Sony Open outrights and matchups preview

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We almost pulled out a win to start 2021 but Joaquin Niemann couldn’t quite finish it off and ultimately Harris English outdueled him in a playoff to secure the Tournament of Champions title. Regardless, as I mentioned last week, Niemann will definitely be a golfer to watch throughout the season. Matchups went 1-1 and if you made the Niemann top-5 bet, it was still a good week.

We move along to the second event of 2021, the Sony Open, which is played at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, Hawaii. This is the traditional event that follows the Tournament of Champions and it will complete the two-part Hawaii swing to start the season. A common theme that we find is that golfers who played the previous week tend to find more success at this event. That could be because the field for the Tournament of Champions tends to be some of the better golfers in the world but regardless, we will keep our eye on that trend. 

The field

The Sony Open will host a field of 144 golfers with the cut having the top 65 and ties play the weekend. Impressive names headline the field due to many golfers from last week choosing to play again prior to heading back to the MainLand. The likes of Webb Simpson, Collin Morikawa, and Sunjae Im are a few of the golfers at the top of the betting board. 

Some other notable golfers playing their second week in a row are Daniel Berger, Kevin Kisner, Hideki Matsuyama, Adam Scott, and Ryan Palmer. Last week’s winner and runner up, Harris English and Joaquin Niemann, are also both in the field. 

There are some big names making their debut of 2021 this week. Russel Henley, Matt Kuchar, and Zach Johnson all head out to Hawaii for just the one event. Last year’s winner, Cameron Smith, will return to defend his title. Some other past winners in the field are Patton Kizzire and Fabian Gomez.

The course

Waialae Country Club is a par-70 resort golf course that stretches to just over 7,000 yards. It is a traditional par-70 layout having four par-3s and two par-5s. The par-5s are the two easiest holes on the course and they are the ending holes of each respective nines. The 9th hole ranks as the easiest having a birdie rate of almost 60% last year and an eagle rate that was twice as high as the bogey percentage. 

Similar to last week, a threat to the golfers is if the wind decides to pick up. Last year saw very different wind conditions for all four rounds making it difficult to predict club distance on certain shots. For now, it appears that the wind should be calm with gusts maxing out around 13 mph for the week.

Greens are grown with Bermuda and are average in speed. Due to the severity of some of the dog legs, driving distance is not the most important stat this week. It is more important to play to the correct side of the fairways and avoid any of the 83 strategically placed bunkers. Golfers will often pull less than driver off the tee and rely more on their approach shots than their driving. The greens are receptive enough that even out of the rough, golfers should easily be able to hold approach shots from most distances. 

Notable stats

  • Strokes gained: Approach
  • Putting (Bermuda)
  • Proximity 150 – 200 yards
  • Good Drives Gained

Good Drives Gained is a stat that correlates numbers of fairways hit + number of greens in regulation when the drive was not in the fairway

Outright value

Webb Simpson +1400

Player NameSG: APPSG: PGood DrivesProx: 150-175Prox: 175-200
Webb Simpson151129762
Simpson stats

It’s rare that I actually bet the favorite in the field but I just can’t pass on Webb this week. The recipe to finding success for Webb Simpson is a shorter Bermuda course. Examples include RBC Heritage and Wyndham. Last year, Webb finished 1st and 3rd at those two courses. You could also just look at his course history at this week’s event. The past five years have seen finishes of 3rd / 4th / 13th / 13th / 13th. 

He is arguably the best in the world of targeting spots off the tee and placing the ball right where he wants in the fairway. That is the exact skill set needed this week. He is 2nd in the field in Good Drives Gained. Top-20 in approach and Bermuda Putting also bode well for the former US Open champ. He is the favorite on the betting board but I feel his odds should be less than 10/1, which makes +1400 a great value for someone like Webb Simpson.

Daniel Berger +2000

Player NameSG: APPSG: PGood DrivesProx: 150-175Prox: 175-200
Daniel Berger58105433
Berger stats

Daniel Berger is my favorite golfer in the field this week. A below-average Sunday kept him out of contention at the Tournament of Champions but he still posted a top-10 finish even with losing strokes on the green. His approach and the off-the-tee game has been one of the best on tour as of late and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Over his last five starts, he is gaining over two strokes on approach compared to the field. He can get a little inconsistent finding fairways but 2.8 strokes gained off-the-tee last week is a great sign to start the season.

He ended 2020 with nine straight made cuts and five of those resulted in top-20 finishes. A finish of 10th last week shows that he hasn’t missed a beat and is right back in form. 3.3 strokes gained on approach last week is the exact type of game needed to compete at the Sony Open. Look for Daniel Berger to be near the top of the leaderboard throughout this week’s event.

Russell Henley +3500

Player NameSG: APPSG: PGood DrivesProx: 150-175Prox: 175-200
Russell Henley1735550
Henley stats

It wouldn’t be a golf article if I didn’t write up Russell Henley. Yes, we are breaking the rule of only targeting golfers who played last week but on a course that favors approach and not distance, there is no way I’m leaving off Henley. Over the past 50 rounds, he leads the field in strokes gained approach and is in the top-5 specifically from 150 – 175 yards. He also leads the field in another stat, bogey avoidance, which will definitely be important if the wind starts to gust. His putting tends to be shaky but he actually gains more strokes on Bermuda than any other surface. 

A missed cut to end 2020 wasn’t promising but earlier in fall he had a run of four top-10s in six starts. Henley won this event back in 2013 and with the resurgence we have seen in his game lately, there is no reason he shouldn’t be in contention come Sunday. I’m looking for Henley to make some noise in 2021 and we are hoping it starts this week. 35/1 is value for a golfer of this caliber and +750 for a top-5 looks great as well.

Kevin Kisner
February 7, 2020; Pebble Beach, California, USA; Kevin Kisner hits his tee shot on the 13th hole during the second round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament at Monterey Peninsula Country Club – Shore Course. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Tournament matchups

Harris English -106 vs Webb Simpson -118

This is the perfect example of a number being moved based on one golfer winning the week before. Yes, Harris English looked great last week when he claimed the Tournament of Champions title. Yes, he has finished inside the top-10 in four of his last five starts. And yes, his preferred putting surface is Bermuda. But he’s not Webb Simpson. Webb has the better course history, the better overall stats, and the better long term form. As mentioned above, Webb dominates short Bermuda courses and has finished on the top page of the leaderboard almost every year for this tournament. English’s last four starts at the Sony Open? 22nd / 64th / MC / 56th. I’ll side with the 8th ranked player in the world for this week.

The pick: Webb Simpson -118

Collin Morikawa -150 vs Abraham Ancer +120

I wrote up last week that I wanted to wait and see how Morikawa’s game looked before betting him. Well, that was a fun wait. He looked great. He ended the 2020 year pretty shaky but seems to have sorted out whatever was wrong and posted a finish of 7th last week. His irons looked like they did when he claimed the PGA Championship title. He also gained 5.7 strokes tee-to-green. 

Abraham Ancer also had a nice week that ended with a 17th place finish, but when looking closer at the details, it may not be sustainable. He lost 2.3 strokes off-the-tee and 5.4 strokes tee-to-green. How did he finish so well? He gained 6.7 strokes putting. Not exactly a long-term recipe for success. I like Ancer and think he could have a nice year, but not against the major champion who appears to be back in form. Lay the juice.

The pick: Collin Morikawa -150

Finishing positions

Kevin Kisner top-10 +275

Kisner is built for shorter coastal courses. He doesn’t hit the ball that far but he makes few mistakes and is solid with the irons. He was inconsistent last week to start the year but I’ll be looking for a bounce back this week at the Sony. He ended his 2020 season with a 2nd place finish at the RSM so hopefully just needed one week to get back in form. He has finished inside the top-10 at this event three of the last five years. +275 is a great price to hope he does it again.

Joaquin Niemann top-20 +125

A name that I’m sure to bring up quite a bit this year, Niemann started the year off right with a runner-up finish against some of the best golfers in the world. He was 2nd in strokes gained approach behind only Justin Thomas. His 10.2 total strokes gained was also good for 2nd in the field. Five of his last nine starts have resulted in top-20 finishes and we can have plus odds that he does it again this week. Sign me up.

Sony Open Betting preview from Geoff Ulrich

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