The PGA Tour remains in paradise for another week as the Sony Open returns to Honolulu and Waialae Country Club.
I see what they did there…
Plenty of big players in the field this week and some with just as many questions as answers.
Waialae Country Club
Course specs: 7,044 yards, Par 70 (35-35);
Grass: Greens –Bermuda running 11′; 6,500 square feet on average; Rough – Bermudagrass at 2.5″.
Water Hazards: 4
Course architect(s): Seth Raynor (1927); Desmond Muirhead (1992); Tom Doak (2015).
Purse: $6 million; $1.080 million & 500 FedExCup points to the winner.
Defending champion: Fabian Gomez defeated Brandt Snedeker on the second playoff hole to win for the second consecutive season on Tour.
Notes: First full field event of the season.
Notes II: 72 holes; top 70 and ties advance to the weekend.
Happy New Year nerds!
Welcome back to the 2017 portion of the schedule where there are 40 more events to navigate in fantasy golf.
We’ll start the New Year in Maui and wind up in late September in Atlanta and hits all points in between! We’ll grind through four majors, three WGCs and close with four FEC Playoff events. We’ll struggle with tough decisions in everything from One-and-done (OAD) to any format you play and we’ll do it together.
Please remember this is a fantasy golf column. Context and certain games will make players appear more or less valuable depending so be patient. I’m always available to answer your queries on Twitter (@MikeGlasscott) and via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
2016: Fabian Gomez, -20*
2015: Jimmy Walker, -23
2014: Jimmy Walker, -17
2013: Russell Henley, -24
2012: Johnson Wagner, -13
2011: Mark Wilson, -16
2010: Ryan Palmer, -15
2009: Zach Johnson, -15
2008: K.J. Choi, -14
2007: Paul Goydos, -14
2006: David Toms, -19
Frys.com: Brendan Steele
CIMB: Justin Thomas
WGC-HSBC: Hideki Matsuyama
Sanderson Farms: Cody Gribble**
Shriners: Rod Pampling
OHL Mayakoba: Pat Perez
RSM Classic: Mackenzie Hughes**
SBS TOC: Justin Thomas
**First-time winner and rookie
· Russell Henley holds the tournament record of 256 set in 2013.
· Justin Thomas set the course record, 61, in only his second attempt at Waialae in 2015.
· Henley is the only rookie to win.
· Henley and Jerry Kelly are the only players to win in their maiden voyage.
· Henley and Paul Stankowski are the only winners in their 20’s in the last 20 years.
· Only two players have defended since 1990: Ernie Els (2003-04) and Walker.
· The only players with multiple champions in that time frame are the same.
· After the major redesign in 1999, there have only been two playoffs. Els won both of them.
· Only four players have done the Hawaii Double: Els, Vijay Singh, Zach Johnson and Jim Furyk. Only Singh and Johnson are playing this week.
· Of the last 18 winners, 12 played the week prior at Kapalua. Of the 32 players in the field at the SBS TOC last week, 23 are entered this week. #Trend.
· Gomez broke a streak of seven American winners in a row last year.
· K.J. Choi and Gomez are the only foreign winners in the last nine years.
· Only one winning total in the last four years has been less than 20-under par.
· Waialae played 1.5 strokes below par on average last year. #EasyWithNoWindLessTrees
Inside the ropes
After architect Tom Doak and his crew removed over 200 trees, shaved down landing areas and extended a few greens in 2015, Waialae played, on average, the easiest it has in the last six seasons (-1.501).
The third longest running event on Tour at the same course, Waialae only trails Augusta National and Colonial in the longevity department. The classic Seth Raynor design still requires tee balls to move both right and left off the tee and tight spaces off the tee rewards those who can find fairways. With greens above average in size, players will have chances to make recovery shots but finding the proper parts of the putting surface will be the challenge. Raynor also designed the Old White TPC at The Greenbrier.
Take a look at the winners and you’ll notice immediately that it’s veteran Tour players who’ve done the business this century. Russell Henley’s decimation in 2013 is the only exception. Classic courses don’t have to be long to be challenging and working the golf ball off the tee and into the greens provide the biggest challenges. Jimmy Walker has also proven recently that fairway accuracy isn’t a need but bombing it and making tons of birdies on par fours doesn’t hurt either.
One of the shortest courses on Tour, it’s hardly a wonder why the “short”, accurate hitter contends here as well. The seaside track only has two par fives in its routing so making birdies there are crucial. As with most large green complexes, players will have plenty of chances to make birdies if they find the proper levels. The other 50 weeks of the year Waialae is a resort course so the greens won’t be too hot and the rough won’t be entirely bothersome. As with many seaside courses, the wind will be the biggest defense on the week and that’s another factor in why experience pays this week as well.
Hideki Matsuyama: He’s going to absolutely test the “form vs. course history” argument this week with gamers. In four stars at Waialae he’s MC, MC, MC and finished T-78. He’s posted only two rounds from nine in the 60’s. I get that he’s ON FIRE and his solo second last week was with NEW IRONS. This will be a make-or-break pick for gamers this week but he wouldn’t be in the field if he felt he couldn’t win.
Jordan Spieth: MC in his only attempt here in 2014 (70-71) but he was in mid-season form on Maui last week minus a handful of holes. Spieth showed his class working the ball off the tee in his win at Colonial, another classic track, last summer and mentioned after his round on Sunday that Waialae fits his eye/game. He feasts on par fours and has no problem putting Bermudagrass, obviously, so I’d expect another big week.
Jimmy Walker: He’s rattled off 17 consecutive rounds in the 60’s and is 52-under the last three years on this layout. During his under-par streak, he’s had a round of 65 or lower each of the last four seasons. The two-time champ has a solo fourth from 2011 and T-13 from last season to reinforce Hawaii is his jam.
Justin Thomas: His first two rounds here were 67-61 in 2015 to co-lead after 36. His next four rounds have been 70, 70, 70 and 71. That’s a bit all and a bit nothing. Remember, even par doesn’t pay the rent in Honolulu. His current form gives him the benefit of the doubt as he’s won twice in the new season. Only Ernie Els has won the “double” (Kapalua, Waialae) in the same season but there’s no question he’s on fire.
Charles Howell, III: The landlord at the Sony, CH3 has NEVER MC in 15 consecutive tries. He’s never won either but he’s posted EIGHT top 10’s and ELEVEN T-27 or better. After running off consecutive top 10’s from 2012-14, he’s cooled off with T-26 and T-13 the last two years. It’s his time of the season as well as he enters off T-15, T-7 and T-13 to wrap up 2016.
Gary Woodland: He’s 25-under in his last two appearances (T-3 and T-13). He’s rolled up seven consecutive rounds in the 60’s here and finished second at Mayakoba, another seaside course that requires accurate ball-striking to contend, his last time out. Last season he was 12th in SG: TTG and 22nd in scoring and that won’t hurt this week.
Scott Piercy: He’s admitted more than once that this is one of his favorite tracks and his record here reflects that. In eight starts he’s hit the top 15 in half of them with solo second and T-13 the last two years. He’s been healthy the last two years and has had his best two years on Tour. He’s healthy entering 2017 and should get off to a flying start this week.
Paul Casey: There’s no questioning his ball-striking acumen and nine of his last 10 starts on Tour have resulted in T-21 or better with five top 10’s. He’s only played here twice but opened with 62 his last visit in 2015 (T-30) points in a very positive direction. He lost a playoff at the Old White TPC to Danny Lee two years ago, another Seth Raynor original design.
Brandt Snedeker: His new coach John Tillery is revamping his swing to make him more consistent and this week will test those thoughts. Runner-up last season on 20-under will garner plenty of attention from gamers as will Snedeker’s potency to roll in birdies on Bermudagrass.
Daniel Berger: T-42 and T-13 in his only two starts with nothing higher than 69 on the cards. He had a chance to break in his new Callaway sticks last week in tournament play in Kapalua so he’s should be one round closer at Waialae.
Pat Perez: To think that he had shoulder surgery last spring is difficult to comprehend as he’s been playing some of the best golf of his career immediately following his return. He loves Waialae as he’s played 13 of 15 previous weekends and his MDF last year (bad shoulder developing) ended a run of T-9, T-8 and T-17.
Ryan Palmer: The 2010 champ has returned every year to kick off his season. There’s no doubt he’s comfortable here as he has finished T-8, T-17 and T-13 the last three years to the tune of 32-under. All 12 of those rounds are par or better as well. Similar to Walker, Palmer hits it a mile, plus putter and makes tons of birdies. Hot finish in the FEC Playoffs included T-13, T-24 and T-4 to barely miss out on East Lake. If you’re wondering where he was during the fall and new season, his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in August. Best wishes to Ryan and his wife in their fight.
Chris Kirk: This will be his seventh visit in a row but his MC last year might sour the newbies. I’ll point out he’s posted 65 or lower in the last four years, including 65 in round two last year. He was T-5 in 2013 with a 62 and solo second in 2014 with and 64 and 65. His fall should give gamers hope as well as he plucked three top 10’s from five starts but also posted a T-61 and MC. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!
William McGirt: He’ll be playing the Sony for the sixth time. His T-13 last year is his best in a run of four consecutive made cuts the last four years. I love his steadiness in all facets of his game and the shorter, tighter course should highlight his ball-striking, especially from the tee box. I’d point out that he was in the top 10 in par four scoring last year if you need even more reinforcement.
Marc Leishman: Embraces the breeze and always finds a way to get the ball in the whole at Waialae. In seven events he’s never finished worse than T-37 and five times have resulted in T-20 or better. His solid all-around game translates on most courses and this fall reinforced that with fifth in Kuala Lumpur, T-24 at Mayakoba and T-21 at the Aussie PGA.
Zach Johnson: Without a top 10 since last summer’s WGC-BI, I’m going to lean on the 2009 champ’s course familiarity as he tees it up for the 12th time. He’s plucked top 10’s in two of the last three years but don’t look at the years he’s not in the top 12. Gulp. I’d expect a solid performance to get 2017 off to a decent start after a very quiet end of last year.
Russell Henley: It’s hard to follow up all the records he set in his first visit but I’m more interested in his current form. He ended last year with T-14, T-24 and T-10 in his final three and now heads to the scene of his first career win.
Hudson Swafford: He’s made 17 cuts in a row. This is a recording. Oh and he was T-8 in 2014 and T-9 last year.
Russell Knox: This will be his sixth consecutive visit but he’s only made one cut (T-13, 2015). His struggles at Waialae reinforce that this track requires more than navigation tee-to-green and that Bermudagrass isn’t for everyone.
Harris English: He has one round over 70 in 20 tries and rattled off a top 10 in three years in a row before T-56 last year. He’s a super putter and hits it a mile plus has found himself in the top 40 in scoring the last four seasons. He hasn’t won since doing so twice in 2013 but it’s clear this track fits his eye.
Jerry Kelly: Yes, THAT Jerry Kelly! Waialae is his spiritual home and site of his first win on Tour. He is loved by the entire event and fans and it brings out his best golf. He’s bagged top 10’s the last three seasons and has nine top 10’s in 19 career events.
Billy Horschel: With top 10 finishes in three of his last seven to close out 2016, Horschel looks to build on his P-2 at RSM to open 2017. Hopefully the two footer he missed to fall out of the playoff got his chili running hot and he takes it out on the early part of 2017.
Bill Haas: He flew to the finish line in 2016 with T-20, T-4 and T-13 in his final three starts. Spending last week in Palm Springs tuning up should have him sharp but his putter will need to be in birdie-mode to keep up his recent run of results.
Harold Varner, III: He cracked the code quickly as a rookie last year. He circled 22 birdies and an eagle (fourth in putting) plus put all four rounds under par for T-13. He finished 2016 T-11 at the Dunlop Phoenix and a winner at the Aussie PGA.
Jason Dufner: One of the most consistent ball-strikers on Tour, his cash haul this week will rely on how his putter cooperates. Duff Daddy gave gamers a clue here last year that he was turning it around with T-9. He went on to win the following week in Palm Springs. Deja vu all over again.
Zac Blair: Back-to-back finishes inside the top six suggests that he’s a big fan of Seth Raynor. He’s 31-under in his only two attempts as his formula of finding fairways and putting Bermudagrass works here. He had two, bogey-free rounds last year and only four bogeys on the week as he finished third. His current form will try the course horse angle as he only had one other top 25 last year.
Luke List: Fantastic start to the season with T-26, T-2, T-15, T-17 and T-13. He’s played the Sony twice and MC each time but he’s entering uncharted waters in a GOOD way so I’m more interested in his current form.
Long Shots, Course Horses, DFS Angles, General Debauchery…
Webb Simpson: He’s seven from seven and has posted T-13 the last two seasons. His putting will give you a stroke so just plug him in and don’t watch.
Si Woo Kim: He was solo fourth in his debut last year and gamers know the rest of that story. Look up his result at Kapalua last week in the WINNER’S ONLY event if you’re not. He’s only 21 so there are going to be some bumps but his promise is easy to see.
Soren Kjeldsen: His game travels and he has no problem with seaside courses because he’s so solid tee-to-green. I’d prefer him with a few rounds under his belt but could be overlooked here.
Hideto Tanihara: His blazing finish to the JTO season (WIN, MC, T-6, 7th and T-5) to wrap up 2016 will make it difficult to sneak him in the back door. I’ll give it a try anyhow because this will be his eighth time at Sony and threw up a T-8 here in 2014.
Stewart Cink: He finished last season playing inspired golf in light of his wife’s recent battle with cancer. His last three events saw him collect checks for T-10, T-15 and T-15. With other events dominating his mind, he seems to be finding solace on the fairways and greens. Prayers out to the Cink family in this difficult time.
Henrik Norlander: One start on Tour in 2016 saw him lose in a five-man playoff at the RSM. He shot 64 here in 2013 (T-41) and MC last year so he has an idea of what is needed.
Michael Kim: He’s comfy after his T-3 to open the year at Silverado so he should be swinging freely. He MC last year with 74-65 that included an eight. I’m more interested in the bounce-back 65 that included six birdies.
David Lingmerth: Finally cracked the code here last year as he opened with 65 and closed with 64.
Satoshi Kodaira: He torched the JTO to end the season to the tune of win, T-2 and T-3 in his last seven events. He opened here 68-67 here last year before 74 in round three led to MDF. He’s hotter entering this year…
Brian Stuard: He’s knocked the rust off and returns to a course where he has two top 10’s and a top 25 in four starts since 2010. #ShortAndStraight.
Brian Gay: He rattled off 12 straight weekends he teed it at Waialae before 69-70 MC last year. His last finish outside T-32 was in 2007. #TeamKipHenley.
Brian Harman: He’s in play on courses where he’s never had a top 10 and this qualifies. For those of you knew to this, Harman has 14 top 10’s in his career and NONE are on the same track. He’s been T-13 the last two years. #KnockKnock.
Rory Sabbatini: This will be his 19th consecutive start. That’s not a typo. He’s behind the eight ball in the reshuffle and knows he needs to get it moving. He finished T-6 here in 2015 with an opening 64 and closing 63.
John Huh: He’s made nine cuts in a row and never missed in five straight at Waialae.
Jamie Lovemark: He finished T-7 last season with 65-65 on the weekend. His ability to shorten the course and roll in birdies will come in handy plus he was T-6 at RSM to wrap up last year
Cameron Smith: The young Aussie has flashed his chops plenty of times on big boy courses. He’s flying in under the radar but had a VERY solid finish to 2016.
Justin Rose: Last visit was 2011 (T-13) and has three top 20’s from four tries; WD at Hero with back problems and T-38 in Hong Kong didn’t inspire. Plenty of uses for him down the road so don’t panic.
Kevin Kisner: Since his T-5 here last season he’s posted one other top 10. The course historians will suffer this week if Kisner keeps up his current run of form.
Matt Every: Rookie gamers will point out that he has two top 10’s in four starts here. Pro gamers will point out his last top 25 anywhere was T-24 in Phoenix last winter and he’s MC 16 times since.
Keegan Bradley: We’ll see if he’s still in honeymoon mode after his nuptials in early December. His form to end last season was legit but he’s never had any big successes here.
Johnson Wagner: For those of you who love previous champs, Wagner has MC in every start after his victory in 2012.
Wednesday, I’ll have angles for fantasy games plus Ned Brown’s Yahoo! picks!