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DraftKings PGA: Sony Open

Len Hochberg

Hochberg covers golf for RotoWire. A veteran sports journalist, he contributes to Sports on Earth and was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years.


SONY OPEN

Purse: $6M
Winner's Share: $1.08M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
Course: Waialae Country Club
Yardage: 7,044
Par: 70
2016 champion: Fabian Gomez

Tournament Preview

This is the first full-field event of 2017, and it takes place at famed Waialae Country Club, where the tournament has been contested every year since its inception in 1965. Twenty-three golfers made the trip from Maui, site of the SBS Tournament of Champions, to Honolulu, and they are in for quite a jolt. They will go from the biggest fairways and greens on Tour to fairways some 20 yards narrower and much smaller greens. Still, there is a misconception about Waialae that driving accuracy is critical to success. The stats don't bear that out, and seemingly year after year the track gets easier. In 2015, it was the sixth easiest course among the 50 in Tour events. The keys to success are greens in regulation and putting, as we'll explain further in the Champion's Profile below. Eight of the top-25 in the OWGR are on hand, led by No. 5 Jordan Spieth, No. 6 Hideki Matsuyama and new No. 12 Justin Thomas. All three played Kapalua, with Thomas emerging victorious. Of the past 18 Sony champions, 11 played the week before at the TOC. More importantly, 10 of the past 11 Sony champs had played Waialae multiple times before, in large part because the tricky greens take some knowledge. Fabian Gomez was a surprise winner in a playoff over Brandt Snedeker a year ago, but that was in his fourth visit (MC-67-MC). Sometimes, 13-under has been good enough to win, but with winds expected to be light, as they were last year, we could see a repeat of Gomez/Snedeker's 20-under total. The only two par-5s on the course, the 9th and 18th holes, are key. There were a combined 62 eagles (eagles, not birdies) at those two holes last year.


Key Stats to Winning at Waialae

Greens in regulation
Proximity to the hole
One-putt percentage (putts per GIR)


Past Champions

2016 - Fabian Gomez
2015 - Jimmy Walker
2014 - Jimmy Walker
2013 - Russell Henley
2012 - Johnson Wagner
2011 - Mark Wilson
2010 - Ryan Palmer
2009 - Zach Johnson
2008 - K.J. Choi
2007 - Paul Goydos

Champion's Profile

A look at the numbers going back to Ryan Palmer's 2010 victory shows two common areas of success among the winners: greens in regulation and putting. (A third key stat, proximity to the hole, was added, but that is not as critical as the other two.) The past seven winners have all been top-10 in GIR, putting average and strokes gained putting. Most have been top-10 in proximity, excluding Jimmy Walker in 2014 and Mark Wilson. Waialae's greens are among the most difficult to decipher, particularly from inside 10 feet, hence course knowledge is especially valuable. As for the notion that fairway accuracy is critical, Fabian Gomez won last year despite finishing 60th in fairway accuracy, and only one winner since 2010 has been among the top-10 (the laser-like Wilson).


DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
(Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)

Tier 1 Values

Jordan Spieth - $11,500 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 13-2)

Spieth missed the cut in his only prior appearance in 2014, and he continued to hit troublesome tee balls last week at Kapalua. However, whenever putting is important Spieth has a chance, and we'll happily take that chance. The No. 2 choice in the DK field is Hideki Matsuyama, and while he is the hottest golfer on the planet right now, he is 0-for-4 in Sony cuts, which is not good enough to justify the steep price. Likewise, the second hottest golfer around, Justin Thomas -- the No. 3 golfer on the DK board – is also being bypassed. There is a real opportunity to avoid the top-level guys this week and load up on Tier 2 and 3 golfers. That will then allow fantasy players to avoid the real long shots.

Brandt Snedeker - $9,700 (25-1)

Snedeker is a premier putter, even though his early 2016-17 numbers don't reflect that. He's 20th on tour in GIR, and last year he was runner-up to Fabian Gomez in a playoff. That was his first visit to Waialae since missed cuts in 2007-08.

Paul Casey - $9,500 (25-1)

Casey came off a sterling finish to the 2015-16 campaign and continued his strong play into the fall season with three top-25s in three starts. He has played Waialae only twice, and only once in the past decade, tying for 30th two years ago. While he isn't the world's best putter, his GIR numbers are strong and he is first on Tour this season in proximity.


Tier 2 Values

Scott Piercy - $8,900 (40-1)

Piercy has five career top-25s at this track, including a runner-up two years ago. His GIR and proximity numbers are decent, but this pick is all about years of success at Waialae, no matter how he gets it done.

Zach Johnson - $8,500 (40-1)

Johnson's best days seem to be behind him, but that's been the case for a few years now, and he has top-10s two of the past three years (after a win in 2009). He teed it up only once in the fall season, so we go back to 2015-16 to find a golfer who was 25th on tour in strokes gained: putting and 41st in proximity (with subpar GIR).

Bill Haas - $8,400 (30-1)

This is a bit of a flyer. Haas hasn't played Waialae since 2010, when he missed the cut for the third time in five tries (with a T9 the year before). But he's among the most accurate players on tour in GIR and proximity, and that could mask his so-so putting. We don't expect him to win, but how often do you expect all six of your lineup picks to win? Bonus note: Haas’ winning odds don't match his DK price, so the oddsmakers think Haas will do well this week.

Marc Leishman - $8,200 (60-1)

Leishman has played this tourney seven times and made the cut seven times, with a T5 in 2014 and a T9 in 2013. He has always been a better-than-average putter and began 2016-17 with improved GIR numbers.

Russell Knox - $8,100 (40-1)

The No. 19-ranked golfer in the world at just $8,100? Yes, please! We pick this guy almost every week and can’t figure out why he's always so cheap. He is 27th on tour in GIR and 28th in SGP, and his numbers go up on shorter courses. This is a short course.


Tier 3 Values

Pat Perez - $8,000 (40-1)

We will ride the hot hand, albeit one with a now surgically-repaired right shoulder. Perez is coming off a T3 last week at Kapalua. Before missing the Sony cut last year with that injury, Perez finished 17-8-9 the three previous years there.

Charles Howell III - $7,800 (40-1)

If there's a horse for the course, it's this guy. The only downside is: Everyone knows it, so you may want to bypass Howell for that reason alone. He's never won Waialae, but he's got a whopping six top-8 cashes. Last year, he was T13.

Harold Varner III - $7,800 (60-1)

Moving on to another “III,” albeit one with much less experience at Waialae, Varner has played this course only once, and he tied Howell at T13 last year. The up-and-comer had the biggest win of his young career last month at the Australian PGA Championship. Somehow, he gets it done despite pretty lousy putting.

Chris Kirk - $7,700 (50-1)

Before missing the cut last year, Kirk totaled five straight cashes, including top-5s in 2013-14. He really is among the most hit-or-miss guys around: fantastic play one week and a disinterested look the next. But he had a terrific fall season, with three top-10s while riding strong putting and GIR, and decent proximity. Here's another golfer whose odds are not aligned with his DK price.

Zac Blair - $7,600 (Field, 4-1)

Blair hit maybe the shot of the year on the PGA Tour last year at Waialae, a 275-yard 3-wood to 10 feet for an eagle try on 18. He needed to make the putt to reach the playoff and did not, but he still posted a strong third-place finish -- and that was a year after a T6. Blair is among the shortest hitters on Tour, so much so that he's at a real disadvantage on some courses. This isn't one of them. His odds also are out of whack with his DK price, but unlike the other golfers, not in a good way.

Harris English - $7,500 (60-1)

If you put aside a T56 last year, English has excelled at this course, posting finishes of 3-4-9 the previous three years. English is 36th in strokes gained: putting this season, but for another top-10 cash, he will have to bump up his GIR numbers. Just announced this week: English has switched back to PING clubs after three years with Callaway, and he will put them to immediate use this week. His two PGA Tour wins came with PING.


Long-Shot Values

Hudson Swafford - $7,000 (80-1)

Swafford traditionally makes a lot of cuts. He has made two in three trips to Waialae, with top-10 showings both times. That said, his putting and GIR numbers have been horrible in his four fall events. Somehow, he's 4-for-4 in cuts.

Cody Gribble - $6,800 (100-1)

The rookie is already a PGA Tour winner and last week led the elite winners-only field in strokes gained: putting. Gribble hasn't played Waialae before, but he has proven to be a quick study.

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