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2018 Sony Open Picks and Preview

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I could spend the next four to five paragraphs recapping the 2018 Sentry Tournament of Champions, but how about I save you all about 1,000 words and sum the tournament up with this:

Drives like this, which has sparked debate on if it’s the greatest golf shot in history (my flaming hot take – it isn’t), helped Dustin Johnson turn his final round at Kapalua into his own home run derby on his way to an eight shot victory over Jon Rahm. His performance was a sobering reminder that DJ’s peak is better than any golfer’s peak, and that his failure to seal the deal at the WGC HSBC Champions in November was just a small speed bump. With the win, DJ firmly solidifies his hold as the #1 golfer in the world and looks primed to have the massive year we thought he’d have in 2017.

This week the PGA Tour downshifts from hilly, long Kapalua to short, flat Waialae Country Club for the 2018 Sony Open. This description is not a suggestion of a downgrade at all. Whereas Kapalua is designed more as a modern golf course built to withstand the increase in distance due to advances in technology, Waialae is a classic where strategically placed bunkers and dog legs help prevent it from becoming obsolete or overpowered by the big bombers.

The course was designed by Seth Raynor and opened shortly after his death in 1926. The course was originally 6,600 yards from the championship tees and was heavily influenced by other notable golf courses around the world, specifically the design of 10th hole which is modeled after the famed Road Hole at St. Andrews. Since it’s opening, the course has undergone a lengthening to just over 7,000, but it has kept most of its original design and character through the years.

The first professional tournament was held at Wailale in 1965 and has served as the first full-field event of the calendar year since 1971. The course plays similar to that of The Colonial in Texas or Harbour Town in Hilton Head. It’s a second shot golf course where the angle into the green on approach is much more important than how far one can hit it off the tee. The greens at Waialae are some of the purest on tour, and that’ll maximize the differences between the elite putters on tour and those that struggle on the final leaderboard.

Like Kapalua, the course sits on the ocean and if the wind is strong enough it could pose trouble for the golfers. Even so, the event is a birdie factory where the winning score often is at least -20 or better thanks to receptive greens that role true and manageable yardages that don’t immediately price out the shorter hitters. Whether you’re a bomber like Gary Woodland or a short game technician like Brandt Snedeker, there’s a path to low scores for everyone at one of the most wide open fields on Tour.

I could continue to describe the course, but some of you might know it a lot more than you think! The golf course was featured in the 1998 N64 game entitled (appropriately enough) Waialae Country Club: True Golf Classics. It probably didn’t make your parent’s basement the prime spot for sleepovers like GoldenEye did, but the game does a pretty good job depicting the course. Let’s take you on a virtual course tour, complete with some heckling from a bad Jim Nantz impersonator and 64 Bit ProTracer!

The Sony Open is one of the more laid back and nondescript events on tour. The field normally is one of the weaker ones on tour and with the NFL Playoffs in full swing it often gets lost in the shuffle. But lest we forget when Robert Allenby gave the 2015 Sony Open a much needed jolt when it was reported before the tournament that he was drugged, kidnapped, robbed, and dumped into a near by park without memory of the incident.

The PGA Tour often bends over backwards to protect its players against any sort of media scrutiny to off the course scandals, so Allenby simply could have done what most pros do and bury the story with a B.S. withdrawal and quietly file a police report. Instead, he choose to make a spectacle of it, first posting a picture of the injuries he sustained on the internet and then holding a bizarre press conference at the golf course to field questions about his harrowing tale from very dubious reporters.

Generally, I like giving people the benefit of the doubt. But as a guy who has face planted on concrete during a heavy night of drinking, I qualify as an expert witness to testify that Robert Allenby looked like a dude who got black out drunk and face planted on concrete. Sure enough, after being fired by Allenby following an on-course dispute, his ex-Caddie spilled the beans and told the world the worst kept secret on Earth – Allenby injured his face after falling over “shit faced drunk” – and instead of telling the truth he decided it was a better idea to tell the media (and the cops) about how he was the star of Taken 4 – Tsunami Blackout.

But enough with the backdrop, let’s get to some golfers you might want to bet on or throw into your DraftKings Lineup at the Sony Open (players with win and DraftKings values in parenthesis):

The Favorites:

  • Jordan Spieth (4.5/1, $12,000)
  • Justin Thomas (6.5/1, $11,600)
  • Marc Leishman (14/1, $11,100)
  • Brian Harman (20/1, $10,600)
  • Kevin Kisner (22/1, $10,100)

Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas come in as the heavy favorites and with good reason. Both are on top of their game and each lit Waialae on fire last year. Justin Thomas shot 59 in the opening round on his way to take home the tournament, and Jordan Spieth shot a final round 63 to finish 3rd. I expect their ownership percentages to be pretty heavy in DraftKings this weekend.

Between the two, I feel like Justin Thomas is the more contrarian play. He played pretty terribly at Kapalua so if you want to try and beat the public, build around him and hope he can figure things out and overpower the course once again. But for me, Spieth is still the better bet between the two for your DraftKings Lineup. Spieth putted uncharacteristically poor last week at Kapalua, losing -0.94 strokes/round on the green while gaining 2.16 strokes/round tee to green. If he can keep up his strong ball striking then his putting should regress towards his norm and put him right back in contention this weekend.

In full field tournaments, though, it’s a tough ask to spend that much on a player in DraftKings or put down a big win bet on anything less than 10/1. I’d rather try and lay down a win bet on one of Leishman, Harman or Kisner and use their savings on DraftKings to improve my third or fourth golfer in the lineup. Of these three, I would expect Kevin Kisner to have the lowest ownership percentage due to his sub-par performance at Kapalua last weekend and that his ball striking stats aren’t quite as strong as they were last year. But Kisner excels at courses with this similar setup, further evidenced with his consecutive Top 10’s at the Sony Open and his success at places like Colonial and Sea Island. I love his 22/1 value to take home the title and to build around in your DraftKings lineup this weekend.

Other Contenders

Zach Johnson (25/1, $9,500), Tony Finau (28/1, $8,900), and Webb Simpson (35/1, $9,300)

There’s actually a slough of golfers I love between 25/1-50/1 and $8,000-$9,500 on DraftKings. But I can’t pick them all, so these are my three favorites in that price range this weekend. Zach Johnson hasn’t played like a guy who should be at 25/1 to win the tournament, but Waialae is a course perfectly suited for him as most of his second shots will be between 125-150 yards. If his wedges are dialed in, then Zach Johnson should go very low this weekend.

As for Tony Finau, the Par 5’s are easily reachable in two and he absolutely blitzed Par 5’s in 2017, ranking 5th in Par 5 Birdie or Better % on tour. That trend has continued into 2018 and though there’s only two Par 5’s at Waialae, he should have some great looks at eagle for big bonus points in your DraftKings Lineup.

My favorite play of these three, though, is Webb Simpson, who doesn’t seem to be getting a whole lot of love. He isn’t normally known for his ball striking (after a few drinks I’ll often call him Webb Shankson) but over the last year he’s ranked in the Top 30 in Strokes Gained on Approach and improved his ball striking to his best levels since his apex in 2012. He’s also started to roll the ball better on the greens after the painful adjustment of moving away from his trusty belly putter. Weird factoid about Webb Simpson at the Sony Open – he’s finished unlucky T13 in three consecutive tournaments there. I think he’ll do better than that and be up near the top of the leaderboard on Sunday Afternoon.

Ryan Armour (100/1, $6,900), Stewart Cink (200/1, $6,800), Vaughn Taylor (200/1, $6,800)

Everybody needs one or two cheap guys at the end of their DraftKings Lineup that could pay big dividends. Ryan Armour won at the Sanderson Farms in November and ranks 12th in Strokes Gained Approach so far in 2018. While that’s an incredibly small sample size it’s based off of, he ranked 79th in that category last year so it’s not necessarily a fluke. Vaughn Taylor and Stewart Cink similarly have played strong golf from the fairway over the last six months and should fare well at a smaller ballpark like Waialae.

While I don’t think they’ll win, you could consider placing a Top 10 or Top 20 bet on each. Armour’s Top 10 odds this weekend is 7/1, while Cink and Taylor each are 6.5/1 to finish in the Top 20. Why not have a little fun and sprinkle some capital on these this weekend in case your NFL parlays go to straight to hell. Or throw a Hail Mary and put some chump change on their Win Bets to go for glory.

Sample DraftKings Lineup #1:

  • Brian Harman: $10,600
  • Kevin Kisner: $10,100
  • Ollie Schniederjans: $8,300
  • Jason Dufner: $7,300
  • Ryan Armour: $6,900
  • Stewart Cink: $6,800

Sample DraftKings Lineup #2:

  • Zach Johnson: $9,500
  • Webb Simpson: $9,300
  • Tony Finau: $8,900
  • Daniel Berger: $8,700
  • Stewart Cink: $6,800
  • Vaughn Taylor: $6,800

Sample DraftKings Lineup #3:

  • Jordan Spieth: $12,000
  • Charles Howell III: $8,800
  • Bill Haas: $8,200
  • Aaron Wise: $7,000
  • Andrew Landry: $7,000
  • Stephen Jaeger: $6,900

**Bonus Bets**

Let me tell you all about one of the best golf locks of the year – The 2018 EurAsia Cup.

The EurAsia Cup is a team event between Europe and Asia, similar to that of the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup. It was first played in 2014 where Europe and Asia tied to share the cup. In 2016, Europe kicked the ever living crap out of Asia 18.5-5.5 to become the first undisputed winner of the event.

In the first two events, the Europeans haven’t sent over their top talent to compete. It’s just not nearly as important as the Ryder Cup is and with several significant European Tour events on the horizon, the Europeans would much rather rest up for those than play in a B-Level event against C-Level competition in Kuala Lumpur.

However, it seems as though the Europeans are using the 2018 EurAsia Cup as a warm up to the Ryder Cup as they look to even the score against the Americans in September. The Europeans are LOADED as top stars such as Henrik Stenson, Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey, Thomas Pieters, Tyrell Hatton, Rafa Cabrera Bello and Alex Noren are all on the team. Supporting them are young and ultra-talented Ryder Cup hopefuls in Matthew Fitzpatrick,  Paul Dunne and Alexander Levy, along with proven veterans in Bernd Wiesberger and Ross Fisher. Add to it that Asia’s top two players, Hideki Matsuyama and Si Woo Kim, aren’t even competing and that Europe’s weakest player is better than Asia’s top player, it’s a complete mismatch. I would not be surprised if by the time the final day singles is set to air Saturday Night on Golf Channel that the Europeans have already wrapped up the outright win.

Currently, the Europeans are about -350 to take home the EurAsia Cup outright. If your online sportsbook lets you parlay across sports, then parlay them with whatever you want to bet on this week. Maybe throw them in with Steelers/Patriots ML to bring it to -125 odds. Or throw them into a big college basketball bet to maximize your payout. Whatever you decide to do, Team Europe winning the EurAsia Cup is a mortal lock as part of any parlay you do this weekend. Make sure they’re a part of your weekend betting plans.

Golf analyst for SportsGamblingPodcast.com, providing insight on news and betting tips for the PGA Tour, as well as commentary and banter on the World of Sports. Follow him on Twitter @SteveSchirmer

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