SONY OPEN: There really is no offseason in professional golf anymore, and we’re already several events into the PGA Tour’s official season, which began back in the fall, but you still can’t shake the feeling that the Sony Open is a new beginning. It’s the first full-field event of 2021, the first competitive golf in weeks or months for the majority of the players, and the year’s first dose of familiarity and tradition in a sport that thrives on those things.
A fixture on the PGA Tour schedule for nearly 60 years, this tournament has been staged at Waialae Country Club on the Hawaiian island of Oahu since its inception in 1965. It’s the type of course you don’t see much on Tour anymore– a shortish (7,044 yds), tight par-70 that forces the players to leave the driver in the bag for the majority of the round. The firm, narrow fairways are difficult to find, especially if the wind picks up, and approaching the greens from the sticky Bermuda rough can be problematic. Waialae can bear its teeth at times, as we saw last year, when only three players finished the week at double-digits under par and Cameron Smith’s 11-under marked the highest winning score the event has seen since 2005.
Mild conditions are forecasted for this week, so we’re likely to see the course yield a few more birdies than last year and I’d expect the winner to be somewhere in the 20-under range. It’s worth mentioning that since the Tour stretched its schedule out and tournaments began to be held in December, players who have teed it up in competition in the weeks leading up the the Sony have had a lot of success in this tournament, and 15 of the last 22 champions have participated in the limited-field Tournament of Champions the week prior. This week there are 27 players who made the trip from Kapalua, including market leaders Webb Simpson (15.5), Collin Morikawa (16.0), and Harris English (18.5), the man who triumphed in a playoff last week and broke the heart of anyone who took our advice on Joaquin Niemann at 54.0. Don’t be surprised if that stat reads 16/23 by week’s end. My recs:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Collin Morikawa (16.0)- Picking one of the market leaders certainly doesn’t take much courage, but sometimes the easy call is the right call, and Morikawa sure seems primed for a big week. He looked like he was going to get the job done at Kapalua last week until a Sunday 73 left him in a tie for 7th, but I’m not too worried about a small hiccup that amounted to some bad luck and a couple missed putts after watching him breeze his way to 20-under over the first three rounds. Put it this way: after Morikawa shoots 66 on Thursday, and is 8 or 9-under for the tournament with 5 or 6 holes left to play on Friday, a price like 16.0 is going to feel like a steal. He finished 21st on debut here last year, so he’s shown an affinity for the course, and we all know the heights to which he has ascended over the past 12 months. He’s the best player in the field and is priced reasonably. Don’t overthink it.
Russell Henley (40.0)- One of golf’s streakiest players who just so happens to be in the midst of a hot streak, Henley has always loved it at Waialae, notching three top-20s in this tournament and winning the whole darn shootin match back in 2013. He’s been striking the ball beautifully since last summer, logging 8 top-30 finishes in 9 starts since the PGA Championship in August, including four top-10s and a pair of top-5s, despite lukewarm putting stats. But we’ve seen Henley’s flat stick heat up plenty of times before, and we’ve seen it happen at Waialae, so this feels like a great spot to take a chance on him considering how sharp the rest of his game has been. I’d be very surprised if his price doesn’t shorten as the week progresses.
Carlos Ortiz (138.0)- In shooting 75-74 last weekend at Kapalua, Ortiz didn’t necessarily look like a guy who is about to win a golf tournament, but you could have said the same thing back in October at the CJ Cup, when Ortiz failed to break 71 for four straight rounds and yet won just two starts later in Houston. He followed that victory up with an 8th-place showing in Mayakoba, and then took a few weeks off before his return to action in Kapalua. Now that he’s had four rounds to shake off the rust– four rounds that he played in 7-under, so it’s not like he was chopping– it’s reasonable to assume that he can return to the top form that he displayed in November and December. He’s played this tournament twice and has made the cut both times, finishing T29 in 2019, so he definitely knows his way around Waialae, and the firm, fast nature of the course as well as the tee-to-green Bermuda grass makes this a perfect set-up for him. Ortiz is my favorite long-odds option on the board this week.