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The Sony Open: Wilson can win again, says The Punter

Mark Wilson, The Punter's strongest fancy this week

“I like Mark Wilson best. His performance in Kapalua was very encouraging and he won early on in the season last year too - at the Humana Challenge.”

Our man details all the trends and pointers for this week's US PGA Tour action, where he's picked out six selections for starters. Read his preview of the Sony Open here...

Tournament History
The Sony Open has been an ever-present on the US PGA Tour since 1965.

Venue
Waialae Country Club, Honolulu, Hawaii

Course Details
Par 70, 7,068 yards
Stroke index in 2012 - 69.77

Designed by Seth Raynor and Charles Banks, Waialae opened in 1925. It's a very different test to the one encountered at Kapalua yesterday, with tight tree-lined fairways and much smaller, harder greens. Water is in-play on just three holes and the course is often affected by both the trade and Kona winds.

Useful Sites
Event Site
Course Site
Course Tour
Tee Times
Weather Forecast

TV Coverage
Live at midnight (UK Time) on Sky Sports all four days, starting on Thursday night/Friday morning.

Last Five Winners
2012 - Johnson Wagner -13
2011 - Mark Wilson -16
2010 - Ryan Palmer -15
2009 - Zach Johnson -15
2008 - KJ Choi -14

What will it take to win the Sony Open?
With such small greens, accuracy is vital - the last 11 winner have all ranked inside the top-12 for Greens In Regulation.

The vast majority of winners have been fantastic wind players who already had a proven record on Bermuda greens.

Is there an angle in?
Finding an angle in is tough some weeks but not this. The challenges faced at Waialae have been the same for nigh on 50 years and as a result, trends are plentiful. Here are the ones I felt were most salient.

When Johnson Wagner won the event 12 months ago, he became the ninth in 14 years to do so having played the week before in Kapalua. Although the test is very different, the pipe-opener is clearly a big plus.

Experience is imperative, both of the course itself and of life on tour. Since 1996, every winner had played here at least twice previously and you have to go back to 1997 for the last winner in his 20s.

As short, seaside, blustery tracks with grainy greens, there are three venues that have a strong correlation with this course. Hilton Head, home of the Heritage, the Seaside Course at Sea Island, host course for the McGladrey Classic and last but certainly not least, El Camaleon, home of the Mayakoba Golf Classic, or the OHL Classic at Mayakoba as it will be called in November.

El Camaleon's a very similar track to Waialee and even though the Mexican event is only six-years-old, two players have already won both events. Last year's winner, Wagner was successful there in 2011 and 2010 winner, Mark Wilson, also doubled up here after taking the Mayakoba in 2009.

In-Play Tactics
You can't make up ground easily at the Sony. Wagner was five off the lead after round one 12 months ago, and that's the furthest back any winner in the last 15 years has been at any post round stage.

The final group's the place to be on Sunday. Wagner came from two back with a round to go last year but the previous four winners were all leading after 54 holes. Vijay Singh was four back in 2005 but he's the only winner to be more than a couple off the lead after three rounds in the last 15 years.

Both nines end with reachable par fives so there's always a chance of late drama.

Market Leaders
This has been an outsiders event of late so passing over those to the fore in the betting might be a smart move - though dismissing the chances of favourite, Dustin Jonson, isn't easy. He was pretty impressive at Kapalua, and he has course form in the bank already, having finished in the top-ten on debut in 2008 and tied 16th in 2010.

The next five in the list, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar, Carl Pettersson and Zach Johnson, like Dustin, all played last week - a big positive according to the stats but I'm quite prepared to leave them out from the get-go. I was most tempted by 2009 champ, Zach, but he's a few ticks too short.

Selections
Five of the six I've played from the start all have very similar profiles. They all played last week, they're all over 30, they've all had at least two starts at Waialee, and they all have form there and or at El Camaleon or Sea Island and they're all juicily priced.

Graham DeLaet is the odd man out as he didn't play last week but I like him a lot, he's a player that I'm convinced has a big future. He led here last year after round one, has played here a couple of times now and is in his 30s, albeit only just.

Given the unique test on offer it's somewhat surprising to see that nobody has won the title more than twice and only four men, Hubert Green, Lanny Wadkins, Corey Pavin and Ernie Els, have done the double. I've backed the last two event winners this week so hopefully there'll be a fifth come Sunday. Of the two, I like Mark Wilson best. His performance in Kapalua was very encouraging and he won early on in the season last year too - at the Humana Challenge.

Selections:
Mark Wilson @ 70.069/1
Johnson Wagner @ 75.074/1
Tommy Gainey @ 80.079/1
Ben Curtis @ 85.084/1
Graham DeLaet @ 160.0159/1
George McNeill @ 200.0199/1

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

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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09 January 2013

The Punter

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