This article is part of our FanDuel PGA series.
Sony Open in Hawaii
Course: Waialae Country Club (7,044 yards, par 70)
Winner: $1,350,000 and 500 FedExCup points
The second and final stop of the Aloha Swing for the PGA Tour could not be any more different that the first. Kapalua features massive fairways, greens, and elevation changes, while Waialae Country Club is very narrow, flat, and short. This will be the first full field event of 2022 after 23 players make their way over from Maui and the winner's only Tournament of Champions. The Sony Open in Hawaii is one of the longest running events on the PGA Tour on a single course. Waialae has been the host site of every event dating make to its inception in 1965. Kavin Na will be looking to become the fifth player to successfully defend their Sony Open title, joining Hubert Green (1978-79), Corey Pavin (1986-87), Ernie Els (2003-04), and Jimmy Walker (2014-15). Interesting enough, Lanny Wadkins is the only other player to win this event multiple times and no player has ever been victorious at Waialae three times.
Last week's winner at Kapalua at an almost unthinkable 34-under-par, Cameron Smith will lead the brigade coming over to Honolulu. Smith prevailed just two years ago at Waialae in a playoff over Brendan Steele. Bryson DeChambeau was slated to tee it up, but was forced to withdraw on Monday due to wrist soreness. It's a shame because it would have been a treat to see how DeChambeau would have tried to overpower a classic layout like Waialae. Webb Simpson, Hideki Matsuyama, Sungjae Im, and Harris English are among some of the other notables teeing it up this week.
Much like the case at Kapalua, the primary defense of this course is the wind coming in off the ocean. For the second week in a row, we are unlikely to see much wind, which should keep the scores very low especially considering Hawaii is just coming off a very wet month of December. No precipitation is expected to fall during the tournament and temperatures will top out around 80 degrees all four rounds.
2021 – Kevin Na (-21)
2020 – Cameron Smith (-11)
2019 – Matt Kuchar (-22)
2018 – Patton Kizzire (-17)
2017 – Justin Thomas (-27)
2016 – Fabian Gomez (-20)
2015 – Jimmy Walker (-23)
2014 – Jimmy Walker (-17)
2013 – Russell Henley (-24)
2012 – Johnson Wagner (-13)
Key Stats to Victory
- SG: Approach
- GIR Percentage
- Driving Accuracy
- SG: Putting
Waialae is target golf at its finest, especially for those who are making the transition from wide-open Kapalua last week. The rough has been allowed to grow up to three inches this week, which is up from recent editions. That was done to try to hold players more accountable off of the tee. This is one venue where short, but accurate hitters can absolutely thrive. A wet December should make the narrow fairways play a little wider, however. Iron play will be extremely important as well. The greens present small targets for players, especially for those coming over from Maui. Due to the length of the course, players will be seeing quite a few approach shots from that 125-150 yard range. There is going to be a lot of birdies once again this week, so converting on these bermudagreens will have to be a primary focus. They are only allowed to reach 11 on the Stimpmeter, which should allow all players to be very aggressive. Smith led the field last week in SG: Putting on his way to victory and it wouldn't be the least bit surprising if the leader in that stat this week ended up hoisting the trophy come Sunday afternoon in Honolulu.
FanDuel Value Picks
Webb Simpson ($11,700)
Other than Sedgefield, Waialae may be Simpson's best course on Tour. He has gone 11-for-11 with eight total top-25's, including a T4-3rd-T4 stretch in his last three appearances. Simpson is very accurate off the tee, great with his short irons, and one of the most underrated putters on Tour. All of those things are recipes for success at Waialae. The Wake Forest product closed out 2021 with finishes of T14 at the CJ Cup and T8 at the RSM Classic.
Marc Leishman ($11,200)
Like Simpson, Leishman himself has a very consistent record at the Sony Open. He is 12-for-12 with four top-10's and seven top-20's. The Aussie is coming off a T10 at Kapalua where he ranked 10th in SG: Approach, ninth in SG: Putting, and T2 in GIR's. Leishman has finished outside the top-20 just once in five starts so far this season.
Corey Conners ($11,000)
Conners is arguably the most precise ball-striker on the PGA Tour, so him contending on Sunday at a course like Waialae should surprise nobody. Conners finished T3 and T12 in his last two attempts in Honolulu. The Canadian ranks top-15 this season in SG: Off-the-Tee, driving accuracy, GIR percentage, and putts per GIR.
Russell Henley ($10,300)
Henley had one of the most impressive rookie performances of the last decade when he made putt after putt down the stretch to win the 2013 Sony Open at 24-under-par. The former Georgia standout has added three more top-20's at Waialae since then. Much like Conners, Henley has developed himself into one of the most precise ball-strikers on the PGA Tour over the last few seasons. He ranks fourth in SG: Approach, 11th in SG: Tee-to-Green, 17th in driving accuracy, and 25th in GIR percentage en route to four top-25's in five starts this season.
Longer Shots with Value
Keith Mitchell ($9,600)
Mitchell owns three top-25 finishes in four career starts at the Sony Open. He is also coming in off a T3 at The CJ Cup and a T12 at The RSM Classic to close out the fall portion of the schedule. Mitchell ranks ninth in SG: Off-the-Tee, 38th in SG: Around-the-Green, and 38th in birdie average so far this season.
Brendan Steele ($9,600)
Steele came oh-so-close to picking up his fourth career win in the last two editions of the Sony Open. The veteran fell in a playoff to Smith in 2020 and was unable to hold onto the 54-hole lead last year and fell to T4. Steele made 5-of-6 cuts in the fall, including a T2 at The ZOZO Championship. He has always been a good driver and solid iron player during his career.
Charles Howell III ($9,400)
Making the cut 20 straight times at the same event is almost unthinkable, but the Sony Open's All-time earnings leader has done just that. Howell has racked up top-10 finishes in half of those 20 starts with only four finishes outside the top-30. The now 42-year-old is still one of the better drivers on Tour and his short game has made big strides as he has aged.
Tom Hoge ($8,800)
Hoge put together a very solid fall portion of the schedule, making 7-of-8 cuts and rounding out the year with a T4 at the RSM Classic. Hoge ranks second in SG: Approach, 13th in proximity to the hole, and 20th in scrambling this season. He also has a T3 and a T12 in the last four years at Waialae.
Strategy Tips This Week
Based on a Standard $60K Salary Cap
Waialae is a venue that seems to lean into experienced players, so course history is probably the most important factor in deciding on players to roster this week. With the majority of players in the field having a month or two off from competitive golf, recent form is not all that important. This would also definitely be a week to pay more attention to older stats such as driving accuracy and greens in regulation, as Waialae is vintage target golf with narrow fairways and small greens. Putting may also be the difference with a lot of these top tier precise ball strikers we have looked at. Some bargain options this week to also consider would be Russell Knox, Henrik Norlander, Nick Hardy and Peter Malnati.