A second week in Hawaii for the circuit
Long-time host the Waialae Country Club is popular with both players and punters
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama defends the trophy
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The PGA Tour’s traditional year-opening fortnight on the islands of Hawaii continues with this week’s Sony Open.
Last week Jon Rahm overhauled Collin Morikawa in a remarkable final round of the Tournament of Champions and, although neither plays this week, a total of 19 golfers who played there will tee it up.
Their presence is well worth noting because 17 of the last 24 Sony Open winners competed in both weeks. In fact, every one of the top 10 in the betting played last week. The bookies know how important it is.
Waialae Country Club first hosted this event in 1965 and was a par-72 until changed to a par-70 in 1999. At 7,044 yards it’s not a long test and Kevin Kisner has called it: “A shorter, ball-striker’s paradise.”
Justin Thomas, who carded a 59 on his way to victory in 2017 explained: “I can just hit a lot of 2-irons out here, and then I’m having short irons in.” Matt Kuchar, another former champion, even insists that there is almost no need to hit driver or even 3-wood except on the two par-5s.
Brandt Snedeker kind of agreed. “It's not just step up and bash it,” he said. “You can hit any club you want to off every tee. You can hit driver if you want, you can hit 4-iron off the tee, and there is really no right or wrong way to do it.”
Putting well on Bermuda greens and coping with blustery wind are also must-have skill sets.
The fact that Korea’s Tom Kim is leading the betting is all down to the remarkable impact he’s had since getting an opportunity on the PGA Tour early last year.
In his last eight starts he’s collected two wins and only once finished outside the top 25 - he was also an impressive fifth last week in the Tournament of Champions event.
There is further evidence to think he can play well again this week because he won last year’s Singapore International on a course, not unlike this week’s, and his maiden PGA Tour win at Sedgefield is not the worst pointer either.
His compatriot Sungjae Im is more experienced, with four seasons under his belt, but his win tally of two has already been caught by Kim.
In three visits to the Tournament of Champions he’s never finished outside the top 15, but at the Sony Open, his Hawaii record is not so hot reading: 16-21-56-MC.
Jordan Spieth has tasted victory in Hawaii - at the 2016 Tournament of Champions - but he has a mixed Sony Open record.
He was third in 2017 and 18th in 2018, but he missed the cut in both 2014 and 2019.
He was 13th last week when he had a promising start before struggling on Saturday.
Let’s keep the leading outright pick simple and go with a player who removed some rust last week at the Tournament of Champions. But he’s also a player who is proven in the distinct conditions of Waialae.
That man is Russell Henley, a golfer whose aptitude for the Waialae test was proved when he won the Sony Open back in 2013.
Since then he has added another four top 20s including a runner-up finish last year that needed a blistering finish from Hideki Matsuyama to prevent a second win at the course.
In recent times that inability to turn a fine position into a win had become something of a trend, but he changed that with a victory at El Camaleon in November and he can quickly add another trophy to his cabinet this week.
Take him each way at +2000 with Caesars Sportsbook which pays eight places.
It was perhaps no surprise that Canada’s Adam Svensson claimed his first PGA Tour win at the blustery Sea Island with its Bermuda grass greens last November.
After all, he won in the Bahamas and at the windy Landings Club on the second tier while his best main tour golf ahead of the win came at the breezy PGA National and here at Waialae.
He was tied for the first-round lead on debut in 2019 and in the top 10 all last year.
Take him to repeat that top 10 at +600 with DraftKings and also add a small win stake at +7500.
At first glance Ryan Palmer closed 2022 in poor shape, failing to land a top 40 in his four opening starts of the new season.
But he rebounded in the QBE Shootout, thrashing the birdies on his way to finishing second alongside Charley Hoffman, and then said: “This was huge for me. I've been working on a new putter for the last three or four tournaments, but the ball striking has been so bad. But this week, I drove it well and my iron play was where I need to be.
"It was the perfect week I needed to gear up for 2023. Sony can't get here fast enough.”
Palmer also has a fine record at this tournament. He won it in 2010 and has finished in the top 20 five times in his last eight visits.
Be a little conservative and back the veteran to finish in the top 40 at +170 with FanDuel Sportsbook.
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Tournament: The Sony Open
Location: Waialae Country Club, Maui, Hawaii
Date: Thursday, January 12 - Sunday, January 15
How to watch: Thursday and Friday 7-10.30 p.m. ET, Saturday and Sunday 6-12 p.m. ET on Golf Channel. And all four days on Sky Sports.
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Matt Cooper has been a sports journalist since 2009 with his work appearing at ESPN, Sky Sports, NBC, Sporting Life and the Planet Sport Network among many others, in addition to guest appearances on the BBC and CNN. Although a specialist in golf, who has traveled the world to cover the sport, Matt has also covered rugby, cricket, football and the Olympics. Email: [email protected]More info on Matt Cooper
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