Horses for Courses: 2020 Sony Open

It’ll feel like Christmas for the first full-field winner of 2020!

Island hopping continues in Hawaii as the TOUR shifts from the newly redone Plantation Course on bucolic Maui to the hustle and bustle of the classic Seth Raynor Waialae Country Club in Honolulu on Oahu.

The traffic on the course, and island, increases this week as 144 players comprise the first full-field event of calendar 2020. The top 60 and ties will play the weekend for a piece of a $6.6 million prize purse with the winner taking home $1.188 million plus 500 FedExCup points.

Waialae CC stretches only 7,044 yards (Par-70) and has hosted the event since 1965, so course form plays a massive angle. Bermuda greens and tight driving targets usually provide the challenge but this week, the trade winds will also keep scoring at a premium. The classic layout has only crowned two debut winners this century and only two more under the age of 30 since 1999 so experience, in the wind and on the course, matters this week. With gusty conditions in the forecast, experience and ball-striking receives extra emphasis.

Of the 144 players entered, 23 knocked the rust off last week in Maui. Over the last 21 events, 15 champions played the week prior in the winner’s-only event. Justin Thomas (2017) and Ernie Els (2003) are the only two to win both Hawaii events back-to-back to kick off the year.


Recent Winners

2019: Matt Kuchar (-22, 258)

Became the third winner since 2012 to also win the previous year at Mayakoba. … Just the second player 40 or older to win this century. … Played the previous week on Maui. … Top nine in EVERY major statistical category other than Strokes-Gained: Around-the-Green. … Led the field in GIR and Ball-Striking. … Won in his 14th attempt.

Notables:¬†Only four over-par rounds posted from the top 28 players in benign conditions. … Andrew Putnam (2nd) and Brian Gay (T22) both gained over 10 strokes on the greens. … Corey Conners closed 64-64 for T3 after qualifying on Monday. … Noted wind player Marc Leishman cashed T3. … Top 28 were 10 under or better. @GolfOdds has set this year’s winning total for 270.5. #Windy.

2018: Patton Kizzire (-17, 263)

The 2017 Mayakoba champion defeated James Hahn on the second playoff hole to win in his second visit to Waialae CC. … Joined the previous four winners by finishing in the top five in Strokes-Gained: Putting. … Third-consecutive winner who did NOT finish in the top 55 in driving accuracy. … T1 Par-3 scoring.

Notables:¬†James Hahn fired 62 in Round 4 to force a playoff. … Tom Hoge led by one after 54 holes and missed the playoff by a shot. … Brian Harman led by three after 36 holes (64-63) before cashing T4. … Webb Simpson’s furious finish (63-65) secured T4. … 10 under was good for T25 and there were only five over-par rounds from those 31 golfers.

2017: Justin Thomas (-27, 253)

Completed the Maui-Honolulu double as he set the course record (59; Round 1) and the tournament record to win by seven shots. … Set the TOUR record for best 36-hole score (123) and tied the 54-hole mark (188). … Led by seven after 54 holes over Zach Johnson. … Top four in all Strokes-Gained categories minus Around-the-Green. … Won in his third attempt.

Notables:¬†Kevin Kisner posted 60 in Round 3 and eventually cashed T4. … Johnson signed for 61 in Round 2 and played in the final group (T6). … Chez Reavie closed the proceedings with 61 to hit T8. … The top 44 players were 10 under or lower.

Key stat leaders

With gusty conditions in the forecast and a winning total expected around 10 under, this week is going to look different to previous editions at Waialae. Getting the ball in the hole is going to trump scoring for me this week.

Top golfers in each statistic on the 2019-20 PGA TOUR are listed only if they are scheduled to compete this week.

¬†* –¬† previous top-10 finish here since 2015

Strokes-Gained: Putting

4  Graeme McDowell (first appearance)

5  *Andrew Putnam

7  *Patton Kizzire

9  Vaughn Taylor

11 *Webb Simpson

12 *Brandt Snedeker

14 *Pat Perez

19 Peter Malnati

20 *Kevin Kisner

22 Patrick Rodgers

23 Sam Burns

Strokes-Gained: Approach-the-Green

2  *Justin Thomas

3  Emiliano Grillo

5  Hideki Matsuyama

9  *Corey Conners

13 *Chez Reavie

14 *Webb Simpson

15 Talor Gooch

17 *Matt Kuchar

18 *Russell Knox

19 Keegan Bradley

24 Nate Lashley

25 Joaquin Niemann

28 *Marc Leishman

Bogey Avoidance

2  *Webb Simpson

4  *Charles Howell III

6  *Matt Kuchar

7  *Scott Piercy

10 Vaughn Taylor

13 Matt Jones

14 Sungjae Im

16 *Justin Thomas

17 Bud Cauley

22 *Rory Sabbatini

25 Patrick Reed


Justin Thomas:¬†T16 or better in four of five starts the last five years. … Also owns 61 from debut event in 2015. … Scoring average is 66.56 and is 51 under his last three trips.

Charles Howell III:¬†Leading money winner at the event and he’s never won! …¬† 18 visits, 18 paychecks. … Hit the top 10 in five of his last 10 starts and 10 overall. … 23 rounds in the red and counting and 61 of 68 career rounds 70 or better.

Matt Kuchar: Last six have gone for WIN, T13, T3, T8, T5 and T5.


Frequent Fliers

Marc Leishman:¬†Never missed in 10 trips. … Of 40 rounds, nine have gone for 65 or better. … Eight of 10 paydays T28 or better.

Webb Simpson:¬†Never missed in nine trips. … 11 of 35 rounds 66 or better. … T20 or better last five visits.

Brian Gay: Cashed 16 of 19 career including 16 of his last 17.


Wait, What?

Brian Stuard:¬†Made six of seven weekends with four top-10 paydays and 67.23 scoring average. … Top 10 last two years.

Hudson Swafford: 67.32 scoring average in six tries; three top-10 paychecks including T3 last year.

Jimmy Walker:¬†Last repeat champion in 2015 hasn’t found his mojo in his last three visits. Caution.

Pat Perez: Almost half of his 17 appearances have ended up in the top 25 with half of those in the top 10, but his last three (MC-81-T69) have been clunky.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s