Course: Waialae Country Club
Previous Winners: Cam Smith (2020), Kuchar (2019), Kizzire (2018), Thomas (2017)
Corollary Courses: Seaside Course (RSM Classic), PGA National (Honda), and Sedgefield CC (Wyndham)
Finally. We made it. The inaugural tournament (with a cut) of the 2021 season is upon us with the Sony Open in Hawaii. We have a full field of 144-150 golfers that we get to dissect unlike the 40-player rickshaw we had to get through. Speaking of Sentry, massive win for Harris English who threw the theoretical monkey off his back with his first dub in years. He rode a hot putter with some average ballstriking to edge out Discord favorite Joaquin Niemann in a playoff. Niemann was one of the players I emphasized last week, along with Collin Morikawa, because of their field-leading proficiency with short irons and wedges. The results were marvelous with a 2nd for Niemann and a 7th for Morikawa.
This week we are getting a much shorter test as Waialae takes off about five hundred yards compared to Kapalua. If Matt Kuchar can get a win here, then you should know that driving distance does not factor into success here whatsoever. However, driving accuracy absolutely plays a part. I will add Fairways Gained to my model to make sure we focus on guys that can, well, gain fairways. Strokes Gained: Approach is always important and the backbone of the model, but there is a strong enough emphasis on approaches 150-175 yards here that I am going to factor that in as well. I am also going to emphasise Par 4s 400-450 Yards as there are six of them here with another at 452 yards.
The horse for the course is Webb Simpson at 8/1 and will be your biggest decision this week. Can you fade the favorite? Webb’s preferred layout is a short Par 70 on Bermuda greens so this is an optimal position for him. I don’t think I can go to Harris English after he rode a hot putting streak to his win at Kapalua, especially at that price. Another crazy price increase is where Joaquin Niemann currently sits. He wasn’t all putting like English was as he had a prototypical high-end irons week, but it is a low probability that we can count on the young Chilean for another tour average putting performance as he consistently ranks at the bottom. That leaves us Collin Morikawa, Daniel Berger, and Hideki Matsuyama left in the upper range and I think all three are worth a look in your lineups. Morikawa had some Sunday struggles last week as his approaches fell off a good bit. But, he is an elite level golfer and great at finding fairways. He can win anywhere. Hideki had a career worst putting performance to highlight an overall forgettable week. I can support taking a chance at a guy of his skill to rebound with likely single digit ownership. Berger is a high end golfer and does not have too many flaws to worry about and this price is completely fair.
The one play I want to make sure is highlighted is someone that matches a very similar profile to Webb Simpson. Someone that absolutely excels at short Par 70s on Bermuda greens. Someone that won the Honda Championship at PGA National, one of our comp courses. That person is Sungjae Im. No-days-off Sungjae is in a perfect place and in some amazing form as well. At the Sentry, he was 1st Tee-to-green but was bottom ten in putting. Sungjae is generally a good putter and if it flips back this week, he has some hard-to-ignore winning upside. You and I should take advantage.
Another player that had some hot irons and ice cold putting last week was Adam Scott. I will go back to the Aussie this week along with fellow countryman and potential repeater Cam Smith. He had some very solid rounds at the Sentry although the approaches were definitely off. My model along with course setup is telling me to hammer Billy Horschel this week. He is someone that’s fairly priced for the field that can win this thing. Someone that is, arguably, underpriced for where he was falling near the end of last season is Russell Henley. You know you’re getting elite approaches from him and he isn’t close to $10k this week. Hooray! The model is strongly suggesting that Zach Johnson is underpriced for what he can do at a course like this. He is someone, like Harris English, that can have a massive week with his spurts of hot putting.
Farther down the board are two guys I think have actual winning upside. Marc Leishman is someone that had a very rough season after his win at Torrey Pines last year, garnering missed cuts habitually. He is slowly trending upwards and I would like to be early with a guy like Leishman as we’ve seen his winning pedigree before. The second guy had a horrific first day at Sentry and couldn’t get himself out of the hole he dug despite a strong effort. Sebastian Munoz had some quality ballstriking rounds at the end of 2020 and showed flashes of it last week as well. I will definitely hammer him for DFS and maybe take an outright if the number fits. In my opinion, the best mid-level value comes from Kevin Na as he ranks in the top 20 in Approach in the field along with 5ths in Around-the-green and Par 4 400-450 Yards. It also looks like he will be a strong ownership pivot as he should stay under 5% this week. It also scares me when the model wants me to play someone as inconsistent as C.T. Pan yet here we are. He has a victory at a similar tournament in the RBC Heritage so maybe the model is on to something.
Heading to the bottom of the barrel, I am going to emphasize Doug Ghim. The model is lukewarm on him, but his irons turned a corner at the end of 2020 that led him to four top 25s in the second half. I like his upside for a medium level strength of field and I think he is a name we will watch climb in 2021. One more very viable play down is Brian Stuard. He is someone that is weak off the tee but he finds fairways, has a solid approach game, and can show us a little putting from time to time.
Thanks for reading, gang! If you haven’t yet, follow me on Twitter at ZawaDFS.