The Sony Open in Hawaii has been both as expected and extremely surprising through three rounds this week.
Going into Sunday, we’re getting what we’re usually promised when players tee it up at Waialae … a jam-packed leaderboard with birdies flying around and players charging into contention. But what we didn’t expect is the three favorites — Tom Kim, Sungjae Im and Jordan Spieth — to not be on the course after all missing the cut in a fairly weak field.
Tournament Recap Through First Three Rounds
When Spieth flew out of the gates to a 64 and share of the lead on Thursday morning and Tom Kim fired dart after dart to begin his round in the afternoon, it looked like we might get another chalky week on the PGA Tour. Instead, Kim completely lost his putting stroke and comfortably missed the cut to stop his insane run. Spieth followed his 64 with a 75 and pulled off the rare feat of holding a share of the first-round lead and then missing the cut.
That opened up a wide open tournament for the weekend at Waialae.
It was Hayden Buckley who took control on Saturday, though luck was certainly on his side with two eagles on the back nine alone to take a two-shot lead over Chris Kirk, Ben Taylor and David Lipsky. Buckley was playing solid golf to end 2022 after having a very rough stretch to start the year.
While Buckley’s ball striking has been superb, his putter has carried a ton of weight … something that has very rarely happened in his career. His 5.05 SG: Putting through three rounds would be just the second time in 33 registered tournaments that he’s gained three strokes on the greens.
Because of that, I think the play is to fade Buckley on Sunday and look down the board for the better play and another come-from-behind winner.
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Winner: Ben Taylor
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With 15 players within five shots of the lead, there are plenty of options on the board to take home the trophy on Sunday at Waialae. But it’s no easy task to pass a ton of players when birdies will be plentiful, so I’m choosing to stay near the top of the leaderboard.
Ben Taylor was a part of my outright selections before the tournament started, so it’s easy to make a case on a player tied for second who I already loved as a potential winner at 200/1 odds. Taylor was hitting the ball wonderfully to end the year when he was in the final group on Sunday in Houston with Tony Finau and finished third. He added another great ball striking performance in his last start at Sea Island.
That’s continued this week as he’s gained 3.15 SG: Approach through three rounds. More importantly, the putter is on fire as he sits fifth in SG: Putting, which is imperative if you want to win at Waialae. Data Golf gives Taylor the fourth best chance to win at just under a 10 percent, making these odds more than fair and better aligned with his chances than others at the top of the board.
The most compelling part of Taylor’s play this week is his struggles with the driver … the best statistical part of his game this season. If he gets that going on Sunday, I love Taylor to make a run at his first title.
My other consideration for an outright winner was Andrew Putnam. He’s one of the most experienced players near the top. But I’m worried he’s drawn everything he can out of his putter with an absurd 10.2 SG: Putting in three rounds, and the ball striking clearly hasn’t been there this week with -3.31 SG: Approach.
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Top-10 Finish: Hideki Matsuyama
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It’s never a bad idea to bet on top talent to make a run on Sunday after a fairly disappointing week. Matsuyama has actually hit the ball better through three rounds than he did last year when he took home the title at the Sony Open. He’s gained 5.93 SG: Approach, good for second best in the field. He’d be right in the mix if the putter showed up at all. But at T25 and just two shots back of the top 10, he can easily still make it a decent week.
Data Golf gives Hideki a 21.3 percent chance to log a top 10 on Sunday, which makes this a great number. In his four top 10s in 2022, Matsuyama shot 65, 62, 63 and 69 on Sunday. It’s clear he’s capable of going low with a low-pressure final round and posting a number for a solid result.
Top-10 Finish: Carl Yuan
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Yuan was another one of my outright picks heading into the week, and it’s been an infuriating three rounds to follow him closely. He shot 65 on Friday despite making two double bogies. In the third round, Yuan stormed out of the gates with a front-nine 30 to grab a share of the lead. But he whimpered home with a terrible bogey on the 18th to sit in a tie for 16th, one shot out of the top 10.
At third in the field with 6.35 SG: Ball Striking, Yuan is striping it this week. Data Golf gives him a 20.7 percent chance for a top 10. With any removal of some bad mistakes for the rookie, he’d be right at the lead, so I’m more than happy to take this number for a top 10 when considering the upside he’s shown at Waialae.
Sony Open Odds
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