Sony Open: Scott Brown a tremendous price, says The Punter

Scott Brown, one of The Punter’s picks in Hawaii
Scott Brown, one of The Punter’s picks in Hawaii

Our man takes a look at this week's PGA Tour action in Hawaii. Want to know what it will take to win the Sony Open? Read Steve's detailed preview here...

“Having won the Puerto Rico Open last March, Scott Brown has finished inside the top-four twice this season already, at the Frys.com and the McGladrey Classic and he also figured for a while at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in his final start in 2013. I can see him getting involved this week and he looks a tremendous price at 150.0149/1.”


Tournament History
The Sony Open dates right back to the 1920s but it's only been a PGA Tour event since 1965. It's always been played at Waialae Country Club and it's been held in its regular January slot in the schedule since 1971.

Venue
Waialae Country Club, Honolulu, Hawaii

Course Details
Par 70, 7,068 yards
Stroke index in 2013 - 68.9

Waialae is a short, tree-lined, wind-affected course with small Bermuda Greens. Water is in play on just three holes and the greens are expected to run at 11 on the stimpmeter. 

Useful Sites
Event Site

Course Site
Course Details 
Tee Times
Weather Forecast

TV Coverage
Live on Sky Sports all four days starting at midnight on Thursday.

Last Five Winners
2013 - Russell Henley -24 (tournament record)
2012 - Johnson Wagner -13
2011 - Mark Wilson -16
2010 - Ryan Palmer -15
2009 - Zach Johnson -15

What will it take to win the Sony Open?
Length is largely irrelevant and being accurate off the tee is of far more importance - although Johnson Wagner ranked just 58th for driving accuracy when he won two years ago and Ryan Palmer 50th in 2010. 

Hitting the small greens is the key to success here and the last dozen winners have all ranked inside the top-12 for greens in regulation. Irons need to be dialled in.

Previous course experience and an ability to handle windy conditions are usually two essential prerequisites for Waialae but all that was blown out of the water last year. 

With no wind to speak of all week long, Russell Henley smashed the tournament record (and the stats) in his first ever PGA Tour event - becoming the first Sony winner below the age of 30 since 1997 and the first player with less than two previous course appearances to win since 1996. And he was just the second rookie to ever win the event!

I'm inclined to largely ignore last year's result but do keep an eye on the forecast, save for a bit of a breeze on Saturday, we look like we're heading for a fairly calm week and that can only help those with little or no experience of the course again.

Is there an angle in?
A number of venues on the PGA Tour correlate very nicely with this one, in particular, the Seaside Course in Sea Island, Georgia, which hosts the McGladrey Classic, Harbour Town Links in South Carolina and El Camaleon, home of the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in Mexico. Those three 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.

Form lines between those venues and Waialae crossover with regularity and if you fancy someone that hasn't played well at any of these courses, it might be worth thinking again.

Is there an identikit winner?
Although the two courses are vastly different, nine of the last 15 winners of this event played at Kapalua in the Tournament of Champions the previous week. Last year's winner, Henley, went against just about every previous Sony stat and this was yet another, but there were extenuating circumstances. 

Last year's TOC was badly affected by the weather and, with delays aplenty, the event was reduced to 54 holes, eventually concluded on the Tuesday. With the TOC now running from Friday to Monday, it's going to be interesting to see whether the strong record of Kapalua contestants is maintained going forward. 

For what it's worth, I suspect it will, as having a competitive pipe-opener is a big plus but hanging around, waiting for the weather to improve, and then getting to this venue just a day before the event starts was very damaging and few that had played at Kapalua in 2013 figured here. Normal service should resume this year and I'm quite keen on those that played last week.

In-Play Tactics
Since the turn of the century, 10 of the 13 winners have been within two of the lead at halfway and five of the last six winners were leading or co-leading after three rounds. Coming from off the pace at Waialae is very tough.

If you're playing in-running, the final hole is a very easy par 5 so expect those in-the-mix to record a birdie there. Last year it averaged just 4.32.

Market Leaders
Adam Scott
is going to take a lengthy break after this week, not returning to the fray until the Honda Classic at the end of Feb, so he'll be keen to sign-off with a good performance. He was in fine fettle Down Under at the end of 2013, played OK last week and finished runner-up here in 2009. He looks to have a very fair chance this week and he's not a bad price at 9.417/2

Having backed Zach Johnson before the off at the World Challenge just before Christmas and in-running last week at Kapalua, a protracted battle between heart and head ensued all week long as to whether I should back him to make it three in-a-row. The head has won but only just.

I'd have played the 2009 winner at 15.014/1 but at 12.011/1 he's just too short. His game is far better suited to this week's test than it is for the one faced last week and I had every intention of backing him here, if he showed up at Kapalua but he's just too short now for a number of reasons.

For starters, winning three tournaments in-a-row is highly unusual and even winning this event twice is rare too. Just four men have managed it and bizarrely, three of them did it back-to-back but the main reason I'm cautious is the weather forecast. Had it been forecast to blow a hoolie all week long then I'd have been keener to stick with him but in light winds, the experienced older pros' advantage is negated and finally, it really doesn't make sense to back someone you backed at 10.519/2 when trailing by two strokes with a round to go in a reduced field event at just 12.011/1 in a full-field event before kick-off. 

Third favourite, Matt Kuchar has impressive enough event form with two top-five finishes in his last two starts but his irons weren't dialled-in last week and this is not a place to keep missing greens.  

There is no doubting fourth best, Jordon Spieth's ability or his potential but he was disappointed and frustrated not to win on Monday, when in with a great chance to do so. Bouncing back on a very different course he's not yet played is a huge ask and of all the market leaders, he was the easiest to dismiss.

Selections
I have to confess, I wasn't on the ball early enough this week and I'm cross with myself for missing the big prices about a number of players and Brian Gay in particular. I'd have played him at 65.064/1 or even 60.059/1 but at less than 50.049/1 I've had to let him go un-backed. 

I'm not especially keen on anyone this week and all I've done is back a handful of players at triple-figures, mainly those who played at Kapalua last week. Of the five - Michael Thompson, Scott Brown, DA Points, Ken Duke and Woody Austin - the two I like best are Thompson and Brown.

Thompson was impressive when winning the Honda last year, led after round one last week, has shown a liking for Waialae already, having finished 6th here in 2012, and he looks too big at 101.0100/1 on the Sportsbook.

Scott Brown was tipped up in a few places last week and I can see why. He finished last year well and looks more than capable of winning again this season. He didn't fare brilliantly at Kapalua, finishing 24th, but this week's test looks far more his sort of examination.

He missed the cut at Waialae on his one and only outing here in 2012 but I'm more than happy to overlook that. It was his very first PGA Tour start and he took a while to find his feet, missing the next five cuts also and 12 of his first 14. He's a different player now.

Having won the Puerto Rico Open last March, Brown has finished inside the top-four twice this season already, at the Frys.com and the McGladrey Classic and he also figured for a while at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in his final start in 2013. I can see him getting involved this week and he looks a tremendous price at 150.0149/1.

Selections:
Michael Thompson @ 101.0100/1 (Sportsbook)
Scott Brown @ 150.0149/1
D.A Points @ 200.0199/1
Ken Duke @ 250.0249/1
Woody Austin @ 450.0449/1

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

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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