This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
SONY OPEN IN HAWAII
Winner's Share: $1.188M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
Course: Waialae Country Club
2020 champion: Cameron Smith
The PGA Tour began 2021 with the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which boasted its best field ever. This week's Sony Open in Hawaii won't be able to say the same, but the list of players is still far more stacked than most years. That's well deserved for one of the most storied tournaments on the golf calendar, one that really is a modern golf marvel. For more than a half century now – since the Tour first arrived in Honolulu back in 1965 – the same tournament has been played at the same course every single year. Thus, we have the fourth-longest association between tournament and course on Tour, with only Augusta, Pebble Beach and Colonial hosting the same tournament for a longer period of time. That tells you all you need to know about famed Waialae Country Club, which opened all the way back in 1927.
No. 5-ranked Collin Morikawa and No. 8 Webb Simpson head the 144-man field that features 10 of the top 25 and 21 of the top 50 players in the world. Last year, those numbers were only five and 14. No. 13 Daniel Berger, No. 14 Viktor Hovland, No. 17 Harris English (last week's winner), No. 18 Sungjae Im, No. 21 Hideki Matsuyama, No. 22 Adam Scott, No. 24 Abraham Ancer and No. 25 Ryan Palmer round out the top-25 contingent. Every one of those golfers played last week.
Waialae and Kapalua, home to last week's TOC, are connected by more than just geography and the Hawaii Swing. Ever since the TOC relocated to Hawaii, 15 of the 22 Sony Open winners played Kapalua the week before, including seven of the past nine – a list that does not include defending champion Cameron Smith, who did not play at Kapalua last year. That speaks to the advantage the TOC participants have by getting a jump-start on tournament golf after the holiday break. Of course, it also speaks to better golfers playing in the TOC. This year, 30 of the 42 guys who played last week have island-hopped from Maui to Oahu. It's also worth noting that 13 of the past 15 Sony Open champions, including Smith, had played Waialae multiple times before winning. It's a track where shot-makers thrive, and course knowledge certainly helps in that regard. Matt Kuchar, who won in 2019, calls Waialae "tricky." Drivers are often left in the bag, as lesser clubs are more effective when it comes to navigating the many doglegs and keeping the ball in the difficult-to-hit fairways en route to the moderate-size bermudagrass greens (7,100 square feet). Cameron Davis led the field in driving distance last year at an average of a mere 301.9 yards. There is water on five holes, including the 423-yard second, which was the fourth-hardest hole on Tour last year, playing almost a half-shot over par.
That's not to say that this tournament is not often a birdie-fest. Most years, it is. It's a short, par-70 track with only two par-5s, and you better score there if you want to contend. They are two of the easiest holes on the entire calendar. One of them, the ninth, is a mere 506 yards. The other is the closing 551-yard 18th. The course was tougher the past two years than it has been historically is, ranking 32nd of 49 tracks on the difficulty meter in 2019 and a surprising ninth of 41 last year. Smith won at only 11-under par, the smallest winning score since the same 269 total by Vijay Singh in 2005. Two years ago, Kuchar won at 22-under. Justin Thomas holds the tournament record, finishing a whopping 27-under-par in 2017.
Weather-wise, while it will be characteristically warm all four days, showers are in the forecast for the final three rounds, especially on Sunday. It doesn't appear certain tee times will have much of an advantage. Winds will be on the light side.
Key Stats to Winning at Waialae
The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key Stats" follow in importance.
• Strokes Gained: Approach/Greens in Regulation
• Strokes Gained: Putting
• Birdie-or-Better Percentage
We noted above that 15 of the past 22 winners had played the TOC the week before – including seven of the past nine – and 13 of the past 15 Sony Open champions had played Waialae multiple times before winning. Last year, Smith was the first winner since the wraparound era began in 2013 to have not played in the previous week's TOC. But he was coming off the Presidents Cup in December, so he at least got in some competitive rounds before beating out Brendan Steele in a playoff. Smith actually lost strokes to the field from the fairway, a rarity for a tournament winner, but made up for it by ranking ninth in Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green and first in SG: Putting. Steele was second in Approach and, while normally not a good putter, ranked sixth in the field. Kuchar led the field in greens in regulation, was ninth in scrambling and third in SG: Putting. That combination will get the job just about every time. Over the past decade, eight of the 10 winners were top-12 in GIR. And all of them were top-8 in SG: Putting. Even though the greens are on the smallish side – which tends to bring weaker putters into the mix – history shows you need to putt well to win here. The greens are flat without much going on, so even those that tend to struggle with the flat stick can have a good week. But really, first and foremost the key is getting on the green in regulation. The GIR numbers have historically been very high on this short track, and golfers better be around the 75-percent mark to be in the mix. Smith was on the low side at 70.8 percent, but as we said, he compensated by being the best putter.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Tier 1 Values
Webb Simpson - $11,100 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 12-1)
This is a very low price for the top guy on the DraftKings board. Last year, Justin Thomas checked in at $12,000. This is just the type of track where Simpson excels and thrives. He finished top-5 in his past two visits, including a third-place result last year, and has top-15s in his past five trips to Waialae.
Collin Morikawa - $10,600 (14-1)
Even though English ($10,800) won last week, it's surprising that Morikawa is not second on the board. He has played here just once and finished 21st a year ago. Obviously, he is far more accomplished now. Morikawa is ranked 30th on Tour in SG: Approach, and his poor putting should be somewhat mitigated some with the smaller greens. He tied for seventh at Kapalua.
Daniel Berger - $10,000 (16-1)
Berger tied for 38th here last year and has zero top-10s in five trips. He's a different golfer from even a year ago and tied for 10th last week at Kapalua despite not having his putting stroke.
Sungjae Im - $9,800 (18-1)
This will be Im's third go-around at the Sony Open and he already has two top-25s. He tied for fifth last week at Kapalua and was runner-up at the Masters in November. The precision golf required this week should be right up his alley.
Tier 2 Values
Ryan Palmer - $9,200 (30-1)
Ancer ($9,400) should be a popular pick – and for good reason – but we see enough value in this tier to bypass him. Palmer is long and pretty straight off the tee, and he's ranked sixth on Tour in greens in regulation. His putting isn't great, but it's been better than most years. Palmer finished fourth here a year ago and won way back in 2010.
Adam Scott - $9,000 (35-1)
Scott's putting was abysmal last week and he still tied for 21st. If he can only improve to merely "bad," he could be looking at a top-10. Scott played Waialae only four times in the past dozen years and missed the cut in his last visit in 2019. He does have a T8 and a runner-up on his resume, though.
Zach Johnson - $8,500 (50-1)
The 44-year-old 2009 champion is experiencing a bit of a second act – or is it third? He's back inside the top 100 in the world. He's made all six cuts this season, including at the U.S. Open and The RSM Classic, which is a somewhat-similar track to Waialae. Johnson is ranked 20th on Tour in greens in regulation and 10th in SG: Putting.
Lanto Griffin - $8,100 (50-1)
Griffin continues to putt his way into high finishes and up the OWGR ladder. After a tie for 13th at Kapalua, he's ranked 55th in the world. He's ranked 31st on Tour this season in SG: Putting and 51st in SG: Approach. That combination helped him tie for seventh here last year.
Tier 3 Values
Charles Howell III - $8,000 (50-1)
You've probably already heard that the 41-year-old is 19-for-19 in cuts here, with nine top-13 finishes in his past 13 visits. He hardly ever plays Kapalua but that doesn't seem to hurt him. He's finished second, third and fourth two times a piece.
Sebastian Munoz - $7,800 (50-1)
Munoz finished 10th here two years ago in his Waialae debut before missing the cut last year. He's a far better player now, one who just played Kapalua for the second straight year. Statistically, nothing stands out in Munoz's game. He's a perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of his parts.
Patton Kizzire - $7,700 (80-1)
Kizzire has fallen on hard times since winning here three years ago. But he had a pretty good fall season, making his final six cuts and notching three top-25s. Through all his troubles, he's never lost his putting stroke. He's ranked 15th on Tour so far this season.
Matthew NeSmith - $7,400 (80-1)
NeSmith should be a good fit for this course with his strong ball striking. He is ranked first on Tour in greens in regulation and 19th in SG: Approach. He's also very accurate off the tee. NeSmith tied for 32nd last year in his Waialae debut.
Takumi Kanaya - $7,100 (150-1)
The top-ranked amateur in the world turned pro after nearly making the cut at the U.S. Open. He has been tearing it up in Japan, recording a win and four top-7s in his past four starts. He also tied for 41st in an elite ZOZO Championship field. Kanaya played Waialae last year and missed the cut.
Peter Malnati - $6,900 (150-1)
Malnati is back for a seventh time. He has made four cuts, with a best of T12 last year. He's a superior putter, ranking second on Tour in SG: Putting. He has also stepped up his iron play, ranking 40th in SG: Approach. Malnati had a very good fall season, recording a pair of top-5s.
Brian Stuard - $6,900 (150-1)
The short-hitting Stuard thrives on a handful of tracks on Tour, and this is one of them. He made seven of his past eight cuts and tallied four top-10s. He's ranked 32nd on Tour in SG: Approach.
Hudson Swafford - $6,800 (250-1)
Swafford has played the Sony Open seven times and has made six cuts, with three of those being top-10s. It's clearly a tournament he has circled on his calendar. This time, he's coming in off a trip to Kapalua.