a few of the players who have the best fantasy value comparative to their DraftKings Sportsbook odds of winning this week.
Russell Henley +2000 and $9,600
Eric Cole +2800 and $9,700
Brian Harman +2000 and $9,900
Corey Conners +2500 and $9,800
Adam Svensson +5000 and $7,700
Alex Noren +6000 and $7,900
Adam Hadwin +6000 and $8,000
Akshay Bhatia +5000 and $7,800
All odds are provided by DraftKings Sportsbook and all odds are subject to change.
HORSES FOR COURSES
(These players have had a lot of success at this event over their career.)
1. Russell Henley ($9,600; best finishes: 2nd-2022, win-2014): Henley has blitzed Waialae multiple times in his career. He famously blew a five-shot lead at this event in 2022 on the back nine on Sunday but was also one of only two players that year to get to 23-under par. A winner here in 2014 (his first-ever PGA TOUR start), he’s again a solid upside play in 2024 for DFS.
2. Matt Kuchar ($7,800; best finishes: win-2019, T7-2022): Kuchar won this event back in 2019 and has finished T7 at this event the last two seasons. The smaller greens and tight driving chutes make it an ideal setup for a player who relies on accuracy over power. He’s gained over 2.0 strokes putting now in eight of his last 10 starts at this event.
3. Chris Kirk ($9,500; best finishes: T2-2022, T3-2023): It’s possible Kirk wins back-to-back this week. He’s played this event a ton and likes the flow of holes and setup at Waialae. He’s finished top five at the Sony four times in his career and was also T3 here last season.
4. Corey Conners ($9,800; best finishes: third-2019, T1-2022): Conners is one of the most consistent iron players in the game, so it’s not shocking he’s done great on this target-to-target setup where power gets somewhat deemphasized. He was third here in 2019 and hasn’t finished worse than T12 at this venue in the last four seasons.
5. Patton Kizzire ($6,800; best finishes: win-2017): Kizzire won here in 2017 in his debut and also has grabbed finishes of T13 and T7 over the past four years. He has just one missed cut on his record over five career starts at Waialae and comes in off of four made cuts in a row over the fall.
1. Eric Cole ($9,700, Recent finishes: T14-T3-T2): Cole kept the throttle down last week, finishing strongly in Maui, where he placed T14. He’s first in birdies or better gained over the last 50 rounds.
2. Ludvig Aberg ($10,500, Recent finishes: T47-win-T10): Aberg’s T47 last week may not jump off the page but he did finish last week with a 10-under par 63. He’s won twice over his last five starts.
3. Ryan Moore ($6,700, Recent finishes: T16-T2-T2): Moore had a great fall and should come into this week ready to go. The veteran is second in strokes gained total stats over the last six events.
4. Matthias Schmid ($6,700, Recent finishes: T7-T42-T3): Schmid had a great fall posting three top-five finishes across the DP World Tour and PGA TOUR. The German is third in strokes gained total stats over the last six events.
5. Alex Noren ($7,900, Recent finishes: T23-2nd): Noren is another name who came close to winning over the fall. He finished second in Bermuda and has top-five finishes in two of his last four PGA starts.
Cash Games: Kirk and Cole veterans to trust
It’s hard to over-emphasize how well courses like Waialae set up for players like Chris Kirk ($9,500) and Eric Cole ($9,700), two players who dueled in a playoff at the Honda’s claustrophobic setup last spring. Kirk played great last week but long-term Cole tracks better than almost anyone in a lot of key areas. Starting with both names gives you plenty of upside and safety in a 50/50 or heads-up lineup. Harris English ($8,300) has played well at this event plenty in the past and is cheap enough to be used in balanced builds while both Adam Svennson ($7,700) and Matt Kuchar ($7,800) bring great form and course history. A couple of less expensive names to consider for this format include Alex Smalley ($7,100) and Matthew NeSmith ($6,500).
Tournaments: Shoot high with Hatton
Tyrrell Hatton ($10,300) comes into this event off a roller-coaster week at the Sentry. He looked out of it after round one but then shot an 11-under par in round two to get near the lead. He finished the week in T14 and now heads to the Sony, where he’ll play Waialae for the first time. It should set up well for him and he ranks first in par 4 scoring and 5th in birdie or better % over the last 50 rounds. I also like this spot for Alex Noren ($7,900) to potentially have a big week. He’s underpriced and would fit in well in a starts and scrubs build. Other names to consider in big-field GPPs include Cameron Davis ($8,500 - see below), Denny McCarthy ($8,400), Taylor Pendrith ($7,200) and Matthias Schmid ($6,700).
MY PICK: Cameron Davis ($8,500)
Davis was my pick at this event last season and while he disappointed for the most part (T32) I think he’s in a better position to succeed this week than he was last year. His ownership this week should stay low after a T52 at the Sentry but getting in four rounds in Maui has been key for plenty of past winners of this event — many of whom also had poor finishes at the Sentry before winning in Honolulu. Kevin Na (T38 in 2022) finished one shot out of last at the Sentry two seasons ago — before winning the Sony — and Matt Kuchar fumbled to a T19 in Maui in 2019, directly before his Sony win.
Davis not only sets up well for Waialae (10th in SG: TTG stats on Par 70 courses the last 50 rounds) but he’s a player who was on the rise last fall (four top 10 finishes between August and November 2023). He’s also someone who bounces back from a poor outing well. In 2023 he posted top 10 finishes at the PGA Championship, PLAYERS, and RBC Heritage. In each event prior to those big finishes, he had either missed the cut or finished outside the top 50.
At $8,500, he’s not someone you need to break the bank to fit in for DFS, and his upside (over 112.0 DKFP in his last two full-field PGA events) makes him a solid value. I think Davis remains a player on the verge of finding his second win soon, so looking to play him at +3500 or better on the DraftKings Sportsbook makes sense this week as well. He’s top 20 in the field in par 4 scoring and birdie or better percentage over the last 50 rounds. Davis should also benefit from a rest perspective after his non-competitive outing in Maui.
MY SLEEPER: Justin Suh ($7,400)
Suh’s salary this week looks like a good buy-the-dip opportunity. While he didn't make the field at the Sentry Tournament of Champions last week, the American played a solid fall schedule that included two top-10 finishes in his last three starts. Along with his T4 finish in Mexico in the fall, Suh’s 2023 included top 10 finishes at the Honda and TPC Sawgrass, two of the more accuracy-driven courses on the PGA. Last year, he also came into Waialae without having played in Maui the week prior and promptly gained 5.2 strokes ball-striking for the week — while atypically losing strokes on the greens.
There is little doubt that Suh sets up best when he’s on a tighter par 70 where he can focus on scoring and accuracy rather than worrying about trying to overpower the course. While his around-the-green game can come and go, he’s also top 10 in birdie or better % over the last 50 rounds and can pay off for DFS lineups just off his putting upside alone. I like Suh as a solid target in GPPs and he’s a player you should be thinking about in the top 20/40 markets on DraftKings Sportsbook this week as well.
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I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is wavegoodbye) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and do not constitute a representation that any particular strategy will guarantee success. All customers should use their own skill and judgment in building lineups. I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.