The Punter's De-Brief: Kuchar claims Sony Open victory after slow start

Golfer Matt Kuchar
2019 Sony Open winner - Matt Kuchar

Steve's pre-event fancy, Matt Kuchar, won the Sony Open but it wasn't as straightforward as the margin of victory suggests. Our man looks back at the event with his customary Monday morning reflections piece here...

“I can’t think of any two tournaments that correlate quite as well as the Mayakoba Classic and the Sony. We’ve now had 12 editions of the Mayakoba Classic and a quarter of the winners of that event have now also won the Sony – including the last two!”

Despite a wobbly start to round four, which saw him bogey three of his first five holes having only bogeyed one hole during the first three rounds, pre-tournament 48.047/1 chance, Matt Kuchar, who was matched at a high of 70.069/1 before the off, recovered nicely to pull away from the field to win the Sony Open by four strokes.

Kuchar's victory had looked highly unlikely after eight holes and he needed to make a ten-foot birdie putt just to stay within one of the eventual runner-up, Andrew Putnam, who was matched at a low of 1.84/5 as Kuchar stood over his birdie chance.

Birdies at 10 and 12 saw Kuchar leapfrog pre-event 75.074/1 shot, Putnam, but the 29-year-old levelled again with a birdie of his own at the 13th. Putnam's effort was short-lived though. He bogeyed the very next hole and Kuchar did this at the 15th to open up a gap before birdying 16 and 18 to make the victory look far more emphatic than it was.

This was Kuchar's ninth PGA Tour title and his second in his last three starts on the PGA Tour.

My bets

Having backed Fabian Gomez at 110.0109/1 three years ago, Patton Kizzire 12 months ago at 85.084/1 and now Matt Kuchar at 60.059/1 this time around, it's fair to say I quite like this tournament.

It was obviously nice to back the winner but it was even nicer to have a completely stress-free weekend and once my man had hit the front at halfway, it was always going to be a decent week. As highlighted in the In-Play Blog, I layed him back after two rounds and again after round three, recycling my stakes on the only three players that the stats suggested I needed to be concerned by and although I did monitor play last night/this morning, I needn't have bothered.

It's easy to look back and regret diluting winnings by laying back a winning pre-tournament pick but I don't regret it one iota. After making all the adjustments detailed in the In-Play Blog, victory for Putnam would have resulted in a fairly decent week and hanging on and hoping, and not using the exchange to make life far less stressful just doesn't make any sense to me. I've seen many a pre-event pick throw away far better winning chances than that held by Kuchar over the weekend so laying back and taking some profit is a no-brainer for me.

What have we learned this week?

I can't think of any two tournaments that correlate quite as well as the Mayakoba Classic and the Sony. We've now had 12 editions of the Mayakoba Classic and a quarter of the winners of that event have now also won the Sony - including the last two! Kizzire and Kuchar have both doubled-up in Hawaii just a few months after winning in Mexico. This is what Kuchar had to say about the two tracks after round three on Saturday.

"Both courses are very tight, very demanding driving golf courses. That would probably be the biggest similarity," he said of El Camaleón and Waialae.

The two winners before Kuchar, Kizzire and Justin Thomas, had ranked 56th and 70th for Driving Accuracy so statistically, it's hard to make a case for accuracy off the tee being vital but there are a number of holes where missing the fairway makes a birdie almost impossible and given that the event is basically a putting contest, I can certainly see where Kuchar's coming from.

He ranked fourth for DA and repeatedly finding the fairways was arguably the difference between him and the runner-up. Putting was again key though - Kuchar, who ranked first for Greens In Regulation for the week, had a Putting Average ranking of fifth, and Putnam ranked second. And the pair ranked third and first for Strokes Gained Putting.

A warm-up at Kapalua yet again proved decisive, although the first and second had both finished down the field last week. Kuchar finished 19th and Putnam 14th. Marc Leishman, who was matched at a low of 8.615/2 after a decent start to round four, finished tied for third, having finished fourth in the Sentry Tournament of Champions last week at Kapalua. That's now 15 of the last 21 winners of the Sony and the last six winners in-a-row that have played Kapalua the week before they won here.

Keep an eye on Corey

I get the feeling Canada's Corey Conners might just get a win this year on the PGA Tour and he's one to keep tabs on. The 27-year-old first came to my attention when he led through the first three rounds of the Valspar Championship last March, having got in to the field as an alternate. A week later he contended at the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship before falling away in round four and he ran Cameron Champ close at the Sanderson Farms Championship at the end of October, trading at odds-on before Champ pulled away with a birdie barrage at the death.

Since then, Conners has Monday qualified for both the Mayakoba Golf Classic and last week's Sony Open. Monday qualifiers are tough and few players can qualify with anything like regularity that way. Patrick Reed did so at the start of his career and look where he is now. After a slow start, Conners really caught the eye over the weekend with a pair of six-under-par 64s to finish tied for third.

Even if you discount last week, as he was never really in with any chance of winning, he's already contended strongly three times on the PGA Tour and if he keeps knocking on the door it will open soon enough. He was matched at a high of 650.0649/1 before the off last week and if he's anywhere close to that price going forward, he'll be worth throwing a few pounds at.

The European Tour finally returns this week and it kicks off early too with the Abu Dhabi Championship starting on Wednesday. I'll be back later today with my preview for that one and I'll be back again tomorrow with a preview of this week's PGA Tour event - the Desert Classic - formerly the CareerBuilder Challenge.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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