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Sony Open preview

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It is time for the first full-field event of 2015 on the PGA Tour, and it should be a great event.

Last week we saw 34 players tee it up in Kapalua, Hawaii for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and this week we stay in Hawaii, for the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu.

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Waialae Country Club is a 7,044 yard, Par 70 course which will be exposed to seaside winds, which can cause some difficult conditions. The fairways are fairly tight, so accuracy off the tee is favourable, and with small Bermuda greens to aim for, second shots will be important as well as the ability to putt well on the Bermuda surface.

The winning score has ranged from anything between -13 and -24 in the last five years, but what is for certain is you are going to have to hole plenty of putts and make lots of birdies in order to keep up with the front-runners and contend this week.

Players that are accustomed to shooting low would be preferable when narrowing down your selections, and those that tend to hit a lot of greens and putt well on a regular basis should stick out.

Course form isn’t always pivotal here, as Johnson Wagner showed in 2012, when he won after finishing 34th and missing three cuts in his first four attempts at this course prior to his win that week. In addition he has missed every cut since, so there are anomalies when looking at previous winners.

Another winner who had absolutely no course form to speak of was 2013 Russell Henley, who not only won here on his first look at this course but also did it when playing for the first time in his rookie season. There are other examples of winners who have a lack of course form, before their win here, but these are the two who stick out in recent years, and give hope to others in a similar position.

The importance of recent tournament action should also not be played down, as 10 of the last 16 winners here played at the Tournament of Champions event a week prior, so that’s worth bearing in mind when you weigh up the odds of those who have not played for many weeks.

Jimmy Walker grabbed the second of his three PGA Tour wins last season at this event last year and after just losing out in a play-off last week, to Patrick Reed he will no doubt be up for the challenge again this year. Apart from his win last year, Walker finished 4th here in 2011, and has made 5/8 cuts here overall, so he is definitely comfortable with the setup here at Waialae.

Walker is on a different level these days than he was in previous years, and even at 16/1 he is hard to rule out this week, and it is no surprise that he is second favourite in the betting. In fact, it is actually surprising he doesn’t start the week as favourite, that goes to 14/1 shot Jason Day, who also enjoyed a good week last week, finishing 3rd.

The other three players that make up the top five in the betting are Matt Kuchar (20/1), Chris Kirk (25/1) and Hideki Matsuyama who is also 25/1.

Kirk and Kuchar make obvious claims this week, as they both have multiple top-5 finishes at this course, with Kirk finishing 2nd and 5th in his last two attempts, whilst Kuchar has finished 8th, 5th and 5th in his last three efforts.

Matsuyama on the other hand is not so clear-cut, despite being in very good form of late. He has played at this event on three occasions between 2011-2013 and missed the cut on each occasion. Now of course he has improved greatly as a player since the last time he teed it up here, as he proved by winning four times in 2013 on the Japan Tour and grabbing a further two wins in 2014.

Again one of those wins in 2014 came on the Japan Tour, but more importantly he got his first PGA Tour win at the Memorial and he has looked in great shape ever since. It shows a lot that he wants to come back here, despite having no success in the past and it wouldn’t be any great surprise to see him perform well. Having said that, 25/1 does not entice me to have a bet, especially considering his lack of fortune at this track in the past.

That sums up the market leaders, but with a 14/1 favourite it’s fair to say it is pretty wide open and there is definitely some value to be had across the board, so it is a great event to bet in this week.

Here are my selections for the 2015 Sony Open.

Tim Clark 45/1 (StanJames) 1pt e/w: Tim Clark won his second PGA Tour event in 2014, which was his first since 2010 and he almost added to it again at the WGC-HSBC Champions back in November.

He unfortunately lost out that week, in a play off to Bubba Watson but his win at the RBC Canadian Open back in July was very impressive. He shot 64-65 over the weekend to beat Jim Furyk by one shot, and showed that he still has plenty of fight left in him.

He finished 25th out of 34 players last week, but he still played relatively well and considering he finished 7th and 2nd on his last two starts worldwide prior to that, I am confident he can turn up and put in a good performance here this week.

Clark has teed it up five times here, but withdrew last year so has only completed the week on four occasions. He has however impressed on those four occasions which is a big reason why I like his chances this week.

Before withdrawing last year, Clark finished runner-up twice in 2013 and 2011 and then 25th and 12th in his two efforts prior to that. He has a clear liking for this track and with him playing well in recent months I am confident he can repeat that feat.

I like the fact he played last week and got four rounds under his belt, and despite a lowly finish it should prove useful preparation.

At 45/1 I thought he was good value towards the top of the market, and I am hoping he can continue his good form, and add another win to his collection.

Marc Leishman 50/1 (StanJames) 1pt e/w: Marc Leishman often pops up with some very impressive results throughout the year, especially in big events and he will be keen to add to his sole PGA Tour win.

Leishman does play a limited schedule so it is not a complete surprise that he doesn’t win very often, but he needs to take advantage of those events that he does play and this week is no exception.

He had six top-10s on the PGA Tour last year including a 2nd place finish and two 3rd place finishes, so apart from the obvious lack of a win, he had a successful year.

One of his top-10’s in 2014 came at this event, when he finished 5th, just four shots shy of eventual winner, Jimmy Walker. He shot three rounds in the 60’s and it was his third round 71 that really stalled his chances of victory here last year.

Apart from that 5th placed finish last year, he has finished 9th in 2013, and inside the top-30 on all of the other three occasions he’s played here. With finishes of 5th, 9th and 12th in five appearances to his name he certainly boasts great course form and that coupled with his recent form makes him an interesting betting proposition this week.

He finished 9th at the WGC-HSBC Champions event back in November and 11th in Australia five weeks ago, so his game looks in good shape going into this week.

At 50/1 I think he represents great value, and I certainly believe he has a great chance of adding to his sole PGA Tour win, the Travelers Championship that he won in 2012.

Brian Stuard 110/1 (StanJames) 0.5pt e/w: Brian Stuard is by no means in great form, although he did finish T13 back in November at the CIMB Classic, but his course form over the last two years here is hard to ignore.

Not only does he play this course well, he tends to start the year off well in general. Last year he finished 6th in this event, and backed that up with a 5th placed finish at the Humana Challenge and in 2013 achieved a similar feat.

In 2013 he finished 5th at this event, and backed that up with a 10th placed finish at the Humana Challenge, so he tends to kick off the year well, and hopefully he can keep that up here.

I am happy to take a chance on him playing well here again this week, purely based on the fact he finished 6th and 5th here on his last two starts and 25th on debut in 2010 so he’s never experienced a bad week here at Waialae Country Club.

It is not often you want to back a player that has missed 3 of 5 cuts on the season so far, but he has made the last two, and is returning to a course he clearly enjoys so there are plenty of positives.

At 110/1 he is worth a small play at the very least, and I am confident he can repeat his past efforts here.

Danny Lee 200/1 (Coral) 0.5pt e/w: Danny Lee missed more cuts than he made last year, which is never a positive season, but he did manage a runner-up finish at the Puerto Rico Open and after a decent start to the 2015 season, I think he’s one to look out for.

Lee has two wins to his name, one of which he won as an amateur back in 2009. At the age of 19 he won the Johnnie Walker Classic, an event held in Perth, Australia and co-sanctioned by the Australasian, Asian, and European Tours. As a result he became the youngest winner on the European Tour.

On his last start, Lee finished T3 at the OHL Classic and on top of that he’s also finished T13 at the CIMB Classic, so his game looks to be in good shape.

Why do I like him this week? Well for starters he has a decent finish under his belt, when finished 13th here in 2013. He has missed the cut on both other occasions that he has played here, but I am happy to look at the positives and the 13th place finish is not to be ignored.

Another reason I like him this week is his ability to make birdies, as he has shown so far in this young season. He currently ranks 5th in Total Birdies, making 85 birdies so far and I am confident that can continue this week.  He ranked 57th last year in the same category despite a poor season, so it is obvious he can make birdies no matter how he is playing and hopefully he improves on those numbers now that he appears to be in better form.

At 200/1 I thought it was worth chancing that he plays well again here this week, like he did in 2013 and hopefully he can prove that and achieve at least his second top-5 of the 2015 season.

These conclude my picks for the 2015 Sony Open. With this and the Abu Dhabi Championship this week, we have two great events to look forward to.

Profit/Loss for 2015: N/A