This article is part of our FanDuel PGA DFS Picks series.
Sony Open in Hawaii
Course: Waialae Country Club (7,044 yards, par 70)
Winner: $1,422,000 and 500 FedExCup points
18 of the 39 players who participated in the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua will be island-hopping from Maui to O'ahu for the first full-field event of 2023 at historic Waialae Country Club. The Honolulu-based course is one of the longest running venues on the PGA Tour. The Hawaiian Open has been hosted every year at Waialae Country Club since its inception in 1965. It has seen some notable accomplishments over the years including Isao Aoki's hole-out on the 72nd hole in 1983 to become the first PGA Tour winner from Japan, John Huston breaking the then PGA Tour scoring record to par for a 72-hole event in 1998 previously set by Ben Hogan in 1945, and then Justin Thomas setting the lowest aggregate 72-hole score in PGA Tour history in 2017 behind rounds of 59-64-65-65 en route to a seven shot win.
This week's field includes seven of the top 25 in the OWGR. Leading that contingent is World No. 14 Tom Kim, who is looking for his third win in his last eight PGA Tour starts. Right behind Kim at No. 15 in the OWGR is Jordan Spieth who returns to the Sony Open for the first time since 2019 looking for his 14th career PGA Tour victory. The man defending the title this week is Hideki Matsuyama after he launched one of the greatest 3-wood's in golf history during the playoff last year to defeat Russell Henley. Speaking of Henley, the Georgia product is also teeing it up after picking up his first career PGA Tour win at Waialae as a rookie in 2013. Sungjae Im, Tom Hoge, Brian Harman, Billy Horschel, Keegan Bradley, and Adam Scott make up some of the other notables in the field.
We've seen it take at least 20-under-par to get it done in seven of the last ten years at Waialae Country Club. The course is a stark contrast to the extreme width and elevation changes we saw last week at Kapalua, not to mention the big par difference (73 vs. 70), but both courses offer up a lot of wedges and scoring opportunities as long as the conditions are right. And let me tell you, the conditions will be ideal this week. The forecast calls for some very benign winds during the four tournament rounds and we shouldn't see any precipitation fall. It would take a very special performance, but Thomas' 253 aggregate score record (-27) may be within reach.
2022 - Hideki Matsuyama (-23)
2021 - Kevin Na (-21)
2020 - Cameron Smith (-11)
2019 - Matt Kuchar (-22)
2018 - Patton Kizzire (-17)
2017 - Justin Thomas (-27)
2016 - Fabian Gomez (-20)
2015 - Jimmy Walker (-23)
2014 - Jimmy Walker (-17)
2013 - Russell Henley (-24)
Key Stats to Victory
- SG: Putting
- SG: Approach
- Driving Accuracy
- Birdie Average
Waialae is an old-school golf course. The fairways and tight and tree-lined, the rough can be tough to judge, and the greens are well protected by bunkers. There isn't a whole lot of mystery, it just requires proper golf shots and you can definitely put up a score. However, what has proven to be the separator here over the last decade is the putter. The guys that are contending late Sunday afternoon at Waialae are usually right there at the top of SG: Putting for the week. Hideki Matsuyama led the field in SG: Putting last year and Russell Henley was third. When Cameron Smith won in 2020 over Brendan Steele in a playoff he led for the week in SG: Putting. 2019 champion Matt Kuchar was fourth in SG: Putting when he won and in 2017 Justin Thomas was second in that department. This is a week where getting that combination of accurate iron play and hot putting will tell most of the story. Distance won't be something to concern yourself with at all at Waialae.
FanDuel Value Picks
Corey Conners ($11,200)
Conners does more of his work from a ball-striking perspective, but you can't argue with his results at Waialae. The last three times he has teed it up in this event he has gone T3-T12-T11. Conners has finished top-25 in three of his four PGA Tour starts this season, including a a T18 at Kapalua last week where he netted out pretty solid across the board.
Taylor Montgomery ($10,900)
Montgomery was so impressive in the fall where he posted six top-15 finishes in seven starts, including a solo third at the Fortinet Championship. Montgomery's putting prowess has me very excited about his potential at Waialae this week. Last season he ranked second in putts per round on the Korn Ferry Tour and through the fall is 11th in SG: Putting and third in putts per round on the PGA Tour.
Maverick McNealy ($10,700)
McNealy is another young player who had a very consistent fall. The 27-year-old notched four straight top-20 finishes and sits fifth in scoring average. The putting has been extremely encouraging as he ranks top-five in SG: Putting and putts per round. McNealy finished T27 a year ago at Waialae after leading the field in SG: Off-the-Tee.
Adam Scott ($10,400)
Scott flies in a bit under the radar this week even in somewhat of a middling field. He's been playing some really solid golf over the last six months. The Aussie has notched six top-15 finishes over his last 12 starts worldwide. Four of those finishes came in two majors and two FedExCup playoff events. Scott also has a recent runner-up finish at the Australian Open. This will be his 10th start at Waialae and he has four top-20 finishes including a runner-up in 2009.
Longer Shots with Value
Matt Kuchar ($9,900)
Kuchar checks in just outside the $10K range, but the course fit is just too good to ignore. In his last nine starts at Waialae, his only two finishes worse than a T13 are a pair of missed cuts. Included in that stretch are a win in 2019 along with three other top-5 results. Kuchar is coming off a season in which he ranked 11th in SG: Putting and second in putts per round. He was able to improve his ball striking numbers quite a bit in the fall and currently sits 11th on Tour in SG: Tee-to-Green.
Hayden Buckley ($9,400)
Buckley is a player I'm expecting big things from in his sophomore campaign. He showed his ball-striking prowess in his rookie season by ranking top-15 in SG: Off-the-Tee, total driving, driving accuracy, and GIR percentage. Buckley logged three top-20s in the fall including a T5 at the ZOZO Championship. He currently ranks third in SG: Off-the-Tee and has gained strokes with the putter in six of his last eight measured events. Buckley finished T12 last year at Waialae and gained strokes across the board.
Robby Shelton ($8,900)
Shelton lost his card after his sophomore year on Tour, but put his head down last season on the Korn Ferry Tour and hasn't looked back since earning his card back. The 27-year-old has piled up four top-25 finishes in the fall, including at T10 in his most recent start at the RSM Classic. Shelton led the KFT last season in putts per GIR, showing that he can be an absolute birdie machine. He also has a top-25 finish at Waialae in 2021.
Russell Knox ($8,800)
Knox was busy this fall, making eight starts and reaching the weekend in all but one of those tournaments. The Scot has been one of the most accurate drivers and iron players over the last three seasons. Knox currently ranks fourth in SG: Approach and a much improved 56th this season in SG: Putting. Those are both encouraging going to a place he loves in Waialae where he owns four top-15 finishes, including a T7 last year.
Strategy Tips This Week
Based on a Standard $60K Salary Cap
We're back to a 36-hole cut this week for the Sony Open, and given the great forecast, it's going to take two pretty good rounds to make the weekend. Last year the cut fell at five-under and I would expect that or even six-under to be the number this time around. Recent history has told us that putting has been the biggest key to success at Waialae. It's typically not the first thing I like to look at most weeks, but I'm going to trust the data this time around. If you're able to find players who are trending with the putter and also are very accurate drivers, those are going to be the ones to target at Waialae. I'm not overly confident in many options below $8,500, so I'd favor a balanced lineup over a "stars and scrubs" approach.