This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
SONY OPEN IN HAWAII
Winner's Share: $1.35M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
Course: Waialae Country Club
2021 champion: Kevin Na
The Sony Open in Hawaii is a modern golf marvel. For nearly six decades now, since the PGA Tour first arrived in Honolulu back in 1965, they have played the same tournament at the same course every single year. Thus we have the fourth-longest association between tournament and course on the PGA Tour, behind only Augusta, Pebble Beach and Colonial. That tells you all you need to know about famed Waialae Country Club, which opened all the way back in 1927.
It always brings a fitting close to the year-opening, two-week Hawaiian Swing. But Waialae and Kapalua, home to last week's Sentry Tournament of Champions, are connected by more than just geography. Ever since the TOC relocated to Hawaii, 16 of the 23 Sony winners played Kapalua the week before, including eight of the past 10. That speaks to the advantage the TOC qualifiers have by getting a jump-start on tournament golf after the long holiday break. Of course, it also speaks to mostly better golfers being in the TOC.
This year, 20 of the 38 guys who played last week have island-hopped from Maui to Honolulu, including TOC winner Cameron Smith, who also happens to be the 2020 Sony champion. It's also worth noting that 14 of the past 16 Sony champions 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, has called Waialae "tricky." Drivers are often left in the bag, the better to negotiate short holes and many dog legs, and to keep the ball in the difficult-to-hit fairways. Last year, only one of the top-15 Sony finishers ranked in the top-10 in driving distance. Winner Kevin Na ranked 64th at not even 300 yards. Five of the par-4s are under 425 yards, including the 423-yard second, which is one of five holes on the course with water in play and traditionally the hardest hole on the track. The Bermudagrass greens are moderate in size (averaging 7,100 square feet) and run only about 11-11.5 on the Stimpmeter.
Most years, this tournament is a big-time birdie-fest. 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 of the entire golf year. One of them, the ninth, is a mere 506 yards. The other is the closing 551-yard 18th, which Na birdied last year to finish at 21-under and edge Chris Kirk and Joaquin Niemann by a stroke. Na played the eight par-5s in 8-under, with six birdies and an eagle. Remember, 21-under for a par-70 is a very low score. The course ranked seventh easiest out of 51 last season. The previous two years it was far tougher, including ninth of 41 in 2020. Smith won at only 11-under-par, the highest winning score since the same 269 total by Vijay Singh in 2005. But that was in abnormally windy conditions. Two years ago, Kuchar won at 22-under. Justin Thomas holds the tournament record, finishing at a whopping 27-under in 2017, when he set the course record of 59 on Thursday.
Smith's record-setting win at the Plantation Course last week vaulted him into the top-10 in the world rankings for the first time. That's a good thing for tournament organizers, because he's the only top-10er in the 144-man field, after the late withdrawal of Bryson DeChambeau. There are another half dozen among the top 25 in the OWGR: No. 14 Harris English, No. 19 Hideki Matsuyama, No. 20 Abraham Ancer, No. 21 Jason Kokrak, No. 23 Billy Horschel and No. 24 Sungjae Im. All of them played last week at Kapalua. There are an additional nine guys in the top 50 in the world, led by No. 27 Na and No. 29 Webb Simpson. Simpson did not qualify for the TOC.
Weather-wise, highs will be around 80 all four days. There's a little chance of rain the first two days. But most importantly, very little wind is forecast, meaning we could be in for another scoring onslaught.
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/Birdie Average
We noted above that 16 of the past 23 winners had played the TOC the week before – including eight of the past 10 – and 14 of the past 16 Sony Open champions had played Waialae multiple times before winning. Two years ago, 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. Last year, Na ranked fifth in SG: Approach and second in SG: Tee-to-Green. Runners-up Chris Kirk and Joaquin Niemann had similar stats, doing their damage from tee to green and putting just well enough to come close. Na was the first winner in a decade not to ranked in the top-eight in SG: Putting. 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. Na was at 76.4 percent, but even that was low, ranked 29th in the field. The over/under on the winning score at golfodds.com is 257.5, which is 22.5 shots under par.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Tier 1 Values
Cameron Smith - $11,200 (Winning odds at the DraftKings Sportsbook: +800)
Smith finds himself entering the upper echelons of golf after winning the Sentry TOC last week. He is the top guy on the DK board, but likely only because of DeChambeau's absence. Normally, we are hesitant to tout a guy coming off a win, but he has been playing so solidly since last summer – six top-10s in his past 10 starts – that we're making an exception. And of course, Smith plays well on this track, winning in 2020.
Webb Simpson - $10,500 (+1200)
Simpson finished top-4 in this event each of the past two years. Last year, he was coming off a week of play at Kapalua, but in 2020, this was his first start of the year. Simpson also finished fourth in his previous visit in 2018, so he is all over this track. Simpson definitely showed signs of regression on Tour last season, but the so-so field and his course history make it hard to turn away from him. He is ranked ninth on Tour in birdie-or-better percentage.
Marc Leishman - $10,000 (+1600)
For the first time since the pandemic started, Leishman began to return to form during the Fall Swing, with back-to-back top-5s to start the season and another top-20 at Houston to close out the year. And now, he opened 2022 with a top-10 at the TOC. Leishman has shown he can handle Waialae, with three top-5s through the years, including two of the past three years – and that even includes last year, when he was off his game. He is ranked sixth on Tour in BOB percentage.
Corey Conners - $9,600 (+1800)
With Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland absent, Conners may be the best ball striker in the field. He's played the tournament three times, finishing third in 2019 and 12th two years ago. Conners usually is top-10 or top-15 in both SG: Off-the-Tee and SG: Approach, but his putting has held him back. However, last year he ranked 112th in SG: Putting, which may not sound great but was actually a huge improvement for him. Then during the Fall Swing, he was even better, and is currently ranked 43rd.
Tier 2 Values
Kevin Kisner - $8,900 (+3500)
Kisner had major trouble with his putter last season but eventually righted things and ranked 32nd for the season. That's the key to his game, and he can excel on short tracks. Kisner has finished top-5 here in three of the past six years, so Waialae clearly suits him. He won the Wyndham late last season to qualify for the TOC, where he tied for eighth last week.
Billy Horschel - $8,700 (+4500)
Over the past decade, Horschel has played this tournament three times: in 2013, 2017 and 2021, when he tied for seventh. He's coming off a tie for 23rd last week at the TOC. The shorter course will benefit Horschel, one of the shorter hitters off the tee.
Russell Henley - $8,500 (+2200)
When you see Henley's Sportsbook price, it clearly doesn't match with his DFS price. He is the No. 7 guy in the book, but 15th on the DraftKings board. Henley has been a mixed bag at Waialae. He won it way back in 2013. Since then, he has three top-20s but also three missed cuts. Henley is ranked fourth on Tour in SG: Approach. He made a spirited run to try to crack the top 50 by year's end, with top-25s in eight of his last 12 starts, but stalled at No. 57.
Seamus Power - $8,100 (+4000)
Power has played this tournament four times, and he's never done better than 49th, and missed the cut twice, including last year. But he's definitely a different golfer the past six months, with a win at the Barbasol and then closing 2021 with top-25s in four of his last five starts. He opened 2022 with so-so tie for 15th at Kapalua. Power ranked second on Tour in scrambling last season. This season in the early going he's 14th in greens in regulation.
Tier 3 Values
Aaron Rai - $7,700 (+8000)
The 26-year-old Englishman got off to a terrible start to the season after earning his PGA Tour card via the Korn Ferry playoffs. But after missing three straight cuts, Rai finally made one, then finished top-20 in his final three starts of 2021. Maybe he just needed to get acclimated to a new Tour. Rai is ranked fifth on Tour in Strokes Gained: Approach, though many of his other stats, including putting, lag far behind. This will be his Sony debut.
Joel Dahmen - $7,600 (+5000)
Here's another example of a discrepancy between the DFS site and the Sportbook, with the +5000 odds much more flattering to Dahmen. He's missed only one cut in his past 13 starts, and got his 2022 off to a start last week at Kapalua, though he only tied for 28th. Dahmen has played the Sony three times, tying for 22nd three years ago and for 12th in 2020. He skipped 2021. He's ranked 19th on Tour this season in BOB.
Keith Mitchell - $7,600 (+8000)
Mitchell is back for his fifth go-round at the Sony. He has three top-25s, including T14 last year. Mitchell is another one of those "great ball striker/poor putter" guys, but he somehow manages to get the job done at Waialae. He closed 2021 with four top-12s in his final 12 starts, including at The Northern Trust.
Takumi Kanaya - $7,400 (+8000)
The former top-ranked amateur snuck into the top 50 at year's end, so we will see him again at Augusta. Kanaya has been tearing it up in Japan, with top-10s in 10 of his last 13 starts to conclude 2021, including a tie for seventh at the ZOZO Championship. Still only 23, he's played the Sony twice already, and although he missed both cuts, he became a far more accomplished golfer over the past 12 months.
K.H. Lee - $7,000 (+10000)
Lee is coming of a T28 last week at Kapalua. He ended last season is great fashion, making eight of nine cuts with six top-25s. Lee tied for 19th last year at the Sony. He's currently ranked ninth on Tour in greens in regulation and 46th in BOB.
Hudson Swafford - $6,800 (+15000)
Swafford is back for his ninth Sony start. He's made seven cuts, three of them top-10s and two top-25s, including last year. Swafford did not have a great 2021, missing a whopping 16 cuts in 29 starts, but he found some semblance of form in the second half, making seven of 10 cuts to close the year. He's ranked 28th on Tour in SG: approach.
Peter Malnati - $6,600 (+30000)
This will be Malnati's eighth visit to Honolulu, and he's made five cuts. The past two years have been his best, both top-15s. Malnati is ranked top-50 on Tour in both SG: Approach and Around-the-Green, but his normally hot putter has been way off. Let's see if he can find it on the relatively simple greens of Waialae.
Vaughn Taylor - $6,100 (+25000)
This is nothing more than a dart throw at this price, though we'd like to think an educated dart throw with close to half the field making the cut. Taylor was a late entry as an alternate. He's fallen into the 400s in the OWGR after an injury-plagued 2021. He did not show much after returning late in the season from a rib injury. But presumably he has had time to fully heal. Taylor has had great recent success at Waialae, tying for 25th last year and for 12th two years ago.