After a tightly contested Tournament of Champions last week, where Xander Schauffele had to shoot a course record-tying 62 on the last day, to beat an impressive, Gary Woodland, the Tour moves down the road to Waialae Country Club. The Sony Open is the first full-field event of 2019, and every player will be hoping for a fast start to the year, to set the tone.
This week the field is headlined by 2017 champion, Justin Thomas who completed the Hawaii double here two years ago, and is fine spirits after finishing 3rd last week.
Just behind Thomas in the market, and another name that appears to be mentioned every week is, Bryson DeChambeau. If it’s not his one-length irons, it’s the fact he’s putting with the flag in, but most importantly he’s also won a bunch recently.
Thomas and DeChambeau finished 3rd and 7th last week respectively and the man that played better them both and was very unlucky not to win, Gary Woodland is also in the field, despite his Grandmother’s passing last week.
The Course and what it will take to win
Waialae Country Club, 7,044 Yards, Par 70
This course’s only real defence is Mother Nature. Should the wind get up, the scoring can become a lot more difficult but generally this short Par 70 course is here to be scored on.
This course rarely requires driver off the tee, due to length of the course and hitting the tree-lined fairways whilst not essential, will be helpful when looking for the best angle into the greens.
Hitting the small and hard BermudaGrass Greens will be imperative to any success this week, in order to set up good birdie looks on a consistent basis throughout the round.
Good putting form on Bermuda Greens will be advantageous this week, as is knowledge of the Hawaiian winds.
Correlating courses this week include Harbour Town (RBC Heritage) and the Seaside course at Sea Island Georgia, which is one of two courses used for the RSM Classic. Both of these courses also feature Bermuda greens.
Another one and perhaps the strongest correlation is the host venue of the OHL/Mayakoba Golf Classic – El Camaleon. Johnson Wagner and Mark Wilson won at both courses in the past, and Patton Kizzire added to the link with victory at both last season. With the OHL/Mayakoba Golf Classic being a relatively new event this is quite a promising link.
Due to their comparable length and similar locations (by the coast) it is definitely worth looking at players’ form at these three events, especially if they haven’t played here.
Playing at the Tournament of Champions the week before looks to be highly advantageous here also. Of the last seven winners (Jimmy Walker twice), only Russell Henley has won here without playing a week prior and he couldn’t have done so, considering his win here came on his PGA Tour debut.
There a number of factors this could be down to. It could be that those that played last week have had a chance to acclimatise to the Hawaiian conditions, or it could even simply be the fact that they’ve had a chance to play some tournament golf, whereas others haven’t played since the winter break.
Whether it’s getting used to the weather or the chance to get rid of some rust, for whatever reason, playing in the Tournament of Champions a week prior has proven advantageous and should not be ignored.
Marc Leishman 20/1 (Bet365) 1.5pts e/w:
Marc Leishman is playing as well as most right now, with a win, a 2nd and a 4th place finish in his last four individual events, and he can continue that rich vein of form here.
Even at the CJ Cup, where a T18 finish looks out of place amongst that form, he bounced back from an opening-round 75 by getting progressively better over the week (71-68-66).
When you also consider that Leishman, alongside Cameron Smith finished 2nd at the World Cup of Golf, it is fair to say that another visit to Waialae Country Club has come at the very best time.
In 9 starts at this course, Leishman has never missed the cut and whilst on six occasions he’s finished 20th or below, he has finished inside the top-12 on three occasions, with a career-best 5th place coming in 2014.
Whilst course form isn’t everything here, good current form, either at the tail-end of the previous year or in particular at the start of the current one (at the tournament of champions) is often rewarded here, so Leishman will hope that trend continues this week.
He was in similarly impressive form (minus the win) when he pegged it up here last year and posted his worst finish (T47), but he appeared to make further strides once again in 2018, and 2019 looks to be a promising year for the Australian.
At 20/1 many will perhaps suggest he’s too short, given he was as big as 33/1 for a 33-man event last week, but I think he looks in a great place right now, and warrants the price for me.
Patrick Rodgers 100/1 (Unibet) 1pt e/w:
This pick may appear to be based around the 61-62 weekend that saw him get into a play-off with Charles Howell III at the RSM Classic, but in truth that weekend effort had seemingly been coming for some time.
Rodgers ended his 2017/18 season with a T24 finish at the Wyndham, and started the 2018/19 season with a T25 at the Safeway. T14-T41-MC-2 since suggests there is still plenty of form there, and he can carry that into the New Year.
A promising player for a while now, Rodgers’ putting has often been his Achilles heel, but a change of coach late 2017 appears to slowly be paying off and he appears to have been putting a lot of work in, during December.
Among a multitude of swing videos on his Instagram is one he posted 4 Days Ago with the caption “Get me to Hawaii!”. Seemingly confident with his game, now may be a good time to get on Rodgers, who’s 2nd place finish at the RSM was his third since 2015, and his fifth top-3 overall on the PGA Tour. https://www.instagram.com/p/BsOINGcHxMs/?utm_source=ig_share_sheet&igshid=ypg9lc5j6v52
Why this event then? When you look at his course form (MC-WD) you would be forgiven for not immediately being filled with confidence, but his performances at correlating courses suggest he may do better this time around.
Rodgers finished 2nd last time out at the RSM Classic, and has a prior T10 finish there as well, and the Seaside Course there is a known indicator, as is El Camaleon (Mayakoba), where Rodgers has finished T10 and T14 in the past.
When missing the cut here in 2017, Rodgers opened up with rounds of 71-67 and that four-shot improvement in round 2 gives reason for optimism. Kevin Kisner who finished T4 that week, opened 70-67, before shooting 60-65 over the weekend, which shows what can done with favourable conditions if you can get through the first two days.
A faster start here could see Rodgers get four rounds in at this course for the first time, and that will be telling as to whether this course is up his street or not. At 100/1, I am willing to find out, given his recent form.
Ryan Armour 125/1 (SkyBet 7 Places) 1pt e/w:
Ryan Armour went from journeyman pro to PGA Tour winner, after taking down the Sanderson Farms Championship at the tail-end of 2017.
Since then, there hadn’t been a ton to shout about, but a 2nd place finish at the Quicken Loans National and an 8th place finish at the Wyndham Championship gave us a reminder of his ability and he’s carried that into the start of this season.
An accurate hitter, something that will serve him well on a course where the longest hitters’ power is negated by the 7,000 yard layout, Armour will be confident of continuing on his strong form at the end of 2018.
When Armour tees it up on his first hole on Thursday, he will be looking for his 53rd consecutive fairway, and is currently just 7 fairways hit away from tying the all-time record, a record currently held by Brian Claar who hit 59 straight in 1992.
Armour finished T21 and T15 at the Mayakoba Golf Classic and the RSM Classic respectively, to end 2018, which are good enough results on the face of it already. When you dig deeper though, those results hold more significance to his chances this week. Performances at these two events correlate well with this event, with Mayakoba a particularly strong indicator, as already discussed.
An opening round 72 at the RSM cost Armour a chance of a second victory, as he went on to finish the week with rounds of 66-67-64 and it was a similar story at the Mayakoba, where a third-round 71 prevented a better finish. Two 67’s and a 66 in Mexico means he’s shot 67 or better in six of his last eight rounds, an impressive feat.
After three rounds here last year, Armour was sitting in 14th place, but a final round 71 (+1) saw him fall a devastating 25 places, and although this “three round syndrome” seems to be a consistent theme with Armour, he looks fairly priced at 125/1 to piece it together for a full week, with his form currently trending in the right direction.
Ollie Schniederjans 150/1 (General, Skybet 7 places) 0.5pt e/w:
I took a long hard look at Zach Johnson this week, who ended his 2018 with a T7 finish at the RSM Classic, and has an impressive record here (including a win) at Waialae. The thing that put me off? His split with long-term caddie, Damon Green. Whilst I am sure Johnson can probably play this course without a caddie, a change is a change, and it may be an indicator of where Johnson feels he is in his career right now.
Instead I’ll opt for the beneficiary of Johnson and Green’s split, Ollie Schniederjans. The PGA Tour’s equivalent of Robert Rock, Schniederjans is more than just a hatless wonder, and in 2017 – his first full season on the PGA Tour, he showed that.
Four top-10’s in 2017, including a 2nd place finish behind Henrik Stenson at the Wyndham Championship got people excited about the man who finished T12 in the Open Championship as an amateur in 2015. 2018 however appeared a wretched year for Schniederjans, as he failed to live up to the hype surrounding him.
Despite a tough year, he still managed top-10’s at the Waste Management Phoenix Open (T3), the Barracuda Championship (5th) and here (T7) which is promising.
Two starts here have yielded results of T27 and T7, and his new relationship with Green may be worth the extra 3 shots he needed to tie Kizzire last year.
Green’s experience will be invaluable to him both here and beyond, and Green must see something in Schniederjans and his judgement should not be questioned. Green was on the bag for the last two of Scott “the human ATM” Hoch’s 11 PGA Tour victories and all of the first 15 years of Zach Johnson’s PGA Tour career, which included wins at the Masters and the Open Championship.
Other than a hunch that this may be the year that Schniederjans turns potential to success, especially now he has Green by his side, the only other merit to this selection is his course form. At 150/1, I think there’s enough juice in those two reasons alone, to roll the dice.
Total points staked this week: 8
Profit/Loss for 2018: -8