The field this week grows in size by about 100 players as we get our first official full event of the 2021 season this week. As usual, there will be a Friday cut that takes place allowing only the top 65 and ties to play on the weekend. As is becoming custom now with the Sony Open, the field here loses many of the big names from the week before as several top players simply don’t feel the need to make it a double-dip in Hawaii with bigger events on the horizon. Some of the bigger-named players that did come over this week include Adam Scott, Sungjae Im, Collin Morikawa, Daniel Berger and last year’s Sony Open champion, Cameron Smith.
For many this week, the Sony Open will act as a bit of an eye-opener given that most haven’t competed in an actual event since the beginning of last September. Those who will be coming in with a bit of competitive rust include the likes of Russell Henley, Si Woo Kim and Brandt Snedeker. Past champions who are also in the event this week include Fabian Gomez (2016), Patton Kizzire (2018) Matt Kuchar (2019) and the aforementioned Smith. One other name to watch here will be Takumi Kanaya. The Japanese pro was the number one amateur player in the world for over a year and also has two wins on the Japanese Tour, his most recent being at the Dunlop Phoenix event in November 2020. He’s 126th in the OWGR.
Waialae Country Club, Honolulu, Hawaii
Par-70, 7,044 yards; Greens: Bermudagrass
The Waialae Country Club is a traditional par-70 course which features trickier Bermuda greens and smaller, narrow fairways; in many ways it’s a complete opposite to the venue we saw last week. The venue is one of the oldest 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 scoring at the venue has fluctuated a lot the last few years and at times it has been turned into a figurative pitch-and-putt for the modern PGA TOUR players. 2017 saw Justin Thomas open with a 59 here and set the scoring record at 27-under-par. Four of the last six winners here have now also been at 20-under par of better. Last year wet weather and wind helped to keep scoring down as Cameron Smith eked out a win at just 11-under.
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 as approaches especially if drives are off-center. There are opportunities for players to grip and rip, but the biggest test for the players here off the tee will be placement as many of the holes feature a dogleg setup that require hitting specific landing spots. The fairways here also make placement key as they’re some of the tightest on the PGA TOUR with the field averaging between 52-54% accuracy most seasons. The rough isn’t hard to hit out of here most seasons but wet weather can make it more difficult as it did last year.
Accuracy doesn’t hurt off the tee here but traditionally this is course very much favors players with great approaches who can figure out these slower Bermuda greens. 2018 winner, Patton Kizzire, ranked 67th in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee for the week, but 3rd in SG: Approach. 2017 winner Justin Thomas also didn’t rank in the top half of the field in accuracy off the tee the year he won and still won by seven strokes. In 2019, Matt Kuchar gained +5.5 strokes on approaches and also gained over +7-strokes on the greens. Cameron Smith actually lost strokes last year on approach but gained over +8-strokes putting, a type of split you likely won’t see much from winners here unless the weather becomes a big factor again.
2021 weather outlook: It looks like we could get slightly cooler temperatures for this week as the highs are set to “only” be in the mid-70s this week. Still, the morning lows aren’t going to get below 65 (it is Hawaii after all) and the most important factor here, the wind, doesn’t appear like it will be a massive factor either. Thursday sets up as the windiest day of the three right now as some morning gusts will continue to build into the 12-15 mph range for the afternoon wave. The next two days look pretty nondescript with winds dying down to the 8-10 mph range before they pick back up slightly on Sunday. The last day also has some rain forecast in the afternoon—similar to last year—so scoring could be down slightly for the final round. It doesn’t look like the weather is going to play a huge role but the cooler than normal temps and some slight wind and rain could be enough to keep scoring just slightly higher than what we’re used to.
LAST FIVE WINNERS
2020—Cameron Smith -11 (over Brendan Steele playoff)
2019—Matt Kuchar -22 (over Andrew Putnam -18)
2018—Patton Kizzire -17 (over James Hahn playoff)
2017—Justin Thomas -27 (over Justin Rose -20)
2016—Fabian Gomez -20 (over Brandt Snedeker playoff)
- Each of the past nine winners of this event had a T6 or better finish in one of their last three starts prior to their win at this event.
- Eight of the past nine winners of this event ranked inside the top-50 on the PGA TOUR in strokes gained: Putting for the year in which they won this event.
- Seven of the last nine winners of this event played in the TOC event the week prior.
Winners Stats and Course Highlights
Cameron Smith ($9,600; 2020 winner, 11-under-par)
2020 lead-in form (T60-T3-T13-MC-T24)
· The weather last year created more havoc than normal, and it seemed to play into the advantage of Cam Smith, who was able to scramble and light up the green with his putter.
· Smith was the first winner here in over five years to gain less than +4.0 strokes (or more) on his approaches as he actually lost strokes to the field with his iron play but made up for it with scintillating play on and around the greens.
· Normally, winners at Waialae have dominated on their approaches but haven’t been nearly as dominant off the tee. Smith gained strokes in that area last year but two of the last five winners have lost strokes OTT.
· Waialae has some of the hardest to hit fairways on the PGA TOUR—the field averages around 52-54% of fairways hit—and we often see fairway accuracy stats sit 8-10% lower than the PGA TOUR average.
· With everyone missing the fairway here, approach play and around the green play around some very small greens tends to be the deciding factor here.
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.
Kevin Na +6600 and $7,500
Jason Kokrak +6600 and $7,700
Emiliano Grillo +6600 and $7,900
Charles Howell III +6600 and $8,000
Sergio Garcia +3500 and $8,300
Russell Henley +3500 and $8,700
Adam Scott +8,800 and $8,800
Zach Johnson +4500 and $8,500
All odds provided by DraftKings Sportsbook and all odds subject to change.
HORSES FOR COURSES
– These players have had a lot of success at this event over their career
1. Charles Howell III ($8,000; best finishes: T2-2012, T3-2013): Howell has only missed two cuts at Waialae in his last 15 appearances at this event and now has an incredible eight top-tens here in his last 13 starts. The veteran finished T12 here last season and has only finished outside the top-30 here once in the last nine starts. He should be a near staple in cash lineups early in the season.
2. Webb Simpson ($11,100; best finishes: 3rd-2020, T4-2018): With tight fairways, a shorter setup and small greens, Waialae is a prime Webb Simpson setup. The veteran has shown his affinity for these types of layouts over time and has now finished T13 or better here in his last four appearances. He narrowly missed out on the playoff here last season and should be viewing this week as a great opportunity to get 2021 off to a fast start.
3. Marc Leishman ($7,900; best finishes: T3-2019, T9-2013): Leishman is coming off a disastrous finish to his 2020 season but has a great history of success at Waialae. The big Aussie is now 10/10 in terms of making the cut here and now has three top-10’s on record here in his last seven starts. For what it’s worth, Leishman finished 8th in SG:APP last week in Maui so perhaps his form is starting to return.
4. Cameron Smith ($9,600; best finishes: win-2020): Smith will be playing Waialae for the sixth time in a row this year and the Aussie is a perfect 6/6 here in terms of made cuts. Perhaps it’s the temperate climate or the fact they’re used to playing golf in January, but Aussies do have a great record at this event. The defending champion, and his style of game, sets up perfectly for this venue.
5. Brian Stuard ($6,900; best finishes: T4-2018, T5-2013): Stuard is a bit of a dark horse entry into the horse’s section, but his experience at Waialae is hard to ignore. In eight starts since 2009, Stuard’s only missed one cut here, while also racking up four finishes of T8 or better and has finished T4 and T8 here in two of the last three seasons.
1. Harris English ($10,800, Recent finishes: win-T6): English is coming off his first win since 2013, and third of his career, at the TOC. It’s been an amazing last year and a half for the American who now has 11 top-10’s to his credit since September 2019.
2. Emiliano Grillo ($7,900, Recent finishes: T8-T18): Grillo was showing some real promise right before the break as he took a lead into Sunday at the Mayakoba Classic (he finished T8) and was T18 in his start prior to that. He’s gained strokes on his approaches in 11 straight starts now.
3. Sungjae Im ($9,800, Recent finishes: T5-MC-T2): Lately, Im has looked like a player who is ready to make a major leap up in weight class. His runner-up finish at the Masters was followed up last week by a T5 where he led the field in SG: Tee to Green stats.
4. Daniel Berger ($10,000, Recent finishes: T10-T23): Berger has played consistent golf lately and looks on the verge of heating up again soon. He finished T10 in Maui and gained over +6 strokes Ball striking for the week there.
5. Patton Kizzire ($7,700, Recent finishes: T32-T10-T11): Kizzire had a solid finish to 2020, posting Top-12s in two of his last three events. He’s made the cut in six straight starts now and was putting the lights out just prior to year-end last season.
Cash Games: Webb an affordable anchor
Despite having a tough week off the tee in Maui, Webb Simpson ($11,100) gained over five strokes on his approaches and has absolutely dominated these short par-70s of late. Even at $11K, it’s hard to find reason to fade him in this format. The duo of Zach Johnson ($8,500) and Charles Howell III ($8,000) also makes for easy cash game targets here at a venue that has really rewarded experience. Both men have insanely good histories (see course horse section) and more importantly, played well to end 2020. Some other value targets to consider for this format include the likes of Talor Gooch ($7,600), Si Woo Kim ($7,600), Doug Ghim ($6,900-see below).
Tournaments: A perfect spot for an Ancer breakthrough
A more balanced approach this week might be a way to make slightly more unique lineups in big field tournaments. Abraham Ancer ($9,400) is in a spot where he could go overlooked too as he sits just under a couple of big names coming off big weeks and just above some players with great course histories. Ancer nearly won on a couple of similar venues to Waialae last year (TPC Stadium, Harbour Town) and finished last week with his best round of the event. I also like Daniel Berger ($10,000 – see below) from the top tier although his ownership isn’t likely to be suppressed much after a T10 last week. Other potential GPP targets here for me include the likes of Matthew NeSmith ($7,400), Cameron Davis ($7,200), Takumi Kanaya ($7,200) and Michael Thompson ($6,900).
MY PICK: Daniel Berger ($10,000)
Berger’s coming off a decent start to his season at Maui where he ended the week in T10 and likely could have challenged for a top-5 position if not for a sloppy Sunday round, where he lost over a stroke around the greens. While he’ll certainly need a better short game effort if he wants to close his second win in the past year this week, the Waialae track is the type the American has dominated over his career. A true par-70 master, Berger’s three wins on the PGA TOUR have all come on heavy par-4 laden par 70 tracks (TPC Southwind and Colonial) where fairways are generally a little tighter and greens are small with tiny targets.
With that in mind, it should really come as no shock to find that Waialae has treated Berger kindly in his previous five visits as he’s made the cut here in every start and has two top-15 finishes to his credit. Berger seems destined to post some higher finishes here eventually too as four of his five visits here have seen him lose strokes on the greens for the week, all while gaining at least +1.5 strokes Off the Tee. The fact he comes in having gained over +6.0 strokes Ball Striking form last week is also gravy as any kind of improvement on the greens at Waialae will likely see him jet right into contention in this weaker field and perfectly suited setup. He’s a solid pay-up target as just the sixth most expensive player on the slate.
MY SLEEPER: Doug Ghim ($6,900)
Ghim’s coming off a really nice Fall swing that saw him finish in the top-25 in four of his last six starts on the PGA TOUR. While his road to the PGA TOUR hasn’t been as smooth as some of the other young players in the game, Ghim’s the former number one-ranked amateur player in the world and is showcasing that his talent level might be big enough to make him a force in these regular season events very soon. The American gained +2.5 strokes or more on his approaches in his last four events of 2020 (that included shot-tracker) and was generally a birdie-making machine for DFS players over the Fall, as he averaged 83.5 DKFP over his last four events of 2020. Ghim also already ranks 11th on the PGA TOUR in birdie average in the new season.
This will only be the second time he’s played the Sony Open (he missed the cut here last season) but the layout really should set up well for his game given the smaller greens here have always rewarded players with solid irons games—Ghim ranks 11th in SG: Approach stats—and doesn’t penalize shorter hitters—Ghim ranks just 118th in Driving Distance. Unless we get a big swing in form, I’d keep riding him early in 2021 and start this week at a great sub-$7K price for the Sony Open.
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