This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
SONY OPEN IN HAWAII
Winner's Share: $1.152M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
Course: Waialae Country Club
2018 champion: Patton Kizzire
With the PGA Tour staying in a Hawaii this week, many golf fans again will be salivating in front of their TV screens in the dead of winter. Are tournament organizers gloating about it? Twenty years ago, after Sony came on board, the event was renamed, naturally, with the sponsor in mind. But the official title of the tournament is actually the "Sony Open in Hawaii." Must they add those two words? Do we all really need a further reminder that they are in paradise and we're not?
All joking aside, by any name, this tournament is a modern golf marvel. For more than a half-century now, since the Tour first arrived in Honolulu back in 1965, we have watched the same tournament at the same course every single year. Thus we have the fourth-longest association between tournament and course on the PGA Tour, behind only Augusta, Pebble Beach and Colonial. That tells you all you need to know about famed Waialae Country Club.
It always brings a fitting close to the year-opening two-week Hawaiian Swing. But Waialae and Kapalua, home to last week's Sentry Tournament of Champions, are connected by more than just geography. Ever since the TOC relocated to Hawaii, 14 of the 20 Sony winners played Kapalua the week before. That speaks to the advantage the TOC qualifiers have by getting a jump-start on tournament golf after the long holiday break. This year, 23 of the 33 guys who played last week have island-hopped from Maui to Honolulu. It's also worth noting that 11 of the past 13 Sony champions had played Waialae multiple times before winning. It's a track where shot-makers thrive, and course knowledge certainly helps in that regard. Drivers are often left in the bag, the better to negotiate the many dog legs and keep the ball in the difficult-to-hit fairways. That's far different from last week at Kapalua. We'll revisit this in the key stats and Champion's Profile below.
Waialae is short, but it's also only a par-70. There are just two par-5s, and you better score there if you want to contend. They are two of the easiest holes on the entire PGA Tour calendar. One of them, the 506-yard ninth, was the absolute easiest of the 918 holes played on Tour last year, with a scoring average of 4.21. The other, the 551-yrd 18th, was not far behind at 903rd. The course itself was not as easy last year as it often is, ranked 39th among 51 tracks. Patton Kizzire's winning score was 17-under, and much of the time the winner is in the 20s. Justin Thomas, in fact, was 10 strokes better the year before, highlighted by his first-round 59.
After last week's limited field, we jump to 144 with a cut to 70 and ties. Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Gary Woodland and phenom Cameron Champ are among those who have made the trek from Kapalua, but the biggest name to watch this week is probably Jordan Spieth. Coming off the roughest season of his young career, the former No. 1 may provide an early indication whether he can reverse course after plummeting to his current ranking of 17th.
Weather-wise, well, we don't want to rub it in like tournament organizers, but it'll be in the 80s with light breezes and only a small chance of rain coming on Saturday. In other words, paradise.
Key Stats to Winning at Waialae (in order of importance)
Note - The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key stats" follow in importance.
• Greens in regulation/strokes gained: approach
• Putting average/strokes gained: putting
• Birdie-or-better percentage
• Driving accuracy/strokes gained: off the tee
2018 - Patton Kizzire
2017 - Justin Thomas
2016 - Fabian Gomez
2015 - Jimmy Walker
2014 - Jimmy Walker
2013 - Russell Henley
2012 - Johnson Wagner
2011 - Mark Wilson
2010 - Ryan Palmer
2009 - Zach Johnson
We noted above that 14 of the past 20 winners had played the TOC the week before and 11 of the past 13 Sony champions had played Waialae multiple times before winning. Last year, Kizzire played Kapalua but had had only two prior rounds at Waialae (a missed cut in 2016). Kizzire seems to be perhaps an outlier champion. Besides the limited Waialae history, he was only 23rd in greens in regulation, while every other winner this decade has been top-12, and most of them were much higher than that. But Kizzire did tie for third in strokes gained: putting, and every winner this decade has been top-8 in SG putting. Even though the greens are on the smallish side, which tends to bring weaker putters into the mix, history shows you need to putt well to win this week. But really, the key first and foremost is getting on the green in regulation. The GIR numbers historically have been very high on this short track, and golfers better be around 75 percent to be in the mix.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Tier 1 Values
Justin Thomas - $11,400 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 6-1)
Thomas is the top guy on the DK board, and with good reason. He was the 2017 champ, and followed that up with a T14 last year. Also, he had a tie for sixth in his Waialae debut in 2015. Thomas started the year in good form with a solo third last week at Kapalua.
Gary Woodland - $10,800 (14-1)
Woodland has been elevated into the upper stratosphere in DFS pricing, the No. 3 guy on the board. He's finished 7-6-13-3 the past four years here. He's a long hitter, but also an especially accurate one, which works well at Waialae. Woodland just missed another title last week when he fell victim to Xander Schauffele's brilliant Sunday 62.
Cameron Champ - $9,900 (25-1)
Champ has not played Waialae before, but the youngster has been passing every test he's faced week after week in this, his rookie season. Champ is so long off the tee, he should be able to bypass some of the dog legs. The greens may be his undoing, but he was top-5 in strokes gained: putting last week at previously unfamiliar Kapalua, where he finished 11th.
Tier 2 Values
Cameron Smith - $9,400 (30-1)
Smith found a new gear last summer beginning with a top-25 at the WGC-Bridgestone. He then notched twin third-place showings at the first two playoff events and another top-10 at the CJ Cup in South Korea. Most recently, he held off Marc Leishman to win the Australian PGA, which has moved him into the top-30 in the world for the first time. Smith has improved every year at Waialae, from a missed cut three years go to a T27 to a T18 last year.
Charles Howell III - $8,900 (25-1)
Howell has notched six top-10s here over the past decade, and now he has the added benefit of playing last week in the TOC. Howell tied for 14th at Kapalua, and he ranked sixth in strokes gained: off the tee on the week.
Kyle Stanley - $8,700 (40-1)
The straight-as-an-arrow Stanley has delivered here in two of the past three years, finishing T10 last year and T13 back in 2016. He didn't qualify for last week's TOC, but he got in some recent play at the QBE Shootout the second week of December. Stanley ranked seventh in driving accuracy last season and was sixth in greens in regulation.
Zach Johnson - $8,600 (30-1)
This is the type of track that Johnson can still compete on as today's young golfers get longer and longer off the tee. He was T14 last year, and had top-10s three of the four previous years, plus a win in 2009. This will be Johnson's first start since he made a change from longstanding caddie Damon Green, so that should be an added benefit.
Matt Kuchar - $8,500 (40-1)
Same as with Johnson, Kuchar can keep pace with the longer hitters here. He hasn't played Waialae since 2016, but his decision was pretty much made for him when he won at Mayakoba to qualify for the TOC. it wasn't a great week at Kapalua – a tie for 19th – but getting four rounds should sure help Kuchar this week.
Tier 3 Values
Si Woo Kim - $8,000 (50-1)
Kim is an adventure every time out. He could finish, say, 58th, as he did here last year. Or fourth, as he did here three years ago. Kim has been idle since November, but he did close the fall season with four good weeks in a row, three of them top-25s and a near miss of T26. Tee to green is rarely a problem for Kim; it's usually whether he can get the putter working. For what it's worth, Kim is ranked first on Tour in strokes gained: putting this season, albeit with a very small sample size.
Russell Knox - $8,000 (60-1)
Continuing a run on shorter hitters, we turn to Knox. Even as his game has skidded the past few years, the Scotsman has performed well at Waialae, with top-15s in three of the past four years, including a tie for 10th last year. Knox ranked 18th in driving distance last season and 27th in greens in regulation.
Sungjae Im - $7,500 (80-1)
The top graduate from the Web.com Tour showed promise during the fall season, with a tie for fourth at the Safeway and another top-15 at the Shriners. In the early going this season, Im ranks 20th in strokes gained: off the tee.
Andrew Putnam - $7,400 (60-1)
A win at the opposite-field Barracuda got Putnam into last week's TOC, and he tied for 14th. He also played the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan in mid-November, so he's been more active than most guys in the field. He finished top-20 there and was also T4 at the WGC-HSBC Champions. it's early, but Putnam is ranked third on Tour in strokes gained: putting.
Brian Stuard - $7,100 (Field, 14-1)
Stuard was a busy guy in the fall season, but he had nothing to show for it, with nothing inside the top-30 in seven starts. But he's also notched three top-6 cashes at Waialae in the past six years. At this low price, he's worth the dart throw on a short track.
Keith Mitchell - $6,900 (125-1)
Mitchell is ranked outside the top-150, but he's shown flashes. He finished tied for 20th at the Dell in last year's playoffs, then secured a top-15 at the CJ Cup in the fall. Mitchell tied for 25th is his debut here a year ago. He's a real big hitter but also ranked 31st in greens in regulation last season.
Ollie Schniederjans - $6,900 (125-1)
We mentioned earlier that Zach Johnson parted ways with his longtime caddie. Well, this is where Damon Green ended up. He should be a big boost to Schniederjans, who endured an absolutely brutal 2017-18 season. This partnership may take time, but we're gonna take a flyer on them this week at this bargain-basement price.
Cameron Davis - $6,800 (125-1)
The young Aussie graduated from the Web.com Tour and is closing in on the top-100 in the world. He opened the season with a top-20 at the Safeway, then stayed busier than most deep into the fall while playing Down Under. Davis hits the ball a mile – he's 11th in driving distance – though we'll see whether that's a help or a hindrance this week.