The PGA TOUR continues the Aloha Swing by taking a quick 30-minute flight over to the island of Oahu for the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club located in Honolulu, Hawaii. The course will set up as a Par 70, measuring 7,044 yards and again be putt on Bermuda greens. Justin Thomas will be the highest-ranked golfer in the field making his sixth straight start and leads the field in strokes gained total here since 2015. He’ll look to follow up his playoff win in Kapalua and draw on his win at Waialae back in 2017, where he claimed victory in dominant fashion shooting a 59 on Thursday and averaging just under 65 over the next three days. Hideki Matsuyama will also make his first start since the Presidents Cup, but hasn’t had a great track record here with his best finish being a T27 in three starts.
A good batch of the 2019 champions who played at Kapalua will make their way to Oahu this week including Patrick Reed, Matt Kuchar, Justin Thomas, J.T. Poston and Collin Morikawa. While course experience isn’t as important here as it may be at other long-standing courses on the PGA TOUR, playing in Hawaii the prior week is significant. Seven of the past eight winners of the Sony Open have played The Tournament of Champions the week prior and four of the past five winners at Waialae finished inside the top 15 at Kapalua. Young tour pros like Joaquin Niemann and Morikawa, who both finished inside the top seven last week, will be making their debut at Waialae. Recent Korn Ferry Tour graduates like Doug Ghim and Harry Higgs will also be teeing it up for the first time in Hawaii.
The course is easy to get after if the wind isn’t howling. Last year it ranked as the 17th easiest course in scoring relative to par and 13th the previous year. Waialae sits at the bottom of the Palolo Valley and is steps away from the Pacific Ocean, more specifically, Kahala Beach. Even with its close proximity to the ocean, the course historically hasn’t been adversely affected by the conditions as much as other coastal courses. The fairways are tree-lined and fairly flat throughout both nines with water coming into play on only three holes. Missing the fairway won’t matter too much this week as we’ve seen Patton Kizzire and Fabian Gomez both lose strokes off-the-tee and still win. As with all Par 70s, success on the Par 4s is paramount with two fewer Par 5s on the scorecard.
The most important stat to target this week will be strokes gained approach-the-green. Of the golfers who finished inside the top 10 last season, half also finished inside the top 10 in strokes gained approach-the-green. Conversely, of those who placed inside the top 10, only two finished inside the top 10 in strokes gained off-the-tee. Lineups should also include golfers who rank high in Par 4 scoring average and Bermuda putting with a slight lean to those who played last week.
PGA HIGH OR LOW
Patrick Reed ($10,800)Reed losing in a playoff last week shouldn’t be the only reason we like him in Honolulu nor should it be just about his putting, where he gained just over nine strokes on the greens. Reed was also superb on the Par 4s ranking inside the top three in par 4 scoring average gaining 6.1 strokes throughout the week. Reed finished inside the top 15 at Waialae last season and ranked sixth in strokes gained putting, but just wasn’t able to get his irons going, which is what you need to win here. Reed also lost strokes through approach last week, but he is still averaging 1.5 strokes gained with his irons over his last 10 tournaments where he’s finished no worse than 22nd in said tournaments.
Webb Simpson ($11,100)Simpson didn’t play the Sony Open last season, which was disappointing due to how well he’s played at this course over his career. He finished with a top five back in 2018 along with three straight 13th place finishes from 2015 to 2017. The course is tailor-made for Simpson, who ranks inside the top five in total strokes gained since 2015 and ranks third in the field in strokes gained total on Par 70s over his past three tournaments. Webb has also become one of the best on tour with his putter, ranking ninth in strokes gained putting over his past three tournaments and one spot higher at eighth when on Bermuda greens over the same timeframe.
Sungjae Im ($9,600)We saw a lot of the recent 2019 Presidents Cup members have success at Kapalua last week, with eight who played in Royal Melbourne finishing inside the top 10. It’s now Sungjae’s turn to follow up his success after the Presidents Cup with another solid finish here at Waialae, where he placed inside the top 15 last season. He’s gained an average of 3.3 strokes through approach over the Swing Season and has been a solid Bermuda putter since being on tour. He’s also one of the best in the field in Par 4 scoring average, ranking fifth over his last three tournaments. Look for him to rattle off a lot of birdies, as well, ranking inside the top 15 in birdie or better average over his last 12 rounds.
Harry Higgs ($6,700)Higgs finished fourth in the Korn Ferry Tour (KFT) Top 25 standings last year and has played well over the Swing Season with two top-35 finishes. One of these finishes came at the Mayakoba Classic where we’ve seen similar leaderboards to Waialae as well as a lot of corollaries in course layout. Higgs finished with five top 10s and a win last season on the KFT and should do well at Waialae, which is fairly similar to what he’s been playing on over the past 12 months.
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