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PGA Tour Preview: Ben Everill on the Sony Open

If you didn’t know it already, you sure received an education last week when it comes to the opportunities that exist when betting on the PGA Tour. 

Collin Morikawa turned a seemingly easy stroll to victory into a painful fall from grace at the Sentry Tournament of Champions with Jon Rahm coming from nine back during the final round to secure victory.

In golf… no lead is safe. And as such you just might find yourself with the chance to get on a longshot that comes through! 

Of course, Rahm was the pre-tournament favourite at short odds but the plethora of live betting options available to fans mean you could’ve had a dabble on the Spaniard mid Sunday as high as 80/1 – or others – just in case.

Your next chance to get some skin in the game comes not far from Maui with the Tour jumping into 2023’s first full field event in Honolulu. Welcome to Waialae where players better be ready to putt the dots off the ball if they want to succeed at the Sony Open in Hawaii. 

Of the 39 who played at Kapalua last week, 19 have jumped across to the island of Oahu, a fact important to know if history is any guide. 

The facts are eight of the last nine Sony Open in Hawaii winners played in the Sentry Tournament of Champions the week prior. 

Since 2017 73% of players to play in Maui the week before have made the cut at Waialae a week later, with that number jumping up to 82.4% over the last two seasons. In those last six seasons nearly 40% of those to finish inside the top 10 were also on deck the week before in Maui.

What’s interesting is the complete difference between the two courses. Kapalua is longer with huge elevation changes, uneven lies, wide open fairways and slow, sloped greens. Waialae is the flattest course on the Tour with tighter fairways and runs barely over 7,000 yards as a par 70. 

“The two things that I notice about that place compared to here are off the tee it's much more difficult to hit fairways here; it's very easy to hit fairways there,” former Sony Open in Hawaii champion and last year’s runner up Russell Henley said from Waialae. 

“In terms of putting… it's so much slower uphill there than it's going to be here. Greens will be a little quicker. So, it's just a completely different course. This one is much more narrow, smaller targets. I like that kind of course better for sure.”

We could dissect a number of reasons why those who play at Kapalua continue their form in Oahu. Clearly the fact the Maui field is by definition, a field of champions (those who won in the previous 12 months or made the Tour Championship) shows the class of those competing. 

They have also had the benefit of knocking off any holiday rust and adjusting to island life and time zones. By the time they hit Honolulu they’ve done the whale watching and scuba diving and are ready to focus on winning.

The group of Keegan Bradley, Ryan Brehm, Corey Conners, Brian Harman, Russell Henley, Tom Hoge, Billy Horschel, Mackenzie Hughes, Sungjae Im, Tom Kim, K.H. Lee, Hideki Matsuyama, J.T. Poston, Chad Ramey, Chez Reavie, Adam Scott, J.J. Spaun, Jordan Spieth and Adam Svensson are the men who – chances are – hold the victor… or at least a few top 10s. 

If trends aren’t enough for you to trust let’s dive into our usual factors. Waialae has hosted the tournament since 1965 and brought us plenty of data to rifle through. 

An incredible 12 of the last 13 winners have been inside the top 10 of Strokes Gained: Putting with seven of the last eight inside the top five of the stat. Work on the greens has been the biggest contributing factor to victory, way above the Tour average. Four of the last six winners have also had a 50% or better conversion rate on putts from 10-15 feet on the way to victory.

The tighter fairways behoove us to check in on driving accuracy and while approach play is less valuable than other weeks the vast majority of approach shots at the short Waialae come from 150-175 yards

The majority of the field scores on the two par 5s at Waialae, some of the easiest on the Tour, but five of the last eight winners have ranked either first or second in Par-4 scoring. All eight winners registered T6 or better on the 12 par 4s.

Here is a look at the players in this field currently ranking inside the top 10 on Tour in these key stats. 

Strokes Gained: Putting

3 – Kelly Kraft

4 – Maverick McNealy

5 – Adam Long

9 – Harry Hall

Note: Last season Denny McCarthy (2), Brendon Todd (3), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (6), and Kraft (7) all ranked inside the top 10 of this stat.

Putts from 10-15 Feet

2 – Hideki Matsuyama

3 – Jimmy Walker 

9 – Chris Kirk

10 – Doc Redman

Note: Last season Brendon Todd (4) and Christiaan Bezuidenhout (8) ranked inside the top 10 of this stat.

Driving Accuracy

1 – Russell Henley

4 – Keith Mitchell 

5 – Brian Harman

6 – Tom Kim

7 – Si Woo Kim

8 – Chez Reavie

10 – Justin Suh

Note: Last season Ryan Armour (1), Brian Stuard (3), Reavie (5), Kevin Streelman (6), Brendon Todd (7), Tyler Duncan (8) and Jim Herman (9) all ranked inside the top 10 of this stat.

Approach from 150-175 yards Avg RTP

2 – Andrew Novak 

4 – Tom Kim 

10 – Sam Ryder

Note: Last season Ryan Armour (4) and Hideki Matsuyama (6) ranked inside the top 10 of this stat. 

Par 4 Scoring

3 – Brian Harman 

7 – Tom Hoge 

9 – Taylor Montgomery

9 – J.J. Spaun

Note: Last season Sungjae Im (3) Nate Lashley (10, Jordan Spieth (10), Corey Conners (10) and Hideki Matsuyama (10) all ranked inside the top 10 of this stat. 

TOP OF THE BOARD

Tom Kim 10/1, Sungjae Im 12/1, Jordan Spieth 14/1, Hideki Matsuyama 18/1 and Brian Harman 18/1 sit on top of the odds list heading into play at Waialae. 

Kim is on debut at the Sony Open and despite no first timer winning since Henley did so in 2013 the Presidents Cup star and winner of the Shriners Children’s Open leads the odds. Was T5 last week in Kapalua, leading the field in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and par-5 scoring.

In three starts at Waialae Im’s best is a T16 on debut, Spieth was third in 2017 and Harman was T4 in 2018. 

“I like this place. You got to think your way around it. It's kind of a bit of Colonial feel for me. It's still different than that, but similar feel to Hilton Head and Colonial. You have to plot your way around and pick and choose times to be aggressive,” Spieth said from Waialae. 

“I've played well in the past… 2017 I think I finished third, so try and draw off memories from that week and try and improve from last week as well.”

Matsuyama closed 63-63 last year to win, his first top 10 in the event. He led the field in Strokes Gained: Putting making eight putts from 10-15 feet. But he continues to battle with an ongoing neck complaint. 

“I've been having a little trouble with my neck recently. I wasn't able to practice as much as I can for the last couple months, but the game is trending going forward. I can't expect too much, but I'm really looking forward to this week,” Matsuyama said from Hawaii. 

“It's been coming back and forth, especially last October, November. Every time I played golf the pain was coming back. I've been working with the doctors, too, and I've been getting some good advice, so I feel like it's getting better and better.”

SLEEPERS

Given the focus on putting there are two names that jump out in the mid-range on the board. 

South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout at 45/1 and American Denny McCarthy at 55/1

McCarthy was second on Tour last season in Strokes Gained: Putting with International Presidents Cup member Bezuidenhout ranked sixth. Bezuidenhout was T17 a year ago in Hawaii and comes in this year after a couple of top-fives in his home country. McCarthy was T48 in his first Sony Open start a year ago but did post a second round 64.

Maverick McNealy is another at 33/1 to keep an eye on. 

LONGSHOTS

We only have to look at the above key stat ranks to find some names in the longshot department to consider this week. 

From Chris Kirk 80/1 (two-time runner up) and Brendon Todd 90/1 to Ryan Armour 150/1 and Adam Long 175/1 and possibly all the way out to Harry Hall 350/1 you can find a reason for some small unit action.

Best of luck with all your selections!

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