It was one of those hugely frustrating weeks for us to start the year at the Sentry Tournament of Champions as all of our three selections played really well in patches but were unable to string the four really low scoring rounds together needed to bag us a return, ultimately finishing eighth, 10th and 12th.
Sungjae Im who started Sunday the best placed of our three picks and in the frame struggled comparatively to the those around him on the leaderboard finishing in the end one shot out of the frame while Cameron Davis who fully justified my view that he would take to the venue again finished just a couple of shots shy of giving us a nice pay out.
The tournament itself will be remembered for in principle breaking all low scoring records on the PGA Tour as calm, soft conditions turned the Plantation course in to a push over for the game’s elite.
In the end it was Aussie Cameron Smith who on 34- under pipped world number one Jon Rahm by a shot and fellow Aussie Matt Jones by two shots to land his second PGA Tour title and his second in Hawaii.
All of the first three home in principle eclipsed Ernie Els’ 31- under PGA Tour scoring record however with the first two rounds being played under ‘lift, clean & place’ conditions Els’ record will still stand.
So with the first event of 2022 wrapped up we move on to the second event and the second leg of the ‘Hawaii swing’ the Sony Open.
The Sony Open was first played on the PGA Tour in 1965 and has been held at the same venue Waialae Country Club since its inception.
The first lead sponsor was United Airlines who took up the duties in 1991 before current sponsor Sony took over the reins in 1999.
Thirty Two of the 42 players who teed it up at the Sentry Tournament of Champions are making the trip to Ohau including defending champion Cameron Smith, however the majority of the biggest names who were in Maui such as, D Johnson, Thomas, Rahm and Dechambeau are not in attendance.
At the time of writing Cameron Smith heads up the market in his quest to land the Hawaii double. Smith is then followed by Webb Simpson, Sungjae Im and Hideki Matsuyama.
As noted above the event has been hosted at the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu since it was first played on tour in 1965.
The course was designed by Seth Raynor who also designed the Old White Course used for the Greenbrier.
The course is a Par 70 playing to just over 7000 yards and features Bermuda Greens.
The two par 5s are the 9th and the 18th. Both are great birdie opportunities with the 9th usually playing to the easier stroke average of the two.
While the fairways aren’t overly tight at Waialae it is important to find them as the key to success here is accurate approach play in to smallish greens to set up plenty of birdie opportunities. In a nutshell strong iron play and a hot putter will be the order of the day to get the job done.
As is always the case in Hawaii wind is also a key factor here and how much it blows is largely responsible for dictating how tough or otherwise the course will play.
So, let’s take a look at the last ten winners;
2021 – K Na
2020 – C Smith
2019 – M Kuchar
2018 – P Kizzire
2017 – J Thomas
2016 – F Gomez
2015 – J Walker
2014 – J Walker
2013 – R Henley
2012 – J Wagner
The most important factor to note here is that eight of the last ten editions of the event, including seven of the last eight , have been won by a player who had played in the Sentry Tournament of champions event the week before, so it pays to focus on those who teed it up at Kapalua.
Until 2020 we were on a streak of six from six in relation to this stat however Cameron Smith’s victory broke the run. Prior to the Aussie’s success the last player to win here without playing in Maui the week before was Russell Henley in 2013. Henley is also officially the only player in the last ten years to bag their first tour title here, however Smith’s previous success was in the Zurich pairs event so realistically you can say he added to that number.
As we can see from the table below, which shows the finish of the winner of the Sony at Kapalua the week before, while it is not necessarily the case that the player who has won in Honolulu was right in the mix at Kapalua, a solid week there has as a rule historically been the order of the day with prior to last year Jimmy Walker’s 21st place finish in 2014 being the worst showing of any of the seven winners here who had played the previous week. Last year however Kevin Na bucked that trend by winning here having finished a lowly 38th at Kapalua the week before.
Sentry ToC Finish
2021 – K Na 38
2020 – C Smith DNP
2019 – M Kuchar 19th
2018 – P Kizzire 15th
2017 – J Thomas 1st
2016 – F Gomez 6th
2015 – J Walker 2nd
2014 – J Walker 21st
2013 – R Henley DNP
2012 – J Wagner 9th
The obvious conclusion from the above is that while great form the week before isn’t a requisite a ‘run out’ the previous week is of significance.
To add to this it is worth noting that although Cam Smith broke the streak in 2020 of winners who had tee’d it up at Kapalua the young Aussie had been in action in the big events held in Australia and in the Presidents Cup well in to December so it could be argued he was still very much ‘match sharp’ when he arrived at Waialae CC.
Only 2 the last 10 winners were not American [Smith & Fabien Gomez].
Three of the eight American winners were natives of Texas. Jimmy Walker [twice] & Johnson Wagner. [As was 2009 winner Ryan Palmer]
Five of the other six winners from the US over the past ten years, [Matt Kuchar, Patton Kizzire, Justin Thomas, Russell Henley & Mark Wilson] either hail from southern states or had a proven track record in events played in eastern/southern states of the US, however again Na last year as a resident of Nevada bucked this pattern.
In other words while you can ‘never say never’, not unsurprisingly allowing for the Bermuda greens, this is not historically an event won by players hailing from the West Coast of the US.
The next stat that certainly leaps out from the past couple of years is that the players who have won here in the shape of Matt Kuchar and Patton Kizzire also won the Mayakoba the previous fall, a feat that was also achieved in 2011/12 by Johnson Wagner.
There is no doubt that the two courses correlate well!
In addition to form at the Mayakoba it is also worth looking at form at events held at other short coastal tracks such as the RBC Heritage, The RSM Classic and the Bermuda Championship.
Finally on a course correlation front the obvious link with The Greenbrier, also designed by Seth Raynor, is there to see with last years winner Kevin Na and runner up Joaquin Niemann both having triumphed at The Old White.
While past course form is always useful it doesn’t seem hugely pertinent here. 2018 winner Patton kizzire had missed the cut on his only previous visit, Fabien Gomez had posted nothing higher than a 20th place between them before they won the event, and of course Henley was making his debut.
Conversely though that 2019 winner Matt Kuchar had a really solid bank of form here, which saw him finish 13th in 2016 and third, sixth and fifth in the three years prior to that while 2020 winner Cam Smith had finished in the top thirty here the previous three years with a best of 18th so he had also built up some good history here.
Jimmy Walker had notched one top five here in plenty of previous visit and Na had played here 13 times prior to winning and had posted three top ten’s amongst plenty of poorer performances and MC so he had a real mixed bag here.
The highest winning score in the last 10yrs is -11 from Smith last year when the wind was an issue however in 5 of the last 8yrs the winning score has been -20 or lower so if the wind does not get up this is clearly a low scoring event.
Temperatures look set to sit in the low to mid 80s for the week, however we could see a few rain shower both ion Wednesday and across the week, which could soften things up slightly.
The wind, which is the courses main defence looks like it could play a part with all days other than Thursday showing possible gusts in the forecast of above 20mph.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with four players this week as follows;
MARC LEISHMAN – 22/1 – 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 36th
I will readily admit that there is an air of predictability around the majority of our team this week and first up cab off the rank on this front is Marc Leishman.
As noted earlier this event has very much been the domain over recent years of players who tee’d it up at the Sentry ToC the week before and Leishman is the first of three picks who tick this box.
A five time solo winner on the PGA Tour Leishman struggled horribly for much of the latter part of 2020 after lockdown before getting himself back on track in 2021.
The first sign of an upturn of form from Leishman in 2021 came in this event when after a lacklustre effort at the Sentry he upped his game in Honolulu to finish fourth.
Building on this fact further and if we then look at Leishman’s record at Waialae over the years we will see that three of the Aussie’s four top ten finishes here, his fourth last year, a third two years prior and a ninth back in 2013 have come after he has tee’d it up in the Sentry the week before, so it is clear, as in keeping with the trends of the event as a whole, that he is much the better for the run out in the Sentry.
Although the 38yr old didn’t win a solo event last year he once more got to visit Maui last week courtesy of his win in the Zurich pairs alongside Cameron Smith and unlike last year when he struggled at Kapalua there were plenty of positive signs from Leishman last week on his way to a tenth place finish.
Particularly encouraging last week was his approach play, which warmed up nicely to see him rank tenth in this area for the week and his putter, for which he was ranked ninth, both key components to success this week at Waialae.
The fact that Leishman started strongly last week should be of no great surprise as it came on the back of really encouraging fall, which saw him post two top five finishes and another top twenty in four starts.
Arriving then in Honolulu you would think in a confident mood anyway the icing on the cake with regards to Marc this week is that his confidence should be boosted further by the success of fellow Aussie ,and his Zurich Classic winning partner, Cameron Smith last week, in fact what should not be lost on us and I am sure wont be lost on Leishman is that Leishman’s last victory at Torrey Pines in 2020 came in his first start after Smith won this event a few weeks prior.
Two years down the line then and due another victory I expect Leishman to be buoyed by Smith’s success and can see him making a bold bid to return to the winners enclosure this week.
TALOR GOOCH – 33/1 – 1.5pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 27th
Next up for me this week is Talor Gooch.
Gooch has arguably been the player of the season so far on the PGA Tour and his superb all round play, which saw him post four top 11 finishes in his first four starts of the 2021/22 campaign was finally rewarded with a maiden tour title at the RSM Classic in November.
Rested now Gooch returned to action at the Sentry Tournament of Champions last week and in an event, which is historically notoriously unkind to debutants there was plenty to like about his 15th place finish.
As has been the case with Gooch for a while all components of his long game were in decent working order, something reflected by his ranking of ninth from tee to green for the week. Encouragingly he also saved his best two efforts of the week, a pair of 67’s, for the weekend, dropping only one shot across Saturday and Sunday.
With the cobwebs blown off then Talor arrives in Honolulu, you would think in a really positive mood, and I would hope in a position to improve vastly on his past record here, which has seen him miss two cuts in four visits with a best place finish of 18th.
While his past record here could be better as noted earlier historical course form has not been too much of a key driver here over the years so his lack of a previous big finish here does not overly concern me. On the plus side though while Talor has not produced his best here we only need look at the fact that his win last Fall came at a short coastal track at Sea Island to know that he is comfortable on this type of layout while he also posted an 11th place at the correlating Mayakoba last fall.
There is always a danger when a player like Gooch hits a purple patch that it is indeed just that, a purple patch and that their form will fade again quickly. With Talor though we have seen a player who after his win talked about his goals to push on and become one of the games elite and the way he has steadily risen year on year since he joined the tour and the way his game holds no real holes leads me to believe he is here to stay and that he will continue to progress this year.
Either way there is plenty of precedent of players posting a win late in the year and then riding that momentum to another early in the new year and I am happy to chance Gooch at what I see as pretty generous odds to continue that pattern.
KEVIN KISNER – 33/1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 3rd
The third player to make my team this week who tee’d it up in Maui is Kevin Kisner.
One of the keys to success in this event over the years has not only been to look for players who were in the field at Kapalua the week before but to also focus on those who performed solidly at the Sentry despite not necessarily being suited to the course.
On that basis Kisner, whose lack of length on a softer than normal Plantation Course last week was certainly not a help to him, sticks out like a sore thumb this week.
At Kapalua on his way to an eighth place finish not unsurprisingly Kisner relied reasonably heavily on the putter, ranking third for the week on the dancefloor, however more impressive was the fact that that his approach play really came to the party over the weekend as he gained more than 4.5 strikes on the field in this area across Saturday and Sunday.
Like our other picks so far this week Kevin’s record at Waialae CC is a bit of a mixed bag over the years, however tellingly similarly to our first pick Leishman the Georgia man has notched two of his three top fives here over the years when he has played in the Sentry the week before.
The 37yr old has said himself over recent years that he has to make hay when the sun shines as it were, in other words bank his really big cheques on the shorter courses, which suit his game.
From that point of view his record on this type of track is there for all to see. His most recent win last year came at the short par 70 Sedgefield CC and his two other stroke play wins came at the par 70 Colonial CC and Sea Island at the RSM Classic.
In addition he has lost out in play off’s again at the RSM and at The Heritage and Greenbrier Classic both of, which we know link well here.
To sum up whenever Kisner tee’s it up on a short par 70 he has to go on the shortlist and allowing for his eye catching effort last week he is a must for me this time out.
KRAMER HICKOK – 150/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 20th
Finally and moving away from players who tee’d it up at Kapalua I am happy to chance that Kramer Hickok can build on the progress he made in 2021 and make another bold bid for his first win.
Since joining the big league its been an up and down struggle for Jordan Spieth’s former college room mate however after spending most of the recent years battling to keep his card things finally clicked for Hickok in 20/21 and he came close to landing his first PGA Tour title in a memorable eight hole play off at the Travelers before finally losing out to Harris English.
As well as just missing out on the short par 70 TPC River Highlands, Hickok also performed strongly last season on the short coastal track, which hosts the Bermuda Championship to finish eighth and perhaps most interestingly he improved on his two previous efforts here to finish an eye catching 19th.
In that performance here last year Kramer ranked fifth for the week of the tee and ninth from tee to green and driving accuracy, only to be let down, as has historically been the case for him, by his putter.
While Hickok’s putter continues to be his nemesis we have seen from him that he can produce strong weeks on the greens noticeably when ranked second with the flat stick at The Travelers and again more recently at Houston in the Fall when he was fourth.
Hickok is a player who is undoubtedly trending in the right direction towards his first win and it would surprise no one were he to lift a trophy this year. My hope then is that back on the type of short course that should suit his straight hitting style and, which he has improved on every year, that with the confidence gained from his two big finishes in 2021 he can start the new year with a bang and produce a big effort at big odds.
UPDATED 11th JANUARY
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - JOHN HUH - DK VALUE $6900 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS 27.5
For our first sub $7K DK play of the new year I will side with John Huh.
Huh has struggled over the recent years and his lone PGA Tour title at the Mayakoba is now but a distant memory.
Of late however having salvaged his card via the Korn Ferry finals last autumn Huh seems to have turned a corner and some solid efforts pre Christmas see him sit 79th in the Fedex standings as we start the new year.
Prior to his slump Huh always performed nicely at Waialae making six cuts on the spin and as a former Mayakoba winner we know he has a pedigree that links well here. With three cuts out of five made in the Fall including a 12th place at the correlating RSM I expect John to start the year in a positive mood and perform strongly this week.
PICK 2 - VINCENT WHALEY - DK VALUE $6600 - FINISHED 17th - DK POINTS 97.5
Our second pick this week at what I see as a very fair $6600 is Vince Whaley.
Another player who kept his status on tour courtesy of the Korn Ferry finals Whaley has become something of a cut making machine on the PGA Tour making five out of six to start the new season and 15 out of 19 to end his 20/21 campaign.
While Whaley struggled to put those couple of really big weeks together last season to help him keep his card he has shown a liking for shorter and/or coastal tracks. Twenty third at last seasons Mayakoba, 15th in Puerto Rico and a seventh earlier this campaign in Bermuda all point to him enjoying this type of test and I expect him to stick around for all four days this week.