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Steven’s Weekly PGA Primer: Sony Open

Weekly Primer: Sony Open

The goal with my weekly primer is to provide you with a one-stop guide to equip you with all of the information that you need to make your picks and assemble your lineups. From course previews, to history, stats, and pick suggestions, this guide will provide a concrete base as you conduct your own research and submit your winning picks and lineups.

Sentry Tournament of Champions Recap

Out of my six recommended plays, five finished in the Top 8 or better with the sixth, Tway, coming in tied for 11th. I did list and write about the eventual TOC winner, Xander Schauffele, as a close consideration in the $8k range as he prevailed with a dominant final round over Gary Woodland. Woodland was the highest finisher of my picks and was close to pulling out his first win of the season.

2018 Recap

The PGA Tour continues the Hawaii leg of the season by moving to the Hawaiian state capital city of Honolulu for the 2019 Sony Open. It will be another week of scenic views and low scoring as Patton Kizzire looks to defend his 2018 championship.

Last year, Patton Kizzire defeated James Hahn in a six hole playoff when he birdied the 17th hole in what is one of the longest playoffs in recent PGA history. Kizzire shot two rounds of 64 with a closing 68 while Hahn shot a 62 on Sunday to force the playoff. Kizzire has history on his side once again as 13 of the last 20 Sony Open winners have played the week prior in Maui at Kapalua. Kizzire finished in the Top 10 at the Sentry Tournament of Champions last week tied for 8th place. He will have to shoot well again as he goes up against some of the world’s best including past champion Justin Thomas who shot a 59 here two years ago tying the course record. Also in the field is Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama, Bryson DeChambeau, Gary Woodland, Patrick Reed, Paul Casey, and Matt Kuchar among other familiar names. In addition to Thomas and Kizzire, former two-time Champion Jimmy Walker and past champions Fabian Gomez, Jerry Kelly, Zach Johnson, Johnson Wagner, Russell Henley, and Vijay Singh are also in the field. Henley is the only golfer to win here while in his 20s since 1997. Henley and Kizzire are also the only two golfers to win here as debutants.

Course Preview

Dates: January 10-13

Where: Honolulu, Hawaii

Course: Waialae Country Club

Designer: Seth Raynor and Charles Banks; Redesign by Desmond Muirhead

Par/Yards: Par 70—7,044 yards

Greens: Bermuda

Field: 177 golfers, Top 70 and ties make the cut

Defending Champion: Patton Kizzire

Purse: $6,400,000 ($1,152,000 to the winner)

FedEx Cup Points: 500 points to the winner

Withdrawals: Kevin Na (replaced by David Hearn)

Located in the Hawaiian mud lands, the Waialae Country Club plays as a 7,044 yard Par 70. This course plays as one of the easier courses on tour. Despite being a Par 70, this course has yielded low scores in the past including Kizzire at -17, Thomas at -27, and Gomez at -20 in the last three years. 12 of the 18 holes are Par 4s with two Par 5s that play as the easiest two holes on the course. Particiclarly, the 9th hole surrendered eagles last year 7.7% of the time and birdies 63% of the time. Golfers birdied the 18th hole at a rate of 52%.

Weather Outlook

The weather forecast does not call for as much as wind as we saw last week in Maui. Winds will remain calm and are not expected to eclipse 10 mph. This is a dramatic change from last week as players struggled hitting into 25+mph winds with gusts nearing 40 mph. Forecast is sunny with a 30% chance of rain in the later hours on Saturday but should not have an impact on the tournament.

Key Stats From Past Winners

The stats that stick out from the last three winners (Kizzire, Thomas, Gomez) at Waialae and that I will be keying on this week are:

  • SG: Approach
  • SG: Ball Striking
  • BoB Percentage
  • Par 4 Scoring
  • Greens in Regulation

A few other important stats that I may factor in are also SG: Putting, Bogey Avoidance, and Proximity to the hole. The last three winners finished in at least the Top 6 in these three stats as well in their win. A few stats that stick out as not being crucial this week are driving distance, driving accuracy, and Par 5 scoring. The fairways are harder to hit here but the rough is not penal enough to effect a drive that narrowly misses the fairway. Par 5 scoring does not look to be important either as the two Par 5s on the course play as the two easiest holes where everyone will have a chance at birdie and even eagle on the 9th hole.

Course History Targets

Course history can be extremely insightful when evaluating how a course fits a particular player and if a player has “an eye” for the course itself. Here is a breakdown of some notable players that have performed well and finished inside the Top-30 at Waialae in the past.

Recent Performance Targets

Just as important, if not more so, when selecting a roster is recent performance. You will see certain golfers go on a tear and post consecutive high-finishing results. This can translate to good form and a mental advantage as they tee it up the next week. Here is breakdown of some notable players that have been performing well as of recent and have at least one Top-20 in their last five starts.

The Approach

Before I even begin making picks I will break down the field into six tiers A-F. When you have fields of 100+ golfers then it can be overwhelming to scroll back-and-forth and up-and-down when making picks. DraftKings has a useful tool where you can export the entire DK roster with salaries to a CSV and open in Excel which I would highly recommend and then break down the picks from there.

When I am assembling my lineups or placing my bets, I will look at just about every stat that I can while also looking at course history and recent performance. There are certain players that just perform well at certain courses. Webb Simpson at the Wyndham, Zach Johnson at the John Deere, Jordan Spieth at the Master’s, Bubba Watson at any course that he has won, etc. You also have to look at how players are performing leading up to the tournament. I was burned multiple times last season by ignoring, or simply overlooking, this aspect when it came to picking or not picking Jordan Spieth.

Two other factors that I take into account are the OWGR and the betting odds. Vegas always knows something that you don’t, so when I see a golfer in the sub-8k range and see he has the same odds as golfers in the 9-10k range then he is someone that I have to consider.

The Picks

I know that I am not going out on a limb here suggesting the highest salary golfer for the second week in a row but I cannot ignore Justin Thomas. The site of his historic 59, JT loves playing in Hawaii and at the Sony Open. He ranks in the Top 10 of almost every stat that I am looking at this week in the past 24 and 50 rounds. While the only stat that I would like to see him ranking higher in is his GIR, he ranks 2nd and 4th in SG: App and BS, respectively so I expect him to set himself up to score as he shown to do in the past. He also ranks 25th in proximity and 7th in birdie opportunities. JT is my pick to win and a guy that I will have in all of lineups.

Also Consider: Jordan Spieth—$10,300 (OWGR: 17, 22/1) You get Spieth at $1,100 cheaper than JT. This is a comeback year for Spieth after a disappointing 2018 season. He has played well here in the past and is a great candidate for a Top 5 finish.

From the $9,000 range, I am focusing in on Hideki Matsuyama. One of the premiere ball strikers in the world, Hideki comes to Honolulu ranking 1st in the last 24 rounds in both SG: App and BS. Matsuyama also ranks 11th in proximity and 3rd in birdie opportunities gained. Hideki also ranks 1st in opportunities gained in the last 24 rounds. You won’t find Hideki at sub-$9,500 very often, especially if he shows flashes from his ability to post consistent finishes and wins from the last two years. While his course history is lacking, it is not always truly indicative of how a golfer may perform, i.e. Jimmy Walker and Fabian Gomez. I like Hideki this week.

Also Consider: Charles Howell III—$8,900 (OWGR: 57, 40/1) If you are looking for course history, recent form, and pop in statistical categories then CH3 will be a good play for you. Not to mention his Vegas odds put him with higher-salaried golfers including Matsuyama, Champ, Kisner, Casey, and Grillo. CH3 is 15th in bogeys avoidance and 24th in SG: Putting.

Making his season debut, Kyle Stanley is my pick in the $8,000 range. A premier ball striker and approach player, Stanley will be able to negate his lack of driving distance on this course by clubbing down and hitting wedges into these greens where he ranks 14th and 10th in GIR in the last 24 and 50 rounds respectively. Not known for his putting, Stanley ranks 1st in proximity and 18th in opportunities gained over the last 50 rounds which will help his putrid 81st ranking in SG: Putting. He had a Top 10 here last year and I expect him to repeat that again this year.

Also Consider: Zach Johnson—$8,300 (OWGR: 68, 50/1) This is the exact spot that I had Xander Schauffle in last week, so let’s see if I can go 2-for-2 to start the season. Johnson has finished T-14 and T-6 in his last two starts at the Sony Open and is starting the season after having a good year in 2018 that saw him reel off six consecutive Top 20s.  He has finished in the Top 15 in four of the last five years and could be set to do the same this year at towards the bottom of the $8k range.

Another one of my favorite plays this week, is Joel Dahmen at the bottom of the $7,000 range. Dahmen ranks in the Top 15 or better in three of the key stats for this week and also ranks 4th in birdie opportunities gained, 13th in bogey avoidance, and 27th in proximity. I like Sam Ryder in this price range as well but with all early indications showing Ryder to be high-owned, I like Dahmen to break through and produce at a high rate this week.

If you are planning on rostering JT this week then you are probably going to have to find some value at the bottom of the salary ranges. I like Keith Mitchell at the price range. If he plays like he did last season then we will see this price for Mitchell go up significantly. He is a great ball striker and has the distance to hit short wedges into the Par 4s. He ranks 10th in SG: T2G and 6th in SG: OTT.

My final play, former champion Johnson Wagner. He is 10th in Par 4 scoring which will be crucial on the 12 Par 4s at Waialae. He is also 12th and 10th in bogey avoidance over the last 24 and 50 rounds, respectively. He is also great around the green and is 10th in SG: ARG and 1st in SG: Putting over the last 50 rounds. If you are looking for a sub $7k play, look no further than Wagner.

That’s it until next time! Good luck this week and, as always, let me know what other tools or information would be helpful for your weekly picks!

Good Luck!

-Steven Quezada, @stevenquezadaTX

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