2023 Sony Open Preview: Everything You Need To Know About Waialae Country Club

Written By John Haslbauer on January 8, 2023 - Last Updated on January 10, 2023
sony open odds

The Hawaii Swing marches forward as the PGA TOUR hops islands from Maui to Honolulu for the 2023 Sony Open in Hawaii at Waialae Country Club. It’s a big weekend ahead for Sony as, in addition to this event, the adaptation of their hit video game series, The Last Of Us, will make its much-anticipated debut on HBO and HBO Max this Sunday, 1/14 at 9PM EST. (I can’t resist a good plug but it’s going to be great, please tune in!) But, you’re here for Sony Open odds and course info.

Geographic location is where the similarities begin and end between Kapalua and Waialae. In contrast to the gargantuan, undulated fairways and greens at last week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions, Waialae CC falls on the other end of the spectrum. It’a a tight, claustrophobic, and positional golf course which will reward precision and remove any advantage from the longer hitters in the field.

Without further ado, we’ll run through the key facts and info about Waialae Country Club ahead of the 2023 Sony Open in Hawaii.

2023 OPENING SONY OPEN ODDS: THE FAVORITES

Here are the players with odds shorter than 20-1 when odds opened Monday morning. Scroll to the bottom to compare complete outright odds across major sportsbooks in your state.

Game
(Eastern Time)
(EST)
Tom Kim
Bet now
+1200
Bet now
+1200
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+1200
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+1200
S. Im
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+1400
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+1400
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+1400
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+1400
J. Spieth
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+1600
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+1500
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+1600
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+1600
H. Matsuyama
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+1800
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+1500
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+1800
Bet now
+1800

THE FIELD AT A GLANCE

The field of 144 for the Sony Open lacks the depth of elite names featured at the Sentry Tournament of Champions last week. However, it still includes a respectable seven players from the OWGR top-25. World No. 14 Jordan Spieth highlights the list as the highest rated player in this week’s field, making his first start at this event since 2019. Sungjae Im, Tom Kim, and Hideki Matsuyama will join Spieth as the projected top-four favorites when odds are released Monday.

Hideki Matsuyama is back to defend his title after chasing down Russell Henley in a climactic playoff finish last year. Other past winners of this event returning to the field this week include Henley, Matt Kuchar, Patton Kizzire, Jimmy Walker, Ryan Palmer, and Zach Johnson.

INTRODUCTION TO WAIALAE COUNTRY CLUB

Waialae Country Club is a short resort course originally designed by Seth Raynor in 1927. It features Bermuda grass throughout. Though susceptible to coastal rainfall, the course tends to play firm and fast in both the fairways and greens, with runouts contributing to lower-than-average Driving Accuracy and Greens In Regulation percentages. This year, the rough has been grown out from its usual average of 2.25 inches up to 3 inches. This will place an even greater emphasis on Driving Accuracy and is expected to draw an even lower Greens In Regulation percentage than years past, which will place further emphasis on Around The Green play.

Waialae features persistent doglegs and tight tree lines, historically neutralizing any advantage for longer hitters off the tee. Instead, the course forces driving accuracy and class short game. It’s a stark 180 from the massive property and wide open fairways we just saw at Kapalua. These tightened grounds should breed a more reasonable winning score in the high teens to low 20s under par.

Like Kapalua, Waialae is exposed to the Hawaiian coast and the severity of the wind will be worth monitoring throughout the week. If the weather continues to stay as calm as we’ve seen the last two years, it will be easy to see scores push beyond -20. However, if sustained winds pick up like they did for Smith’s playoff win over Brendan Steele in 2020, this course can become a grind quickly.

How It Breaks Down

At 7,044 yards, this course sets up below TOUR average in distance for a Par-70 with just two Par-5s, four Par-3s, and 12 Par-4s. Par-5 Scoring at the Sony Open is ranked as the easiest on TOUR, and both holes should be reachable in two for virtually all players in the field, regardless of their distance off the tee. That puts a particular emphasis on Par-4 Scoring this week, with 10 holes concentrated to the 400-500 yard range.

Traits and Notable Facts

A look down the list of past winners and consistent past contenders at this event shows a strong pattern of success from accurate plodders and short-game specialists. In each of the last two years, this event ranked bottom-three in both Par-3 and Par-5 Scoring Difficulty, so contenders will need to take advantage of these scoring holes.

Waialae CC also routinely ranks bottom-three in Approach and Around The Green Difficulty, which is the usual formula for a putting contest on the PGA TOUR. These elements will put an emphasis on Par-4 Scoring and Driving Accuracy, and should continue to favor the most skilled long-term putters, particularly on Bermuda greens.

WAIALAE COUNTRY CLUB COURSE SPECS

  • Yards: 7,044
  • Par: 70 (4x 3s / 12x 4s / 2x 5s)
  • Greens: Bermuda (Average speed)
  • Rough: 3″ Bermuda (Thick)
  • Average Green Size: 7,100 sq. ft (Above-Average)
  • Average Fairway Width: 37 Yards (Above-Average)
  • Architect: Seth Raynor (with renovations/input from Robert Trent Jones, Desmond Muirhead, Rick Smith, and Tom Doak)
  • Historical Cut Line: -1 to -2
  • Comp Courses: Port Royal, Pebble Beach, Harbour Town, El Camaleon, Sea Island GC, Sedgefield CC, Colonial CC
Waialae Country Club (7,044 Yards)

SONY OPEN ODDS: BETTING TRENDS & COURSE HISTORY

YearWinnerPre-Tournament OddsWinning ScoreField Median Score
2022Hideki Matsuyama+2000-23-12
2021Kevin Na+8000-21-12
2020Cam Smith+5500-11-3
2019Matt Kuchar+4000-22-8
2018Patton Kizzire+8000-17-9
2017Justin Thomas+1400-27-10
2016Fabian Gomez+10000-20-9
2015Jimmy Walker+1800-23-7
2014Jimmy Walker+4000-17-6
2013Russell Henley+10000-24-8

The list of winners of the last 10 years at the Sony Open has a little something for everyone. Over that span, this event produced three winners at 20-1 odds or shorter, three winners between 40-1 and 55-1 odds, and four winners between 80-1 and 100-1 odds. While difficult to discern any actionable trends from the odds alone, the scoring has told a more conclusive story. Seven of the last 10 winners surpassed a score of -20 and the field median score reached a high of -12 in each of the last two years.

Cam Smith’s win at -11 in 2020 is a clear outlier under extremely windy conditions, so it is worth dismissing some players’ 2020 results. It seems the efforts to grow out the rough in 2023 have been made to push back against the recent easier scoring conditions, so I anticipate a winning score of -20 or less this time around.

Course History

According to Data Golf, Waialae CC is second to only Augusta National in terms of predictive course history. This is as good a week as any to factor past results into your research process. Similar to the trends noticed at Kapalua last week, it’s fair to connect repeated history at the Sony Open with players’ preparation, as many players will be shaking off the rust in their first competitive rounds since November 2022.

Over the last five years, 14 players recorded multiple top-15 finishes at the Sony Open. That list includes Corey Conners, Hideki Matsuyama, Patton Kizzire, Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar, Keith Mitchell, Chris Kirk, Brian Stuard, Russell Knox, Ryan Palmer, Keegan Bradley, Brendan Steele, Russell Henley, and Tom Hoge.

Seven players avoided missing the cut over the last five years (min. three appearances): Corey Conners, Hideki Matsuyama, Webb Simpson, Stewart Cink, Ryan Palmer, Brendon Todd, and Harris English.

In terms of Course History from total strokes gained at Waialae Country Club, the top-10 includes Webb Simpson, Chris Kirk, Russell Henley, Zach Johnson, Brian Stuard, Corey Conners, Matt Kuchar, Jerry Kelly, Keith Mitchell, and Patton Kizzire. Simpson has always been in consideration when betting the Sony Open, as he entered 2022 with three consecutive top-five finishes and seven consecutive top-20s. However, after a disappointing T61 last year and no top-50 finishes over his last 8 starts, he’ll carry much less popularity this year. Instead, it’s Corey Conners whose course history looks most appealing. He has finishes of T11, T12, and T3 over his last three Sony Open appearances.

Comp Courses

If you think of any courses where players like Webb Simpson or Kevin Kisner have played well, you’ve identified the top comp courses to Waialae.

Sedgefield CC, Sea Island, and Harbour Town are the best comp courses that come to mind. Each serve as shorter positional courses with Bermuda grass throughout and have favored shorter, more accurate hitters with strong short games. El Camaleon, Port Royal, Colonial CC, and Pebble Beach also fit the bill, sharing a similar profile as coastal, wind exposed courses with relatively easy scoring as well.

The top players in comp course history over the last 36 rounds are Russell Henley, Jordan Spieth, Corey Conners, Webb Simpson, Maverick McNealy, Sungjae Im, Brendon Todd, Troy Merritt, Alex Smalley, and John Huh.

KEY STATS TO CONSIDER FOR 2023 SONY OPEN ODDS

  • SG: APP / Prox 125-200
  • Driving Accuracy / SG: OTT (<7,200 Yard Courses)
  • Par-4 Scoring: 400-500
  • GIRs Gained
  • Birdies or Better Gained
  • SG: ARG
  • SG: P (Bermuda)
  • Course & Comp Course History

Waialae CC’s concentration of 10 par-4s between 400-500 yards make for a repeatable list of contenders year over year who excel from inside this range. The top-10 players from this range predominantly displayed strong showings at the Sony Open: Andrew Putnam, Tom Hoge, Kurt Kitayama, JJ Spaun, Keegan Bradley, Ben Taylor, Taylor Montgomery, Maverick McNealy, Sungjae Im, and Kelly Kraft.

This concentration of par-4s comes about 67% of approach shots funneled between 125-200 yards. That’s also been a proven indicator for contenders at this event. The top-10 from this range are: Si Woo Kim, Tom Kim, JJ Spaun, Brian Harman, Mark Hubbard, Russell Henley, Cam Davis, Tom Hoge, Hideki Matsuyama, and Davis Thompson.

Short Game tends to be one of the more inconsequential stats on TOUR. However, it’s key here so I’ll be dialing up that stat category much higher in my model than most other weeks. Considering the more grown out rough in 2023, this is especially the case. The top-10 players in SG: Short Game are Andrew Putnam, Brendon Todd, Taylor Montgomery, Mackenzie Hughes, Maverick McNealy, Harris English, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Billy Horschel, Sungjae Im, and Harry Hall.

Driving Distance And Waialae Success

There’s been no correlation between driving distance and success at Waialae CC. Given the shorter layout, most players have instead found success dialing it back off the tee to prioritize playing out of the fairway for controlled approaches. Players are hitting these fairways slightly below TOUR average, which gives an advantage to the more accurate players off the tee. The top-10 players in Driving Accuracy are Russell Henley, Tom Kim, Chez Reavie, Aaron Rai, Ryan Armour, Satoshi Kodaira, Jerry Kelly, Ryan Moore, Corey Conners, and Troy Merritt.

Moreover, players who rank towards the top in terms of SG: OTT on comp short courses under 7,200 yards should help simulate those who can best position themselves on Waialae’s layout. The top-10 in this category include Sungjae Im, Corey Conners, Cam Davis, Keith Mitchell, Hideki Matsuyama, Kramer Hickok, Russell Henley, Chris Kirk, and Emiliano Grillo.

Wrapping this altogether, the ideal player for this week, should rank above-average in SG: APP, Prox: 125-200, Par-4: 400-500, Fairways Gained, SG: OTT (<7,200 Yard Courses), SG: ARG, and SG: P (Bermuda). Just seven players fit each of those criteria: Sungjae Im, Tom Kim, Brian Harman, Kevin Streelman, Greyson Sigg, Ryan Armour, and KH Lee.

Correlated Stats

Looking at the correlation charts, there is a notable drop-off in the importance of Par-5 Scoring at the Sony Open. There are only two on the scorecard and both are easily reachable in two for the full field. We also see the concentrated hole ranges of 400-450 and 450-500 make a notable jump into the top-10, and a corresponding jump in the importance of Proximity 150-175 & 175-200. Distance stats like Driving Distance and Proximity 200+ have not correlated with success here in recent years.

Top-10 Correlated Stats with SG: TOT
Top-10 Correlated Stats with SG: TOT at the Sony Open

Taking each of the above key categories into account, there are 10 players who rate out above average in all 10 top categories: Sungjae Im, Russell Henley, Brian Harman, Tom Hoge, Emiliano Grillo, Keegan Bradley, Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth, Hayden Buckley, and Brendan Steele.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: SI WOO KIM

With all eyes on the South Korean duo Tom Kim and Sungjae Im as presumptive favorites this week, it’s their countryman and Presidents Cup teammate who is likely to go overlooked and may present the best value on the board when odds release Monday.

Si Woo is the most senior of that group at the prime age of 27 and holds three PGA TOUR victories between The AmEx, THE PLAYERS, and the Wyndham Championship. All three of those set ups share Bermuda greens in common with Waialae CC. Despite some of Si Woo’s long term short comings on Bermuda, it’s clear he’s capable of hitting his ceiling on this turf.

While a cold 2022 season on the greens rendered him winless, there is room for optimism heading into the new year. He recently made a necessary equipment change to the broomstick style putter, with guidance from his Presidents Cup teammate, Adam Scott. If Collin Morikawa is capable of using the break to flip his putting into a strength, it’s fair to assume Kim has dedicated his off time to dialing in the new putter. He last played at the Houston Open in mid-November.

Si Woo closed last year on a streak of eight consecutive made cuts. That also included three top-15 finishes over that span. From tee-to-green, he is a perfect profile fit for what Waialea requires. He is the only player to rank top-15 in SG: OTT (<7,200 yard courses), SG: APP, and SG: ARG over the last 36 rounds. Most importantly, Kim rates out No. 1 in this field in Proximity from 125-200 yards, where 67% of approach shots will funnel to this week.

A bet on Si Woo Kim is a leap of faith that he’s used the offseason to dial in his new putter. If he has, he lines up perfectly to improve on his career best Sony Open finish of T4 in 2016.

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR AT THE 2023 SONY OPEN

Russell Henley’s demise on the back nine last year unfortunately set the tone for many other heartbreaking Sunday finishes for myself to follow in 2022. But while it will be remembered as yet another collapse, Hideki Matsuyama deserves credit for chasing down Henley’s five-stroke lead with nine holes to play. He stepped up for big shot after big shot in the closing stretch. Matsuyama enters the 2023 Sony Open in questionable health, but has proven capable of attacking this course when unrestricted by his lingering injury history.

With all the course-fit profiles in mind, I’m leaning early toward the below player pool. Naturally, I’m looking their way in the 2023 Sony Open odds as well. I’ve broken the list down by projected pricing/odds tier for DraftKings:

For my model in Fantasy National this week, I’m prioritizing SG: APP, Course & Comp Course History, and Prox: 125-200, followed by a more balanced mix of SG: ARG, Bogey Avoidance, SG: OTT (<7,200 Courses), Fairways Gained, GIRs Gained, SG: P (L36 + Bermuda), and Par 4: 400-500.

Model Favorites

Sungjae Im claims No. 1 honors in the model this week. He remains in great form this 2023 season, ranking No. 1 in SG: T2G leading in, and has proven to be a formidable fit regardless of the course set up. Sungjae has a great track record on short, positional courses, and has two top-20 finishes over his first four appearances at the Sony Open.

After Sungjae, my model’s top 10 is rounded out by Tom Kim, Russell Henley, Brian Harman, Tom Hoge, Billy Horschel, Hideki Matsuyama, Cam Davis, Emiliano Grillo, and Corey Conners.

It will be interesting to monitor where sportsbooks decide to price Kim. As he prepares for his debut on this course, he’s shown no issues getting acclimated to new courses. He picked up victories on other short comp layouts in the Wyndham Championship and Shriners Open. Looking strong amongst the world’s best in his 2023 debut at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, there’s a compelling case to make Kim the odds-on favorite at the Sony Open.

With one eye on Tom Kim, I’m also considering Corey Conners, Keith Mitchell, Si Woo Kim, and Maverick McNealy with projected mid-range odds, but will have to check back here Monday when odds are posted.

Thanks for reading, and good luck navigating 2023 Sony Open odds!

2023 SONY OPEN OPENING ODDS

John Haslbauer Avatar
Written by
John Haslbauer

John Haslbauer writes about golf betting and advanced golf metrics for TheLines.com. He is a passionate golf fan, golf writer, and (casual) golfer. A graduate at Syracuse University, John works out of Jersey City as a Director of Media Strategy for HBO and HBO Max. He created the website thepgatout.com at the start of 2021 and is active on Twitter (@PGATout). No, he is not a tout. The Twitter handle is a joke. Touts are lame. We hate touts.

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