Each week, we will highlight our top players on the PGA TOUR in order of likeliness to win the tournament.
Factors coming into play on the rankings are (in no order):
- Recent form: How the player has performed in various aspects of his game in recent weeks.
- Course history: How the player has performed at the host course if he has played there in the past.
- Course fit: Used as a secondary or backup to course history, fit looks at certain skills that translate to success on the host course.
- Strokes gained: Strokes gained will come into play in all of the factors above. Unless otherwise noted, strokes gained stats are taken from the player’s last 50 rounds.
Using the guidelines above to create a statistical model, value can be found in the Sony Open betting market by highlighting players whose outlook for the tournament may be flying under the radar to the general public.
The weighted model this week is:
- 25% Driving Distance
- 20% SG: Approach
- 15% Opportunities Gained
- 10% SG: Around the Green
- 10% Putt Avoidance
- 10% SG: Par 5
- 10% SG: Par 4 350-400 Yards
This week: Sony Open in Hawaii
- Date: January 13-16, 2022
- Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
- Course: Waialae Country Club
- How to watch: Golf Channel, ESPN+
- Purse: $7,500,00
- Defending champ: Kevin Na
Course preview: Waialae Country Club
The PGA Tour will head just west of Maui to finish its short, two-week stay in Hawaii in beautiful Honolulu. The Sony Open in Hawaii has been hosted by Waialae Country Club since its inception in 1965. As the first full-field event every year, many professionals make their debut of the new year at the Sony Open if they didn’t make it to the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
The Sentry Tournament of Champions gave us an unbelievable showdown between Cameron Smith and Jon Rahm on the weekend with record-setting scoring. Low winds and softer conditions allowed the entire field to put up historic scoring on the weekend and let Smith post a PGA Tour-record 34 under for the tournament. Smith stared down Rahm on Sunday and showed that he’s someone to look out for throughout 2022.
Waialae Country Club is one of the oldest and most classical designs played on the PGA Tour every year. Designed by Seth Raynor in 1927, Waialae features many of Raynor’s famous architectural ideologies like clever fairway bunker placements and raised, tricky green complexes. Waialae comes in as a Par 70 at 7,044 yards. It actually plays decently long due to just two Par 5s, flat terrain and typically softer conditions. You’ll see far fewer wedges and pitch shots into greens this week than you saw a week ago at the 7,600-yard Kapalua.
A couple of easy corollary courses for Waialae are Harbour Town and Colonial, which are tighter and winding tracks that favor accurate ball striking and a hot putter. But the assumed premium on hitting fairways at Waialae is overstated a bit. In the last 11 years, only two winners finished inside the top 10 in fairways hit, and six finished 50th or worse. So while hitting fairways does help at a tight course, it’s a place that is easily maneuverable from the rough. I’m taking a light look at Good Drives Gained just to rule out guys who are hitting it off the planet with the driver.
What doesn’t fail the data test is ball striking leading to wins at the Sony Open. Though Smith managed to get it done two years ago with his short game while losing strokes to the field on approach, the majority of winners have been extremely strong with their ball striking. Na gained six strokes on approach last year and especially caught fire hitting it tight on Sunday. Since Waialae greens are small, proximity and Opportunities Gained aren’t as preferred as usual this week … and simply getting the ball on the putting surface and catching a hot putter has generally been the key to contending. Seven of the last 11 winners were in the top 10 in greens hit, and Kevin Na’s mark of 29th in greens last year has been the worst among winners. I like SG: Approach, Greens in Regulations Gained and Proximity: 150-175 Yards for ball striking stats this week.
Catching a hot putter has been the magical way of winning as of late at Waialae. The last five winners before Na finished 1st, 3rd, 3rd, 2nd and 5th in Strokes Gained: Putting, with Na gaining 3.3 strokes on the greens himself. The tough part of it is putting can be so difficult to predict, and its volatility tends to make me discourage backing solely strong putters in any tournament. But outside of Justin Thomas in 2017, most of the winners at Sony have had fantastic putting weeks and are consistently strong putters on Bermuda. This is one of the few weeks of the year that I recommend placing putting stats really high up on your list.
I will use a touch SG: Around the Green in my model this week, but I’m not overly concerned with it. It’s a bonus to have as always, but even compared to Kapalua last week where some creative touch was needed around the greens, I don’t see this course as too stressful on the short game.
Finally, I’ll once again surprise by using SG: Par 5 on Par 70 this week. The 9th and 18th holes at Waialae are as easy as it gets on the PGA Tour. It’s the easiest set of Par 5s on the schedule and absolutely imperative to score on. Some may think that them being so easy would take the challenge out for most of the field, but I want to highlight guys that I believe can play those eight holes at close to 8 under for the week. Eagle opportunities will be plentiful there, and this is the one spot where we may be able to find an edge on a more powerful player that also checks some of the other boxes we’ve gone over. The top 10 finishers at the Sony in the last five years have gained .19 strokes per hole on Par 5s against the field, which is a pretty considerable number.
The Sony Open field will once again feature a bunch of guys coming over from the Sentry, including Smith, Hideki Matsuyama, Sungjae Im, Harris English, Marc Leishman and Abraham Ancer. They’ll be joining Webb Simpson and Matt Kuchar as some of the names making their 2022 debut. Na will defend his title as the No. 29 ranked player in the world.
Sony Open Power Rankings
20. Matt Kuchar : I’m taking a speculative chance on him this week based off some decent play to end the year. That could be the signal that the 43-year-old is set for a bounce-back year after tanking down in the world rankings from a terrible last two years. Great history at Waialae with a win and four more Top 10s. Ranks 3rd in SG: ARG.
19. Hayden Buckley : One of the Korn Ferry graduates to impress early in the season with a 4th at Sanderson and 8th at Shriners. Appears to be a strong Bermuda putter and has the ball striking to back it up. He’s also been accurate off the tee and should be primed for a good week. Ranks 13th in GIRs Gained.
18. Adam Long : Former winner who is always live when he gets on a shorter Bermuda course. He lost some form through almost all of 2021 before showing life to end the year with 4 straight top 25s. He had the putter going and corrected the ball striking a bit. Ranks 3rd in SG: P and 8th in SG: Par 5.
17. Joel Dahmen : One of the lowkey guys coming over from the Sentry that should feel right at home on a shorter, coastal course. He’s not the dynamite putter you’d prefer here, but Bermuda is his best surface. Hit it well last week and finished 12th here in 2020. Ranks 9th in Proximity: 150-175 Yards.
16. Denny McCarthy : Known as one of the best putters in the world, he’s struggled throughout his career to back that up with ball striking. Posted some nice results to end the year where he managed to support the putting a little better. The type of course he could play well on as a debutant. Ranks 13th in SG: P.
15. Brian Stuard : One of the top earners and most consistent players at Waialae over the last decade with 4 top 10s. Struggled for much of 2021 but can always be considered on tight courses where distance isn’t needed. Great Bermuda putter. Ranks 7th in SG: P and 7th in Good Drives.
14. Jason Kokrak : Hard to ignore his pricing this week for someone with his win equity. But the tricky part is he’s one of the most volatile putters on Tour, and it’s hard to really guess when you get the lights out performance. Played poorly at Sentry but has success at corollary courses. Ranks 18th in GIRs Gained.
13. Harris English : This might be too high after he lost a ridiculous 5.3 strokes off the tee at Sentry, but the rest of his game wasn’t too far off. Has 3 top 10s at Sony, and I’d have to think he’ll be a lot more comfortable this week as he shakes off rust. Ranks 7th in SG: ARG and 10th in SG: Par 5.
12. Hideki Matsuyama : As per usual with him, it’ll come down to the putter on if he can contend for a win this week. Never finished better than 12th here in 8 tries despite great approach numbers because the putter has been so bad. Struck it well at Sentry but lost 2 strokes on the greens. Ranks 10th in SG: APP.
11. Christiaan Bezuidenhout : Hoping for the South African to have a breakout year on the PGA Tour after struggling to get too much going last year. He’s an incredibly strong putter on Bermuda and seemed to be finding it with the irons in the second half of the year. The driver is a big weakness but should be negated here mostly. Ranks 4th in SG: ARG and 4th in Proximity: 150-175 Yards.
10. Maverick McNealy : Never quite had the breakout stretch in 2021 that some were expecting, but it was still a solid year for the Stanford product. These classical courses are the best fit for him, and he can really get it going with the irons at times. Still needs to carry over his putting prowess to Bermuda more, but this should be a nice fit for the debutant. Ranks 12th in GIRs Gained.
9. Kevin Na : The defending champion put up a nice performance at the Sentry last week and seems to be in a good place with his game. He knows this course as well as anyone with 4 top 10s including last year’s win. It all depends really on if the putter catches fire for him like it occasionally does. Ranks 1st in SG: ARG and 6th in Proximity: 150-175 Yards.
8. Marc Leishman : The big Aussie is so popular this week that I’m considering fading him at this point. There’s good reason for the love, though. He really figured his game out since September with 5 straight solid performances. The irons are back, the driver isn’t much of a negative … and he can always fill it up on Bermuda. Ranks 1st in Proximity: 150-175 Yards and 8th in SG: P.
7. Abraham Ancer : Really disappointed at the Sentry where he was bad in all categories. He’s been having some real issues around the greens along with some volatile performances in other areas. I find him risky this week for that reason, but he’s typically great on this style of course. Ranks 8th in Good Drives and 14th in SG: P.
6. Russell Henley : The premier iron player in the field is still looking for his first win since 2017 after some close calls recently. He’s the first guy I think of on courses like this now due to his ability to hit it straight and putt well on Bermuda. Just needs to find it down the stretch to win. Won here as a debutant and added an 11th last year. Ranks 1st in SG: APP and 1st in Proximity: 150-175 Yards.
5. Sungjae Im : Seemed to ride his great play late in 2021 with a nice performance at the Sentry. He’s consistently gaining in all categories as of late outside of putting, but Bermuda has always been his best surface. Gained a ton of strokes off the tee in his 3 starts at Sony. Ranks 4th in GIRs Gained and 11th in SG: ARG.
4. Webb Simpson : Everyone’s first look on these types of courses finally started to find some form late in 2021 after a mostly disappointing year. His 8th at the RSM saw him gain nearly 10 strokes on approach. This will be his 12th start at Sony … has finishes of 4th, 3rd and 4th in his last 3. Ranks 8th in SG: APP and 8th in SG: ARG.
3. Talor Gooch : Still trying to ride his great form after finishing 15th at the Sentry. The iron play has been elite, and he putted it great on Bermuda to win the RSM. If he can do that again at Waialae, he clearly has the rest of the game to win in this field. Ranks 4th in SG: APP and 15th in SG: ARG.
2. Cameron Smith : The record-setting win at the Sentry was his most impressive performance yet … gaining strokes in every category and clearly adding some distance to his driver in the process. He won this tournament in 2020 for his only other PGA Tour individual win by gaining 8.2 strokes on the greens. Now he’s a more complete player and could be dangerous for back-to-back wins. Ranks 1st in SG: P and 2nd in SG: APP.
1. Seamus Power : Another rock solid performance at the Sentry – a course not as well suited for his game – has me thinking he’s ready to take it to the next level in 2022. Short course specialist who can really roll it on Bermuda and has an impressive all-around game at this point. Extremely confident in him continuing to play at these types of tournaments. Ranks 1st in my model, 8th in GIRs Gained and 10th in SG: Par 5.
*All stats are from a player’s last 36 rounds unless otherwise stated
Up next on TOUR
The PGA Tour will head east to begin the West Coast Swing with The American Express at PGA West. PGA West is a fun course that invites tons of birdies with risk/reward holes. Some big names committed like Jon Rahm, Patrick Cantlay, Jason Day and Justin Rose have the field looking much stronger than in previous years. Si Woo Kim fought off Cantlay, Cameron Davis and Tony Finau to win last year. He’ll defend his title as the No. 53 ranked player in the world.