Best bets for PGA Sony Open in Hawaii

162

When betting golf, you have to be prepared for some pain or "sadness" as Collin Morikawa called it after Sunday’s final round at Kapalua. Morikawa looked like he was going to be a wire-to-wire winner at the Sentry Tournament of Champions as he had a nine-shot lead on the field with 17 holes left to play. At the turn, Morikawa was -20000 to win. He had been bogey-free for the first 67 holes, then disaster struck and Morikawa made three consecutive bogeys at 14-15-16, the only player in the field to do that all week. Meanwhile, Jon Rahm, who finished runner-up last year at 33 under par to Cameron Smith, bogeyed the first hole, then shot 11 under for the final 17 holes, including three consecutive birdies at 12-14, then an eagle at 15, to post a 10-under final round of 63 and win the 2023 PGA Tour opener at an average price of 7-1.

Here were Morikawa’s odds after each hole during Sunday’s final round:

 

1: -1500  

2: -1800

3: -1800

4: -2000

5: -4000

6: -4000

7: -9000

8: -9000

9: -20000

10: -20000

11: -8000

12: -4000

13: -2200

14: -280

15: +300

16: +2100

17: +4000

18: +4000

As you can see, golf betting has wild swings, and the in-play odds can move quickly. 

My “Long Shots” co-host Brady Kannon and I experienced the "sadness" Morikawa had described as both of us were on him at a range of 22-1 to 24-1. He finished outright second and looks to have made big improvements in his putting with new putting coach Stephen Sweeney. Unfortunately, he was not able to get home for us this time.

So we take a day to stew over it and then move on with the second leg of the "Aloha Swing" as the PGA Tour leaves Maui for Honolulu on the island of Oahu for the first full-field event of 2023 at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Tom Kim (12-1) led the field for Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green at Kapalua and finished T-5. His South Korean compatriot Sungjae Im (14-1) was sixth in last week’s field for SG: Tee-To-Green but settled for a T-13 finish as he never got much going on the greens. Jordan Spieth (16-1), who hosted Tom Kim at his home for Christmas, also finished T-13 last week and finished third here in 2017.

Hideki Matsuyama (20-1) returns to the Sony Open as its defending champion having defeated Russell Henley (22-1), another second place on my mantle, last year in a playoff. Brian Harman (22-1), fourth here in 2018, closed 2022 with consecutive runner-up finishes at Mayakoba and the RSM Classic. Corey Conners (28-1) finished third here in 2019. Tom Hoge (30-1) also owns a third-place finish here in 2018 and was T-3 last week in Kapalua having led the field for Strokes Gained: Approach. 

Unlike the above players, PGA Tour rookie Taylor Montgomery (33-1) is making his 2023 debut, but he has already made his presence known with a top-5, three top-10s, and top-15 finishes in six of seven events since earning his tour card last fall. 

A couple of other top-10 finishers from last week are also in Honolulu, including J.J. Spaun (45-1), who finished T-5, and K.H. Lee (40-1), who finished T-7. 

The Event

The Sony Open in Hawaii has been contested at the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu since the event’s inception in 1965. Waialae has the third-longest tenure as an annual course on the PGA Tour behind Colonial Country Club and Pebble Beach Golf Links. It was originally contested as a mid-fall event during its first five years before being moved to winter in 1971. Over the 55-year history of the event, there have been only five multiple champions: Hubert Green, Corey Pavin, Lanny Wadkins, Ernie Els and Jimmy Walker. In 2017, Justin Thomas won this event and set multiple tournament records in the process, including the tournament scoring record of 253 (-27), the course record and tournament low round record (59, Round 1), the 36-hole record of 123 (-17) and the 54-hole record of 188 (-22).

The Field 

Here is the 144-player field for the Sony Open in Hawaii:

Blaze Akana

Anders Albertson

Tyson Alexander

Byeong Hun An

Ryan Armour

Erik Barnes

Christiaan Bezuidenhout

Zac Blair

Keegan Bradley

Joseph Bramlett

Ryan Brehm

Hayden Buckley

Michael Castillo

K.J. Choi

Stewart Cink

Eric Cole

Trevor Cone

Corey Conners

Austin Cook

MJ Daffue

Cam Davis

Zecheng Dou

Tyler Duncan

Nico Echavarria

Austin Eckroat

Harrison Endycott

Harris English

Brice Garnett

Michael Gligic

Lucas Glover

Will Gordon

Tano Goya

Brent Grant

Ben Griffin

Emiliano Grillo

Chesson Hadley

James Hahn

Paul Haley II

Harry Hall

Cole Hammer

Nick Hardy

Brian Harman

Scott Harrington

Russell Henley

Jim Herman

Kramer Hickok

Kazuki Higa

Harry Higgs

Tom Hoge

Billy Horschel

Mark Hubbard

Mackenzie Hughes

John Huh

Sungjae Im

Stephan Jaeger

Zach Johnson

Yuto Katsuragawa

Jerry Kelly

Michael Kim

S.H. Kim

Si Woo Kim

Tom Kim

Chris Kirk

Kurt Kitayama

Patton Kizzire

Russell Knox

Kelly Kraft

Matt Kuchar

Nate Lashley

Danny Lee

K.H. Lee

David Lingmerth

David Lipsky

Adam Long

Peter Malnati

Ben Martin

Hideki Matsuyama

Brandon Matthews

Denny McCarthy

Max McGreevy

Maverick McNealy

Troy Merritt

Keith Mitchell

Taylor Montgomery

Ryan Moore

Jesse Mueller

Keita Nakajima

Vincent Norrman

Augusto Núñez

Kohei Okada

Kaito Onishi

Ryan Palmer

Scott Piercy

J.T. Poston

Andrew Putnam

Aaron Rai

Chad Ramey

Chez Reavie

Doc Redman

Patrick Rodgers

Kevin Roy

Sam Ryder

Rory Sabbatini

Adam Schenk

Matti Schmid

Matthias Schwab

Adam Scott

Taiga Semikawa

Robby Shelton

Greyson Sigg

Webb Simpson

Alex Smalley

Austin Smotherman

J.J. Spaun

Jordan Spieth

Kyle Stanley

Brendan Steele

Sam Stevens

Robert Streb

Kevin Streelman

Brian Stuard

Justin Suh

Adam Svensson

Ben Taylor

Nick Taylor

Davis Thompson

Michael Thompson

Brendon Todd

Kevin Tway

Jimmy Walker

Trevor Werbylo

Richy Werenski

Kyle Westmoreland

Gary Woodland

Brandon Wu

Carson Young

Kevin Yu

Carl Yuan

By Official World Golf Ranking, 13 of the Top 50 in the OWGR are in this field:

OWGR         Player

14       Jordan Spieth

15       Tom Kim

18       Billy Horschel

19       Sungjae Im

21       Hideki Matsuyama

23       Brian Harman

25       Keegan Bradley

30       Tom Hoge

31       Russell Henley

34       Corey Conners

37       Adam Scott

42       Kurt Kitayama

46       Mackenzie Hughes

The Course 

Waialae Country Club is a flat, bayside track where the scoring has gotten lower over the years. It plays as a par-70 of 7,044 yards and was designed in 1927 by Seth Raynor (also designed the Old White TPC, which hosts the Greenbrier Classic) and was last restored by Tom Doak in 2017.

Waialae CC is known as a shot-maker’s golf course distinguished by its narrow corridors, sharp doglegs, unpredictable Bermuda rough and firm greens. It is a positional course that has effectively neutralized any advantages held by bombers off the tee. Essentially you have to get the ball from Point A to Point B and make putts.  The course is all Bermudagrass, including the TifDwarf Bermuda greens which run average at 11.5 on the stimpmeter. The greens average 7,100 square feet, seventh largest on the PGA Tour. 

The rough is 3-inch Bermudagrass, so the bombers who try to cut the corners off the tee may end up with fliers coming out of the thick grass. 

The track has ranked as the easiest (2013, 2016, 2017), second-easiest (2014, 2015), or third-easiest (2019) par-70 on the PGA Tour in recent years. It played as the ninth-easiest course on tour with an average round score of 68.0 in 2022. Waialae is very much still a second-shot golf course despite the renovations over the years. 

The layout has six doglegs, tight corners, and palm-tree-lined fairways. Waialae has 83 bunkers throughout and four water holes. It is also one of the flattest courses on the PGA Tour, having the second lowest elevation. 

Wind, or lack thereof, is ordinarily a determining factor and the last two years provide the clearest evidence. In 2020, Waialae was hit with upwards of 35- to 40-mph winds over the first two days and the winning score was just 11 under. In 2021, the winds were 12-14 mph and the winning score was 21 under. Last year featured light winds in the single digits and 23 under was the winning score. 

According to Data Golf, Waialae CC is second to only Augusta National in terms of predictive course history, so course form triumphs over recent form more often than not. 

Comparable courses to Waialae include Port Royal (Bermuda Championship), Pebble Beach (AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am), Harbour Town (RBC Heritage), Coco Beach (Puerto Rico Open), El Camaleon (Mayakoba Golf Classic), Sea Island GC (RSM Classic), Sedgefield CC (Wyndham Championship). 

The first eight holes are among the toughest opening stretches on tour as only the third and seventh holes average under par. Four of those eight holes have a bogey-or-worse rate of 20% or higher. Once players hit the par-5 ninth hole, it becomes smoother sailing as seven of the remaining 10 holes average under par.

Recent History/Winners

2022: Hideki Matsuyama (-23/257); 20-1*

2021: Kevin Na (-21/259); 80-1

2020: Cameron Smith (-11/269); 55-1**

2019: Matt Kuchar (-22/258); 40-1

2018: Patton Kizzire (-17/263); 80-1***

2017: Justin Thomas (-27/253); 14-1

2016: Fabian Gomez (-20/260); 100-1****

2015: Jimmy Walker (-23/257); 18-1

2014: Jimmy Walker (-17/263); 40-1

2013: Russell Henley (-24/256); 100-1

2012: Johnson Wagner (-13/267); 125-1

2011: Mark Wilson (-16/264); 80-1

2010: Ryan Palmer (-15/265); 250-1

* — playoff win over Russell Henley

** — playoff win over Brendan Steele

*** — playoff win over James Hahn

**** — playoff win over Brandt Snedeker

Trends and Angles

In eight of the last 10 years, having an extra week on the islands has proved to be an advantage as seven of the last nine Sony Open champions teed it up the week before at Kapalua.

Year   Winner          Previous week result at Kapalua

2022   Hideki Matsuyama   13th

2021   Kevin Na       13th

2020   Cameron Smith       DNP

2019   Matt Kuchar  19th

2018   Patton Kizzire          15th

2017   Justin Thomas         1st

2016   Fabian Gomez        6th

2015   Jimmy Walker          2nd

2014   Jimmy Walker          21st

2013   Russell Henley        DNP

2012   Johnson Wagner     9th

  • 17 of the last 24 winners of the Sony Open had played the Tournament of Champions the week before
  • Five of the last eight winners of the Sony Open had already won in the fall or in the swing season
  • Only four winners of this event since 2000 have been under 30

Statistical Analysis

Five of the last seven winners of the Sony Open in Hawaii rated seventh or better for Strokes Gained: Approach during their respective winning weeks.

Strokes Gained Approach (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Tom Kim 37.1
  2. Tom Hoge 31.8
  3. Corey Conners 31
  4. Brendan Steele 26.4
  5. Mark Hubbard 26
  6. Russell Henley 22.8
  7. Russell Knox 19.7
  8. Chesson Hadley 19.7
  9. Brian Harman 19.4
  10. Cam Davis 17.5
  11. Si Woo Kim 17.3
  12. Chez Reavie 16.5
  13. Hideki Matsuyama 15.9
  14. Sam Ryder 15.1
  15. Ben Griffin 14.8
  16. Sungjae Im 14.1

While the fairways at Waialae are actually a bit wider than average (35.9 yards average, 14th widest out of 46 courses) on the PGA Tour, the corridors are narrow. You must shape your shots a little more off the tee here.

Fairways Gained (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Russell Henley 68.2
  2. Aaron Rai 59
  3. Ryan Armour 55.2
  4. Tom Kim 54.7
  5. Chez Reavie 53.2
  6. Jerry Kelly 52.9
  7. KJ Choi 48.8
  8. Ryan Moore 47.2
  9. Troy Merritt 46
  10. David Lingmerth 44.3
  11. Corey Conners 43.2
  12. Brian Stuard 40.2
  13. Keith Mitchell 35
  14. Si Woo Kim 34.6
  15. Brendon Todd 33.8
  16. Lucas Glover 33.7

Good Drives Gained (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Russell Henley 32.6
  2. Corey Conners 32
  3. Ryan Armour 31.5
  4. Emiliano Grillo 28.4
  5. Tom Kim 26.4
  6. Aaron Rai 25.9
  7. Hayden Buckley 24.8
  8. Tom Hoge 23.3
  9. Jerry Kelly 23.2
  10. Sungjae Im 22.6
  11. Russell Knox 22.4
  12. Gary Woodland 22.3
  13. Chez Reavie 22
  14. Mark Hubbard 21.7
  15. Kevin Yu 21.3
  16. Will Gordon 21.2

On a par-70 layout, you typically have 12 par-4s, which is the case at Waialae. 

Strokes Gained Par-4s (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Taylor Montgomery 39.3
  2. J.J. Spaun 33.2
  3. Andrew Putnam 30.6
  4. Tom Hoge 29.6
  5. Maverick McNealy 28.2
  6. Kurt Kitayama 27.5
  7. Sungjae Im 27
  8. Brian Harman 24.8
  9. Brendan Steele 24.2
  10. Tom Kim 24.2
  11. Denny McCarthy 24
  12. Ben Griffin 22.8
  13. Brendon Todd 21.7
  14. Ben Taylor 21.3
  15. Russell Henley 20.3

Waialae, being such a short course, keeps all players in the mix off the tee and on approach, so players will have to scramble around the green at one point or another. Strokes Gained: Short Game encompasses both chipping around the green and putting to account for tough par putts while scrambling.

Historically, players with great hands and short games have had success here (Justin Thomas, Matt Kuchar, Patton Kizzire, Cameron Smith, Kevin Na).

Strokes Gained Short Game (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Andrew Putnam 47.3
  2. Brendon Todd 37
  3. Taylor Montgomery 34.7
  4. Maverick McNealy 34.6
  5. Harris English 34.4
  6. Mackenzie Hughes 34.3
  7. Christiaan Bezuidenhout 33.5
  8. Austin Cook 23.5
  9. Stephan Jaeger 21.5
  10. Chesson Hadley 20.1
  11. Sungjae Im 19.5
  12. Matt Kuchar 19.3
  13. Harry Hall 18.7
  14. Scott Piercy 17.7
  15. Tom Kim 17.4
  16. Billy Horschel 17.4
  17. Denny McCarthy 17.3

If the wind is fairly benign, the winning score is going to be at least 20 under, so making plenty of birdies is a requirement. 

Birdie Or Better Gained (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Tom Kim 34.4
  2. Ben Griffin 30.5
  3. Cam Davis 27.1
  4. Sungjae Im 26.5
  5. Taylor Montgomery 24.3
  6. Emiliano Grillo 19.8
  7. Kurt Kitayama 19.7
  8. Jordan Spieth 18.5
  9. Maverick McNealy 18.3
  10. Stephan Jaeger 18.3
  11. Alex Smalley 16.2
  12. Tom Hoge 16.1
  13. Will Gordon 16.1
  14. Brendon Todd 15.2
  15. Harris English 13.7

Sixteen of the last 17 winners at Waialae had played here previously before their wins, so course history has been fairly predictive in this event.

Strokes Gained Total at Waialae (Last 36 rounds, minimum 16 rounds)

  1. Matt Kuchar 58.6 (36)
  2. Webb Simpson 55.2 (36)
  3. Chris Kirk 47.8 (36)
  4. Brian Stuard 44.5 (36)
  5. Russell Henley 43.2 (34)
  6. Scott Piercy 33.8 (36)
  7. Russell Knox 30.9 (34)
  8. Jimmy Walker 30.8 (36)
  9. Corey Conners 28.9 (16)
  10. Zach Johnson 28.9 (36)
  11. Harris English 28.4 (36)
  12. Stewart Cink 27.6 (36)
  13. Chez Reavie 27.3 (36)
  14. Patton Kizzire 26.8 (20)
  15. Ryan Palmer 25.4 (36)

Selections

Corey Conners (22-1, DraftKings)

Conners ranks second in the field for Strokes Gained: Total at Waialae over the last 24 rounds. 

His tee-to-green game is a perfect fit. While his short game is always a question, he seems to have taken to these greens at Waialae.

Russell Henley (22-1, BetMGM)

Last week, Jon Rahm avenged his runner-up finish at Kapalua. Perhaps Henley can do the same at Waialae considering he should have won this event last year only to stumble down the stretch and lose in a playoff to Hideki Matsuyama. 

Henley is a former winner here (2013) and leads the field for both Fairways Gained and Good Drives Gained.

Cam Davis (36-1, Circa Sports)

Davis did not play at Kapalua last week but does come in on some winning form having won the Geoff Ogilvy-hosted Sandbelt Invitational in his native Australia to close out 2022. 

The Australian posted six top-10s in 2022 and was the 36-hole leader here in 2020 before finishing ninth. 

K.H. Lee (40-1, PointsBet)

Lee is far from just an AT&T Byron Nelson (winner in consecutive years 2021 and 2022) specialist. He finished fifth at the BMW Championship in last season’s PGA Tour playoffs and went on to win two of his three matches at the Quail Hollow-hosted Presidents Cup. Then, he finished third in the high-class, short-field CJ Cup, eighth in the QBE Shootout (when partnering with Corey Conners) and seventh last week at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

The South Korean was fourth in last week’s field for Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green.

J.T. Poston (50-1, Superbook Sports)

Poston finished mid-pack last week at Kapalua. 

Although he does not have much of a history here, Poston profiles well on similar courses, having won both the Wyndham and the John Deere Classic on short, low-scoring courses, finishing third off the coast in the RSM Classic, plus a second in the Barbasol and a third at the Sanderson Farms. 

Mackenzie Hughes (66-1, BetMGM)

Hughes is already a winner in this final wraparound season on the PGA Tour, having won the Sanderson Farms Championship last September. 

He finished middle of the pack last week in Maui and has never finished better than 19th last year, but the lack of distance off the tee is mitigated here and his stellar short game can keep him in contention.

Adam Svensson (80-1, Superbook Sports)

Svensson finished 37th last week in what eventually became a 38-player field with Xander Schauffele’s withdrawal due to a back injury. However, that was his first start after several weeks off from becoming a PGA Tour winner for the first time at the RSM Classic.

Last year, he finished seventh here and in 2019 was the first-round leader with a 9-under-par round of 61. 

Matchups

Brian Harman -137 over Hideki Matsuyama

Ben Griffin -120 over Davis Thompson

Keith Mitchell -123 over Taylor Montgomery