Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Sony Open in Hawaii - Fantasy Picks


By now, you understand that The Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort isn't tamed with booming tee balls despite the expanse of the landing areas. But you might be surprised to learn that Waialae Country Club, host to this week's Sony Open in Hawaii, has yielded a longer average distance of all drives in each of the last two years.

At 7,044 yards and positioned along the southeastern coast of Oahu in Honolulu, Waialae can play over 400 yards shorter than its leadoff counterpart on Maui. It's also a par-70 (35-35) as compared to the par-73 Plantation Course. So, does this mean that Kapalua is a second-shot golf course and Waialae's success is predetermined from the tee box? Not quite, but wayward drives aren't penalized at Waialae as much as the inability to hole putts. Scoring and saving par are the premiums for the field of 144.

At 319.5 yards, defending champion Jimmy Walker led last year's field in measured drives (two non-par 3s running opposite each other to offset the direction of the wind). He also ranked seventh in distance of all drives (295.7 yards). But a quick review of recent winners at Waialae will support that his length off the tee is merely a coincidence. David Toms (2006), Paul Goydos (2007), Mark Wilson (2011), Johnson Wagner (2012) and Russell Henley (2013) are not known as long-ball hitters as compared to their peers.

Waialae is the only course the Sony has ever known since its inaugural edition in 1965 and it's a tight track. It was one of only three host courses last season on which the field hit fewer than half of the fairways. Among the 19 golfers that populated the top 10 on the final leaderboard, only Zach Johnson (T8) finished inside the top 10 in driving accuracy at T6.

Walker placed T22 and compensated by ranking inside the top 10 in greens in regulation, strokes gained: tee-to-green and strokes gained: putting. He missed only one of 59 tries from seven feet and in. He led the field in the all-around ranking, par breakers (25 birdies) and par-4 scoring (3.79).

Winds that normally defend Waialae aren't forecast to be much of a nuisance until well into the weekend. Primarily sunny skies and high temperatures in the upper 70s will dominate the weather.
  1. Zach Johnson - Putting is back on track. Led field in strokes gained and conversion pct. inside 10 feet at Kapalua. Won at Waialae in 2009; T8 last year.
  2. Jimmy Walker - Cruising, but if not for the fact that he's defending this week, the haymaker he took on Monday at Kapalua could yield more scar tissue.
  3. Chris Kirk - Reeled in a T14 at Kapalua with a course-record-tying 62 on Monday. Top fives in last two editions of the Sony, including runner-up in 2014.
  4. Russell Henley - The 2013 champ owns the tournament record at 24-under 256. Top fives in half of his last six starts, including a T3 at the Hyundai TOC.
  5. Charles Howell III - Third in all-time earnings at Waialae, easily best among non-winners. Eight top 10s in 13 appearances, including each of last three.
  6. Jason Day - Motored home in the finale at Kapalua with a course-record-tying 62 to finish T3. Five top 10s in last six starts; four are top fives.
  7. Matt Kutchar - Stumbled to a T17 at the Hyundai TOC due to a third-round 74. Two T5s and a T8 in his last three tries at Waialae Country Club.
  8. Jerry Kelly - Winner at Waialae in 2002. Six other top 10s, including solo third last year. T5 in last start at Mayakoba. Thirteen consecutive cuts made.
  9. Marc Leishman - As much as the Aussie thrives when the wind blows, it's expected that he's 5-for-5 at Waialae with a personal-best solo fifth last year.
  10. Tim Clark - A setback with his elbow forced a mid-tourney WD here last year. Prior to it, he was 4-for-4 at Waialae with a pair of runner-up finishes.
  11. Ryan Palmer - Top 25s in last six starts. The winner of the 2010 edition finally added another top 25 here with a T8 in his ninth appearance last year.
  12. Hideki Matsuyama - Went 0-for-3 at Waialae as an amateur, but he's won six times as a pro. Also coming off a T3 at the Hyundai TOC, one shot outside playoff.
  13. Robert Streb - The FedExCup points leader piled on with a T8 in his debut at Kapalua. Leads the TOUR in the all-around ranking and with four top 10s.
  14. Kevin Na - More all than nothing and infrequently in between. Three top 10s at Sony since 2008; T8 last year. Three runner-up finishes in last 10 months.
  15. Sang-Moon Bae - No top 25s in four visits to Waialae, but a solo sixth at Kapalua was his fourth top six in last five starts worldwide, including two wins.

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This article was written by Rob Bolton (@RobBoltonGolf) and was originally posted on PGATOUR.com.