Sony Open in Hawaii Preview

Sony Open in Hawaii Preview

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Staying in Hawaii for another week, the PGA TOUR will hop on over to Oahu for this week’s Sony Open.

After a limited field last week, roughly 100 more golfers will line up to take on Waialae Country Club as the field expands to 144 for the Sony.

A larger field also means a cutline, as the top 65 and ties will make it through the 36-hole marker to play the weekend.

Let’s jump right in and discuss the course.

The Course

The longtime host of the Sony Open is Waialae Country Club.

A Seth Raynor design, it has been playing this host role since the inaugural 1965 edition and it’s been a par 70 for the pros since the 1999 Sony Open.

From long and wide open last week to short and tight this week, the courses are very different in that regard. The field average sits under 55% of fairways hit over the last 10 years. Some of that is just due to firm and fast conditions that lead to missed fairways that are very manageable just off the short stuff. That helps explain why golfers still pelt around two-thirds of greens in regulation here.

Off the tee, golfers can club down frequently and take less-than-driver on many of the par 4s. After all, the course only stretches to 7,044 yards from the tips. Five of the par 4s are played at 423 yards or shorter. There are plenty of iron-off-the-tee holes here.

It’s not a complete cakewalk, though. Just look at the par-4 first, sixth, and 13th for evidence. All three of those lengthy holes surrender a bogey-or-worse rate of 24 percent or higher.

So with plenty of bogeys out on the course, where does all of the scoring come from? Well, despite this being a par 70 with just two par 5s, Waialae yields plenty of eagles. Over the last eight seasons, the field has averaged 0.48 eagles per 72 holes which is right around 10th easiest across all regular TOUR stops. Not what you’d expect from a par 70 but the par-5 ninth barely sits over 500 yards and the par-5 18th is just 551 yards. Everyone in the field can attack them.

As for the overall scoring, Kevin Na won this even on 21-under last year which is also the median winning score over the last seven editions. While historically, this course played pretty tough, it has become more of a scoring-fest in the last decade.

For grass types, golfers will see wall-to-wall bermudagrass. The green speeds usually sit around 11 to 11.5 feet on the stimpmeter. Relatively slow by PGA TOUR standards but about what you’d expect from a coastal course to keep them playable.

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Quotes on the Course

Kevin Kisner: “It’s a shorter, ball-strikers’ paradise. Got to control your ball off the tee and distance into the greens.”

Justin Thomas: “The biggest thing is just getting it in play, because I can just hit a lot of 2-irons out here and then I’m having short irons in, and I felt comfortable enough with those that I could hit my numbers.”

Matt Kuchar: “You can’t hit driver, you can’t hit 3-wood; you see guys hitting a lot of long irons off the tees, and it’s fun to just try to position your ball to determine is it more about getting in the fairway or more about trying to attack the hole.”

Brandt Snedeker: “You got to really think your way. It’s not just step up and bash it. You can hit any club you want to off every tee. You can hit driver if you want, you can hit 4-iron off the tee, and there is really no right or wrong way to do it.”

Correlated Courses

Using historical data from this week’s venue, we can look for other courses across the PGA TOUR schedule with crossover success (or failure). Here are the courses that pop up frequently:

Sea Island Resort
Sedgefield CC
Colonial CC
PGA West Rota

There is a clear theme that pops up here, less-than-driver layouts with bermuda greens.

The Weather

Thursday: Partly Cloudy with a chance of rain, high of 81 degrees. Winds at 6 to 12 MPH.

Friday: Partly Cloudy with a chance of showers. High of 81 degrees. Winds at 6 to 12 MPH.

Coastal conditions can always be unpredictable but as of now there doesn’t look to be a lot of wind in the picture and they’ll just need to avoid some showers to keep things fully ideal.

Golfers to Watch

Cameron Smith
The Aussie put on an absolute clinic at Kapalua and now he heads to Waialae where he’s a past champ (2020). It’s easy to see why he starts the week as a betting favorite but will he be able to stay locked in for another whole week? That’s the million-dollar question.

Webb Simpson
Waialae and Webb are a perfect fit. Simpson would fit right in if you tossed him onto the list of past champs at the Sony. So, how well does his fit with the course match up to results? He arrives with an 11-for-11 record at the Sony with four top 10s including three straight top 5s.

Charles Howell III
Chucky Three Sticks is the perfect example of why you can’t always lean on stats to determine how well a golfer will fit a course. Howell does not fit the stereotype when it comes to golfers you’d expect to crush it at Waialae. Yet, he is 20-for-20 at the Raynor design with half of those doubling as top-10 finishes. “No, when I look at it, I don’t know why I’ve had a lot of success here. I wouldn’t think the golf course would fit me a whole lot. I would prefer a longer, wider, bigger golf course, and I think you got the dead opposite here.”

Marc Leishman
If you love to see converging trends with your fantasy golf picks then Leishman is the man for you this week. He has top 20s in four of his last five starts dating back to the fall and has also found top 5s in two of his last three visits to Waialae Country Club.

Brian Harman
The smooth-swinging lefty doesn’t crack my top 20 below but he’s the type of name that can take it as low as any. He has top 20s in four of his last seven trips to Waialae and he’s missed the cut in just two of 10 visits.

Ranking the Field

1. Cameron Smith
2. Webb Simpson
3. Sungjae Im
4. Corey Conners
5. Marc Leishman
6. Kevin Na
7. Hideki Matsuyama
8. Talor Gooch
9. Abraham Ancer
10. Russell Henley
11. Billy Horschel
12. Seamus Power
13. Harris English
14. Christiaan Bezuidenhout
15. Charles Howell III
16. Jason Kokrak
17. Kevin Kisner
18. Matt Jones
19. Maverick McNealy
20. Brendan Steele