Sony Open: Kapalua warm-up could be the key to success again

Pat Perez - one of The Punter's six picks in Hawaii
Pat Perez - one of The Punter's six picks in Hawaii

The PGA Tour stays in Hawaii this week for the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club. Read our man's comprehensive preview of the first full field event of the year here...


"Following Gomez’s win 12 months ago, 12 of the last 18 Sony winners have played the SBS Tournament of Champions the week before they won here."

Tournament History

The Sony Open dates back to the 1920s and it's been a regular on the PGA Tour since 1965. It's the first full field event of 2017 and for the majority of the field it's the first chance of tournament action in almost two months.

One or two players in attendance participated in the limited field Hero World Challenge in December and 23 players featured in last week's RBS Tournament of Champions but the majority haven't had a chance to play since the RSM Classic in mid-November.


Venue

Waialae Country Club, Honolulu, Hawaii.


Course Details

Par 70, 7,044 yards
Stroke index in 2016 - 68.5

Designed by Seth Raynor, Waialae is a short, tree-lined, wind-affected course with small Bermuda Greens. Water is in play on just three holes and the greens usually run at around 11 on the stimpmeter.

As you'll see below, with the list of winners, scores can vary quite a bit depending on how penal the rough is and more importantly, how strong the wind blows.

It's very early days but we look set for a fairly benign week again this year so scoring should be low.


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, beginning at midnight on Thursday.


Last Five Winners

2016 - Fabian Gomez -20 (playoff)
2015 - Jimmy Walker -23
2014 - Jimmy Walker -17
2013 - Russell Henley -24
2012 - Johnson Wagner -13


What Will it Take to Win the Sony Open?


What you do off the tee is largely irrelevant at Waialae. Only two players in the top-12 ranked inside the top-ten for Driving Distance last year and the first thee home, Fabian Gomez, Brandt Snedeker and Zac Blair, ranked 27th, 21st and 58th for DD.

Despite it being quite tight off the tee, Driving Accuracy hasn't been a key stat in recent years either though. The winner, Gomez, ranked only 60th for Driving Accuracy last year and the six winners before him ranked 25th, 15th, 58th, 2nd, 50th and 13th. Hitting it arrow straight off the tee helps but it isn't imperative.

Finding the greens is vital though and the last 15 winners have all ranked inside the top-12 for Greens In Regulation. Last year's playoff protagonists both ranked tied seventh for GIR and that's clearly the most important stat.


Is There an Angle In?


There are a number of venues on the PGA Tour that correlate nicely with Waialae. The Seaside Course in Sea Island, Georgia, which hosts the RSM Classic, Harbour Town Links in South Carolina, home of the RBC Heritage, and El Camaleon, the venue for the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in Mexico, are all short seaside tracks with tricky, grainy greens but I'd also consider both Colonial Country Club, venue of the Crowne Plaza Invitational, and TPC Southwind, which hosts the St. Jude Classic, as similar types of test. A number of players have won either this or the St.Jude and finished runner-up at the other event and last year's winner here, Gomez, and David Toms have won both tournaments.

If I had to pick one of those venues as the one that correlates best I'd probably plump for El Camaleon. Last year's one - two in Mexico, Pat Perez and Gary Woodland, have both been placed here before and even though the OHL Classic has only been staged ten times in total, we've already had two players win both events, and at a very big price here (Mark Wilson and Johnson Wagner). And it could have easily been three. The 2014 OHL Classic winner, Harris English, has a good record here. He finished third in 2015 and fourth in 2014, having traded at a low of 1.674/6. English is also another former winner of the St.Jude Classic.

As highlighted in last week's preview, Zach Johnson felt that although Kapalua and Waialae are very different they have a similar feel, especially in relation to playing in the usual trade winds and a number of players have won both tournaments so last week is a good place to look for clues. I've written more on that below.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

When Russell Henley won here four years ago, in his first PGA Tour event, he didn't only break the tournament scoring record he also confounded a number of trends. He was the first winner since 1996 not to have played Waialae Country Club at least twice and he was the first winner in his 20s since Paul Stankowski in 1997. Experience, and experience of the course, is usually an essential prerequisite but course form isn't vital...

Gomez's course form figures read MC-67-MC prior to last year's victory and he's far from the only winner to have course experience but no course form to speak of.

Following Gomez's win 12 months ago, 12 of the last 18 Sony winners have played the SBS Tournament of Champions the week before they won here. And it's worth bearing in mind that in the events staged between 2012 and 2015, the SBS TOC finished on either a Monday or a Tuesday, which should have been quite a disadvantage - especially in 2013 when Henley won. Bad weather had meant the event was reduced to three rounds and it didn't finish until the Tuesday!

Having a pipe-opener in Kapalua is a significant plus and it's one of the reasons I backed Gomez 12 months ago. I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised if one of the 23 players in the field that played last week goes on to win here and it's the best angle in we have this week. I know a lot of the fancied players this week played in last week's event but a number of the 12 winners have been big outsiders like Gomez so don't be frightened to take a chance on a few longshots. Historically, this has been an excellent event for big-priced winners.


In-Play Tactics


History suggests it's very hard to win here from off the pace and Gomez's victory 12 months ago very much went against the in-running trends. He was tied for 68th, six off the lead, and matched at 900.0899/1 after round one, and he was still five back at halfway. Although he sat fifth after three rounds, he was still four adrift and he was just the fifth player in 46 years to win from that far back through 54 holes. He was also the furthest adrift any winner has been this century after any round. Johnson Wagner sat tied 30th and five back after round one in 2012 but every other winner this century has been within four after day one.

Like Gomez, Vijay Singh trailed by five at halfway and by four after round three and they're the only two to be outside the top-ten at halfway and the top-four with a round to go this century. Gomez's eight-under-par 62 was a remarkable final round 12 months ago and yet he still needed extra time to get over the line. Brandt Snedeker backers will have felt quite rightly aggrieved given he led or co-led after every round and despite Gomez's heroics, I'm going to be concentrating on the frontrunners in-play.


Market Leaders


Jordan Spieth closed the SBS Tournament of Champions with an eight-under-par 65 to finish third and but for a few bad holes he'd have pressed his good mate Justin Thomas for the title. He made 26 birdies and an eagle throughout the week and if he can iron out the mistakes he'll take the world of beating.

Spieth has played here just once before, missing the cut back in 2014, but given he's a winner at Colonial and Kapalua, this place should really suit him and he thought so after Sunday's 65.

"I feel very confident about going over to a golf course that I've only played once, I missed the cut at, but I think it's actually a really good golf course and it fits my game well. So I'm really excited to kinda get a fresh start over there after building momentum of this round."

Sunday's runner-up, Hideki Matsuyama, who now has recent form figures that read a stunning 1-2-1-1-1-2 since he finished fifth at the Tour Championship, has a very poor record here, having missed the cut on each of the four occasions he's played here. I'm loathed to discount him out of hand given the way he's playing but after the Christmas break and the disappointment of Sunday's defeat, this could be the week it all comes crashing down.

Despite a late wobble at the 15th hole, Justin Thomas was good value for his win on Sunday. He missed the cut here 12 months ago but was sixth on debut in 2015 so we know he likes the venue but history appears to be against him. Ernie Els won here in 2004, one week after winning the SBS Tournament of Champions, but as highlighted in yesterday's de-brief, TOC winners tend to struggle in the year that follows victory and at only 16.5 I'm more than happy to dismiss him.


Selections

In stark contrast to the BMW SA Open (previewed here), where picking out a single each-way pick was tricky enough, I had plenty of players on my radar here and I've had the devil's own job keeping my selections down to just six.

All of them played at Kapalua last week, all are outsiders, and with the possible exception of James Hahn, all have form at correlating venues or Waialae.


Selections:
Pat Perez @ 55.054/1
William McGirt @ 80.079/1
Fabian Gomez @ 110.0109/1
James Hahn @ 190.0189/1
Brian Stuard @ 200.0199/1
Mackenzie Hughes @ 300.0299/1


I'll be back on Thursday or Friday with the In-Play Blog.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

You read fellow betting.betfair.com Golf columnist Dave Tindall's Sony Open Tips behind the link.

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