Dave Tindall previews the second leg of the PGA Tour's Hawaiian Swing - the Sony Open at Waialae...
"The Achilles Heel that has dragged him down since the new putting laws came in is getting less and less of a weakness. A win looks imminent."
Each-way terms: 1/5 odds, 7 places
Main Bet: Back Webb Simpson e.w. @ 40/1
Webb Simpson reeled off six top 20s in his final seven starts of 2017 before he withdrew from the RSM Classic after shooting rounds of 67 and 68, good enough for tied 12th place at the time.
His early exit wasn't injury or illness. Simpson made his apologies to tournament host Davis Love and left the event to spend a precious final few days with his dying father.
"One thing he preached was finish strong no matter how you're doing. Keep persevering," said Simpson in an interview with Tim Rosaforte of Golf Digest.
He'll carry a heavy heart with him in this week's Sony Open but perhaps also the extra inner strength to finally get over the line after a string of near misses in recent years.
Even if you gloss over other factors like this - I don't; I think they can make all the difference - it's very easy to argue the case for Simpson anyway.
As well as that impressive form at the end of 2017 which, at one point, saw him lead the Tour Championship at halfway, Simpson really enjoys playing at Waialae.
Tied 9th on debut in 2009, he's only missed one cut and in his last four visits he's had a T20 and, somewhat curiously, three straight finishes of T13.
Highlights include an opening 62 in 2015 when, again, he was in front after 36 holes, and a 65 in both 2016 and 2017.
"I'm comfortable here. I love playing this golf course," he said last year. "I've come every year except once since 2009. I love Waialae, I really do."
In 2016, Simpson finished 177th out of 185 in Strokes Gained: Putting. Last season, he jumped nearly 100 spots to 88th while he's 62nd on the current list from his 10 rounds played.
The Achilles Heel that has dragged him down since the new putting laws came in is getting less and less of a weakness. A win looks imminent and the 40/1 looks well worth a play.
Next Best: Back Kevin Kisner e.w. @ 22/1
There's no shortage of players who could be considered as legitimate bets this week.
It would be quite easy to stop the search immediately and split your stakes between the two market leaders, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.
Thomas blitzed the field to win last year, while getting to putt on flat, Bermuda greens allows Spieth to work his magic with the wand and he closed with a 63 for third place 12 months ago.
Both were disappointing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions last week though (Spieth 9th, Thomas T22 of 34) and, of course, Thomas arrived last year having won at the Plantation Course.
Marc Leishman had three strong days and one bad one at Kapalua while Brian Harman topped the greens in regulation stats on the way to third place, his fourth straight top 10 of the campaign. Three of those would have landed the each-way cash.
It's a toss-up between Harman and Kevin Kisner for my pick from near the top end of the market but I'll just side with KK at the slight bigger price.
Kisner's obvious advantage here is that he's cracked the top five in the last two years while Harman has yet to manage a top 10 in six visits even if his last three are all top 20s.
This venue should suit both men much more than the Plantation Course where Kisner finished in midfield (T17).
Kisner, notably, finished top of the Strokes Gained: Putting stats (6.303 over the week) in the Sentry TOC and is a big fan of putting on Bermuda greens so he should again relish this test.
In fact, when comparing the two, he said last year: "I love these greens. They were a little less grainy than last week and more like what I grew up on, so I feel very comfortable with them."
He's currently fourth on this season's SGP stats (also 20th last year) so if it develops into a bit of a putting contest - the lack of any real wind in the forecast increases the chances of it doing so - Kisner can cash in.
Adding a bit of flesh to the bone of his two big results here, Kisner opened with a 63 in 2016 and last year carded an incredible third-round 60 before adding a closing 65.
After his 10-under 60, he remarked: "It's easy with these conditions. We're used to 20-mile-an-hour wind and it's a totally different ball-game."
With the rust shaken off last week and the expected calm conditions, everything is in place for Kisner to have a big title run at 22s.
Final Bet: Back Ollie Schniederjans e.w. @ 70/1
Many good judges believe Ollie Schniederjans should have won by now but a close look at his career suggests he does it in gradual stages rather than seismic leaps.
So after finishing 12th in the Open Championship in 2015, winning on the Web.com Tour in 2016 and finishing third at the Heritage in April and runner-up at the Wyndham Championship in August, it's fair to say that the arc of his career path indicates he's ready to win.
Schniederjans has certainly marked our cards with those two big finishes last year. There's a huge amount of correlating form between Waialae and Harbour Town (Heritage), a logical find given that both are shortish seaside tracks with grainy Bermuda greens.
Sedgefield, like Waialae, is a modest par 70 with smaller-than-average Bermuda putting surfaces so clearly Schniederjans has a penchant for these type of tracks.
He made his Sony Open debut last year and performed well, shooting 66-67-66-70 to finish T27. He was 10th with a round to go.
There's a good recent feature with him in Golf Digest where he says a win this season isn't enough. He wants more.
Speaking to Jeff Babineau, the 24-year-old reveals: "One of my goals is to win at least twice this year - not just once, but to back it up and do it twice.
"I think that I put myself in position probably four times last year where I had a solid chance to win the tournament with nine holes left.
"And if I can try to double that, make it eight times, and get it done (win) twice . . . I think that would be very do-able for me."
One obvious plus is that Schniederjans has excellent putting stats on Bermuda greens and, although it's a bit of a gamble trying to assess how everyone will perform after a break, I'm willing to back him at 70/1 in conditions that are right up his street.
Charles Howell, who has a ridiculous amount of good finishes here (seven top fives and lots of other top 15s) is certainly a candidate for a Top 5 while Zach Johnson loves this place and is a former winner.
Jason Dufner showed up well last week when perhaps not expected to and this is a more suitable test for him (T9 two years ago).
But I'm more than happy to go into battle with Simpson, Kisner and Schniederjans.
Dave's 2017/18 PGA Tour P/L (based on £5 e/w per selection outrights, £10 win top 5s/10s)
(After the Sentry TOC)