The Sony Open: Hawaii in January is a good way to start 2022
Last season, Patrick Cantlay took home the FedEx Cup. Despite a Top 10 run of dominance from Jon Rahm (15 last season), the four PGA Tour victories from Cantlay were heavy enough to edge Rahm in the standings. Now, it’s early in the season, but the field appears wide open to crown a FedEx Cup Champion for the 2021-2022 season.
The Sony Open is the first full-field PGA event of the calendar year. It’s a good place to start for us, especially considering we no longer have regular season NFL or college football to watch. The Sony Open takes place at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu. Since 1965, the tournament has served as a solid winter tournament on the PGA Tour schedule.
The course itself lacks in elevation variance (despite the nearby mountains). It’s a flat, moderately short (7,000 yards) course along the Honolulu coastline. The abundance of palm trees, opposed to most north American trees, makes for less intimidating foliage, from a hazard perspective. Though there are a decent amount of bunkers, they don’t typically make or break the standings. The biggest variable is weather. If conditions are calm, scores are good.
The Season So Far
The 2021-2022 season has looked a bit all over the place. Many of the big names on tour have only played in three or less of the eight events to this point. The Top 4 in the FedEx Cup standings is separated by just 186 points. Taylor Gooch, Sam Burns, Cameron Smith, and Sungjae Im are all atop the leaderboard, after each has three Top 10s and one win. Trailing those four are two of the usual suspects (Matsuyama and Hovland).
This week, we’re looking at the golfers who stack-up well on strokes gained around the green, and strokes gained total. We’ll also be looking at the 2021 finishes here. The season is young, so there is plenty of value out there on guys who are hot and those we expect to get there soon:
- Strokes Gained: Around the Green
- Past performance at Waialae
- Recent form
- Strokes Gained: Total
- Birdie AVG
Good luck this week!
Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook
Middle of the Fairway – Two Players to finish in the top 20
Matt Jones +220
I realize Matt Jones isn’t a household name. In fact, before the Honda Classic last season, Jones (41) had only one PGA Tour victory in his 13 year career on the Tour (2013-2014 Shell Houston Open). We like Jones this week (even though the payoff isn’t big). The odds are suspiciously unfavorable for a top 20 finish (which is exactly why we like it).
Matt Jones, at 41, is off to one of the best starts of his long career. He’s currently 29th in the FedEx Cup standings. Strokes Gained: Around the Green is the key category for this tournament, and that’s Matt’s specialty. Last season, he was 18th in that category, and he’s sitting at 13th this season. He also finished 11th here last year, so he’s got a good feel for the course. Current form + Previous success at a course typically translates well.
Si Woo Kim +300
Si Woo Kim is a solid PGA Tour player. To many, Kim peaked back in 2015 by reaching a career-high FedEx Cup finish of 17th as a 20 year old. After that, his ranking dropped, hitting a floor of 81 a few years back. Since then, he’s steadily improved and can break into the top 30 with a solid finish this week.
Kim doesn’t necessarily check all the boxes for this tournament. He finished 4th here in 2016 and 25th last year. In four career tournaments here, Kim has made the cut three times and finished top 25 twice. He’s not appealing on the metrics side, but his previous success at this course can’t be ignored.
Edge of the Green – One Player to finish in the top 10
Maverick McNealy +275
Maverick McNealy was our first winning bet of last season (AT&T Pebble Beach: 2nd place). He’s still very young (26) but came on strong last season. This season, he’s 14th in the FedEx Cup standings, making 5 of 6 cuts and finishing Top 20 in three of them. Maverick has no experience at Waialae Country Club, but the course should play favorable to both his strengths and his current playing form.
McNealy is in the top 80 of every Strokes Gained category, sitting at 18th overall in Strokes Gained: Total. Even with no experience on this course, his current play and current strengths should translate well this week.
Short Putt – One Player to finish in the top 5
Kevin Na +550
Kevin Na is coming in hot. He has played in just four events thus far this season. Despite the low number of entries, Na finished 13th at the Sentry TOC last week and won the QBE Shootout in December. The 38 year old South Korean is on a nice tear lately. He’s in the kind of form you’d like to see a guy in early in the season.
Na has played this tournament 14 times in his career. He has four top 8 finishes and has made the cut in five of the last six. More importantly, Na won this tournament last season. Like Si Woo Kim, Na doesn’t meet the metrics standards. He’s 65th in Strokes Gained: Around the Green, but 7th in Driving Accuracy and 3rd in Sand Save PCT (though the sample is obviously small this season). Expect Na to excel here, yet again.
In the Hole – Three Players to Win
Webb Simpson +1200
Webb Simpson is on a few people’s lists to win this week. The 36 year old from North Carolina had a strong season last year, finishing 40th. However, it was a drop since his 12th place finish in the FedEx Cup in 2019/2020. This season, he’s sitting at 56th. He’s played in just 5 events this season, making the cut in four and finishing top 17 in each of his last three.
Webb has finished in the top 4 in each of his last three appearances at Waialae. From a metrics perspective, he’s a strong bet as well. Simpson is 19th in Strokes Gained: Around the Green and 17th in Strokes Gained: Total. He’s also 12th in Birdie Avg, which is helpful at a course which produces very low scores.
Marc Leishman +1600
If you think it’s interesting Webb Simpson was on a lot of people’s lists, Marc Leishman is even more of a popular choice for some of the Golf experts. Last season, Leishman finished 4th at this event. In 2019, he finished 3rd. So far this season, Leishman has finished top 10 in three of his five events.
He’s not a metrics star for this one, but he’s still 41st in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green. Given his recent form and his prior history here, Leishman is another very strong candidate to hoist the trophy on Sunday.
Hideki Matsuyama +1800
Hideki Matsuyama is the highest-ranked guy on this list. Currently, he’s 5th in the FedEx Cup standings. The real issue for him this season has been the putting (205th). In every other area, Hideki seems locked-in. He’s 21st in Strokes Gained: Approach and 22nd in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. Those rankings are pretty reflective of his career overall, but it’s clear he’s on a heater right now.
Hideki has made the cut in all five tournaments this season. He won the Zozo Championship, finished 6th at Fortinet, and 13th at the Sentry last week. Over the last two Sony Opens, he’s finished 19th and 12th. Given his form and how somewhat random the list of winners at this course has been, Matsuyama may end up being a smart buy at +1800.