Sony Open: Five to follow
We’re staying in Hawaii for the first full field PGA Tour event of 2017 at the Sony Open.
While the SBS Tournament of Champions favoured long-hitters like winner Justin Thomas, the par-70 course at Waialae is a short, coastal track where straightness off the tee is essential and aggressive driving is unlikely to be rewarded.
Jordan Spieth starts as 13/2 favourite followed by in-form Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama at 15/2. Spieth finished fast to tie for third last week, while Matsuyama, who has won four of his last six events, came unstuck at the 71st hole when trailing Thomas by a shot.
However, Matsuyama has missed the cut on all four of his previous visits and Spieth also had a free weekend in his only appearance here three years ago. Although both men have a great chance, the odds are too short on players with no course form, so we’re siding with five golfers at longer odds with the game to tame a course which requires accuracy off the tee and a great iron game.
First up at 50/1 is Chris Kirk, who has been on fire since September 2016 with four top-10s in his last six starts. Kirk missed the cut here last year and was 26th in the previous season, but finished one shot behind winner Jimmy Walker in 2014 and was fifth in the year before.
Although two-thirds of Sony Open winners in the last 18 years have played at the Plantation course in the previous week, we think Kirk’s form overrides that statistic and expect him to start well.
Although Russell Knox has a poor record at Waialae with four missed cuts from five, the Scot likes this course and thinks he has played well here in the last three years. Knox, like Kirk, has started the wrap-around season with three top-10s and he also dusted off the festive cobwebs by finishing 17th in the limited-field Tournament of Champions last week.
Knox finished in the top 10 for both driving accuracy and greens in regulation in 2016 and has a great chance at 40/1.
Zach Johnson has been playing solidly without being spectacular in recent months, but with two top-10s here in his last three visits the 2007 US Masters champion has the course form to contend on Sunday afternoon and is a great price at 50/1.
Johnson’s accuracy off the tee is never in question and even though his GIR stats weren’t great last season, his improved performance on the greens should stand him in good stead.
It’s hard to ignore the merits of Jimmy Walker, who is 22/1 despite winning this tournament back-to-back between 2014-15. Walker, ninth at Kapalua last week, believes that length is still significant at Waialae despite its reputation for being a tight course.
Only two players hit fewer fairways than Walker on the PGA Tour last season, but when he won here two years ago he topped the greens in regulation and strokes gained putting stats, factors he will need to thrive this week.
Finally, Billy Horschel makes up our top five at 40/1. The RSM Classic is usually a good barometer for how players will perform at the Sony Open. Horschel was first to be eliminated in a five-man play-off at Sea Island nearly two months ago, but he was already playing well towards the end of last season when his figures read 5-MC-13-10.
Horschel switched to PXG equipment at the start of last year which has aided his putting. Combining his improved performance on the greens with his quality ball-striking and Horschel should be on the leaderboard come Sunday.