2019 Sony Open Picks & Preview

2019 Sony Open Picks & Preview

This week the PGA Tour downshifts dramatically from the high flying trip up and down the hills at Kapalua to a slow, methodical trek across the flats of Waialae Country Club for the 55th playing of the Sony Open in Honolulu.

Birdies at Waialae will be plentiful like they were at the Plantation Course last week, but the manner in which the players will do so is much different. While Kapalua demanded the golfers to use all their tools in their game and required creativity tee-to-green, for the most part success at Waialae comes down to execution. There’s not a whole lot of tricks the golf course throws at the players tee-to-green, and as long as a golfer picks a target and hits their lines they should have a good tournament.

That’s not to say the golf course is inferior or breeds a boring tournament. The Hawaiian backdrop still makes the tournament a very enjoyable one for the viewer. Here’s a breakdown of everything a bettor should know before placing bets or filling out a DraftKings lineup.

The Field

The star power of the Sony Open certainly doesn’t rival that of the Tournament of Champions, however there are still plenty of big names that the Golf Channel hopes will be in contention on Sunday evening. Headlining the field is Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, who no doubt the telecast will remind you how good of buddies they are. Other notable big names include Bryson DeChambeau Marc Leishman, Paul Casey, Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar and Hideki Matsuyama, who continues to search high and low to regain the dominant form he showed in 2017.

The Sony Open also will showcase most of the prominent rookies on the PGA Tour this season, most notably long-hitting Cameron Champ. He’ll have to prove that he’s not just a one trick pony as Waialae is not a bombers paradise and is difficult to overpower. Other rookies to watch this week is Sungjae Im, Cameron Davis, and Sam Burns.

The biggest absence of all, however, is that of Robert Allenby, who made waves at the 2015 Sony Open when he alleged that he was drugged, kidnapped, robbed and dumped into a Honolulu park with no memory of the incident.

His story seemed very dubious from the jump, particularly with his reputation on tour as a heavy drinker. But instead of quietly withdrawing and licking his wounds at home, Allenby decided it was best to show up at the golf course (jacked up grill and all) and give an exclusive interview to refute the doubters:

Generally, I like giving people the benefit of the doubt. But as a guy who has experience face planting onto 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 onto 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 “sh*t 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.

While his days of playing the Sony Open are likely over, he has no doubt left an indelible mark on this tournament for years to come.

The Golf Course

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 (more on this later). Since it’s opening, the course has undergone a lengthening to just over 7,000 yards and a few re-designs, but it still has retained most of its charm as a time capsule into golf’s past.

Here’s a layout of the golf course:

Front Nine:

Back Nine

Immediately, one can easily spot the differences week-to-week between Kapalua and Waialae Country Club. 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. There is also very little elevation change around the track, as the only elevation challenges the golfers will have to account for are slightly elevated greens on a number of holes.

The course plays similar to that of Colonial Country Club 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. Wind could also be a factor, especially on the second half of the Back Nine that plays closer to the beach.

As mentioned earlier, Seth Raynor borrowed from other classic golf courses when designing Waialae Country Club. One of the more noted design copies is that of the 1st hole, which borrowed from features of the famous 17th at St. Andrews, otherwise known as the Road Hole:

1st Hole – Waialae Country Club:

Road Hole – St. Andrews

Similar concepts for both holes – each are long slightly doglegged Par 4’s (at least for the professionals) with the slope of the greens from front-to-back running almost opposite to the direction the fairway, feeding towards a deep green-side bunker on the lower left-handed quadrant of the green. The 1st at Waialae gives the pros a true test on a very popular hole template for golf architects.

The other infamous hole at Waialae is the Par 3 17th, a hole that not only provides a picturesque view of the Pacific Ocean but also features its trademark Redan green.

If you really want a deep dive on why Par 3’s that feature a Redan green are so popular with golf nerds, may I suggest this post written by Andy Johnson of The Fried Egg. As far as this particular hole, it’s the most exposed hole on the golf course to the wind and given the combination of both a small green and its sloping from right to left, a par is a very good score on this hole. And anything that’s hit over near the right-side bunkers is basically dead.

Betting Strategies

Like last week, the challenge of betting on the Sony Open or picking a DraftKings lineup is the lack of useful or relevant data. Sure, you can go back in the last five or six years, see what stat categories the guys who landed at the top of the leaderboard excelled at and pick from there. However for most of the field this will be their first start since before Thanksgiving, and there’s not enough ShotLink data from the fall series to have any confidence in recent or current season form.

Yet again I’ll be relying on a more feel based approach on the types of golfers who should do well at this particular course, as well as rely on my knowledge of what types of golfers fare well not just here but at similar designed golf courses like Colonial and Harbour Town. These places tend to favor those with a stronger iron game and good scramblers. With a winning score pushing -20, setting up great looks for birdies or saving strokes around the green will be of the upmost importance this week.

Here’s who I have my eye on (with DraftKings values and odds courtesy of mybookie.ag):

The Favorites

  • Justin Thomas – 6.5/1, $11,400
  • Bryson DeChambeau – 10/1, $11,100
  • Gary Woodland – 14/1, $10,800
  • Jordan Spieth – 16/1, $10,300
  • Marc Leishman – 18/1, $10,500

There’s probably only room for one of these guys on your DraftKings lineup this week, and all of them can make compelling arguments on why each should be the foundation of it. Justin Thomas is, in my view, the most complete player in golf and the guy with the highest ceiling at any tournament or any golf course he plays. Bryson DeChambeau has been the best golfer over the last 4 months with two wins during the FedEx Cup playoffs and another win at the Shriners out in Las Vegas. Gary Woodland is no longer known as just a bomber, as under the tutelage of Butch Harmon he’s tremendously improved his iron play. And Marc Leishman is very good in windy conditions and is the epitome of a rock-solid and consistent player.

But the man I have my eye on is Jordan Spieth. Has he struggled with his form over the last year – you bet. Over his last six tournaments he’s only gained about a quarter stroke per round on the field on his approach shots, which would be a good clip if your name wasn’t Jordan Spieth and are used to hitting a clip four times as much. And I’d just be beating a dead horse if I spent three paragraphs on his unofficial putting yips that he had during 2018.

I’m being a Skip Bayless debate panel blowhard with this unsubstantiated take, but if I were him I’d have a chip on his shoulder seeing golf’s best tee it up at Kapalua last week (a course he loves) and would be itching to get back in the winners circle. It’s a chalky play, but of the favorites I love Spieth at 16/1 to get get the monkey off his back and win for the first time since the 2017 Open Championship. You also can grab Spieth at -115 over Cameron Champ head to head on mybookie.ag, which feels like stealing to me. I think Champ might get exposed a little bit at a golf course that demands more touch and finesse than power.

Other Contenders:

  • Kyle Stanley – 40/1, $8,700
  • Ian Poulter- 66/1, $7,800

Kyle Stanley is always a favorite of mine anytime the PGA Tour stops at a golf course that demands excellent ball-striking on approach shots. Stanley is routinely ranked as one of the best golfers in Strokes Gained – Approach stats every year on the PGA Tour, ranking 2nd in that category during 2018. In his last six ShotLink measured tournaments he’s averaged at least a half shot gained on the field on his approach shots, and he has good recent form at Waialae with Top 20 finishes in both 2016 and 2018. Though he’s a little pricey in DraftKings, he’s worth sprinkling a futures bet on at 40/1 or at +330 at a Top 10 this weekend.

I’m sure there are plenty of golf fans who would like to see Ian Poulter show up to Waialae looking like Robert Allenby, but Poulter fits the profile of golfer who should fare well at Waialae Country Club. His only career start at the Sony Open came back in 2005 where he missed the cut. But as a great iron player and scrambler who’s been playing solid golf over the last twelve months I expect him to show well this weekend. He’s also matched up against Brian Harman in head-to-head matchups, who is another golfer who fits the profile as someone who would have success at the Sony Open. And while he has had good history at Waialae, Harman’s game has really fallen off the map, particularly with his irons. Though the price is steep, backing Poulter at -160 over Harman might be a winning bet by Friday evening.

Others to consider: Andrew Putnam (55/1, $7,400), Keegan Bradley (60/1, $7,700), Sungjae Im (66/1, $7,500), Russell Knox (66/1, $8,100),  Chris Kirk (70/1, $7,600)


  • Joel Dahmen – 150/1, $7,200
  • Cameron Davis – 150/1, $6,800

The most notable moment of 2018 for Joel Dahmen wasn’t because of his on-course performance but rather when he got caught up in a rules dispute with Sung Kang at the Quicken Loans National. If you need a refresher on the incident, click here. This week I expect him to make noise with his play instead. Dahmen played well in 2018 at places like Colonial and Sea Island, which set up similar to that of Waialae. And given that the strengths of his game is steady iron play and good scrambling he’s worth a look as a cheap option in DraftKings.

It’s been Cameron Champ who has grabbed all the headlines, but there’s another rookie named Cameron who’s no slouch either. Cameron Davis has enjoyed a fairly solid Fall with a pair of Top 30 finishes at the Safeway Open and at the Shriners in Las Vegas. He’s also off to a good start with his irons in 2019, gaining over 0.8 strokes on the field on his approach shots so far in his rookie year. The Aussies feel right at home on Bermuda greens and windy conditions, and Davis could exceed his price point in DraftKings this weekend. He’s also worth a look at +650 at a Top 20 finish at the Sony Open.

Sony Open DraftKings Lineup #1:

  • Jordan Spieth – $10,300
  • Kyle Stanley – $8,700
  • Russell Knox – $8,100
  • Ian Poulter – $7,800
  • Chris Kirk – $7,600
  • Joel Dahmen – $7,200

Sony Open DraftKings Lineup #2:

  • Justin Thomas – $11,400
  • Emiliano Grillo – $9,200
  • Keegan Bradley – $7,700
  • Andrew Putnam – $7,400
  • Ryan Armour – $7,200
  • Cameron Davis – $6,800
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