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Let the island hopping begin as the PGA Tour heads to Honolulu, Hawaii for the first full-field event of 2022. After the all-star game that was the Sentry Tournament of Champions, the Sony Open welcomes 21 of 38 participants from last week as well as a slew of PGA Tour rookies and elder statesmen looking to begin their new year on the right foot.
Cameron Smith (+1000) headlines not only the odds board at PointsBet Sportsbook, but also those coming from Maui. Bryson DeChambeau was originally a surprise commitment, but ultimately decided to take his new, normal hat out of the ring Monday morning as did Garrick Higgo and Lucas Herbert.
To be honest, I am bummed DeChambeau will not be playing – I really wanted to see the lines he would take off-the-tee – as various player-types have found success on this Seth Raynor design. The last three years have seen Kevin Na (+2800), Smith, and Matt Kuchar (+7000) claim victory, however long-hitters Patton Kizzire (+9000) and Justin Thomas preceded this crop of winners.
Playing just about 7,000 yards and to a par-70, precision and putting is typically the name of the game at Waialae Country Club. Recently, putting has held more of the weight as every winner since 2015 has finished inside the top-10 on the greens with the exception of Na who finished 23rd in Strokes Gained: Putting. Always difficult to predict, this may lead some down the path of Webb Simpson (+1200).
The 36-year-old played well at the RSM Classic in his last start on the PGA Tour and has stellar history at Waialae CC connecting on seven consecutive top-20 finishes and three straight top-5 finishes since 2018. It could be a great spot for Simpson to kickstart his year as motivation is at an all-time high with the Presidents Cup looming at his home club, Quail Hollow, in September.
Despite this, his price is too short to get involved given the amount of exposure I prefer for this event. The same goes for Marc Leishman (+1700), Sungjae Im (+1800), and Hideki Matsuyama (+2000) all of whom had their moments at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
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Instead, I am looking at a few players who disappointed at Kapalua, beginning with Billy Horschel (+4000) who is listed at +4600 on FanDuel. It may be tough for some to stomach this selection given the former Florida Gator finished dead last in SG: Approach at the Tournament of Champions, but Kapalua was always going to be a tall mountain to climb.
Despite this, there were signs of his game being close to a contention run having finished first in Driving Accuracy and SG: Around-the-Green and seventh in SG: Putting. Needing to only get his ball-striking in tune, a quick glance at his recent trends may suggest exactly that.
As Horschel has made a habit of bouncing back after a poor week of striking the golf ball. Late last summer after a disappointing BMW Championship at Caves Valley – a long, wet golf course in Baltimore – he went to East Lake at the bottom of the totem pole and climbed into the top-10 by week’s end. Courtesy of some strong play off-the-tee and on approach, he would go onto the win the BMW PGA Championship just seven days later.
The same rings true of his runner-up effort at the WGC-Workday Championship at The Concession and his victory at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play – even if it was not apparent in the championship match against Scottie Scheffler. Never one to overpower a golf course, this week should better suit Horschel’s game as he found some success in last year’s Sony Open, having collecting a top-10 result.
The other player who has plenty to ponder over the next couple of days is Jason Kokrak (+4000). Sitting at the same price as Horschel on FanDuel, I cannot help but think of the winning pedigree the 36-year-old has garnered over the past year or so.
Capturing three victories since the fall of 2020, Kokrak has cemented his spot as a player to trust when in the mix on Sunday. Taking down the likes of Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, and Scheffler en route to those trophies, he has proven himself time and time again.
Finishing DFL in his second appearance at the Tournament of Champions, everything that could go wrong did go wrong for Kokrak. Ranking outside the top-20 in nearly every single statistical category, he eventually posted –6.88 SG: Tee-to-Green to go along with –5.26 SG: Putting at the Plantation Course.
Simply put, it cannot get any worse for a player of his caliber. Teeing it up for the seventh time at Waialae CC, Kokrak should take solace in his 1.000 batting average when it comes to connecting on weekend appearances. 6-for-6 in his career, he has only been able to muster together two top-20 results thus far. A winner at Colonial Country Club this past summer, I believe Kokrak has a real opportunity to join the long list of players to have great success at both courses.
There were a number of intriguing options when venturing a bit further down the odds board including Maverick McNealy (+5000) and Cam Davis (+6000), but I eventually settled on Joel Dahmen (+6000). This is about as low as I would go when it comes to Dahmen’s price as +7500 is still available on the Corales Punta Cana winner.
The Sony Open could be an ideal spot for victory No. 2 for many of the same reasons we liked Dahmen as a potential first-round leader at the Tournament of Champions. One of the best wedge players in this field, Dahmen was in fine position at the 36-hole mark last week before getting lapped over the weekend.
Perhaps taking to the laidback nature of the week in general, I reckon the 34-year-old will have a heightened focus in Honolulu. Extremely accurate off-the-tee and striking his irons about as well as he has in his career, his play on and around-the-greens will tell the tale of his week.
While it disappointed at the Plantation Course, that area of his game has looked sharp over the last six months, specifically this past fall. Finding some touch on the Bermuda grass greens of Country Club of Jackson, Memorial Park, and Sea Island, more of the same could be in store at Waialae CC.
Improving each time he has returned, Dahmen has collected finishes of T-73, T-22, and T-12. In 2020, he battled back from an opening round of 4-over 74 to nearly finish inside the top-10 and if not for a slow start would have been in the Sunday conversation.
From Dahmen, there are opportunities to go with horses for the course such as Chris Kirk (+6000) and Brendan Steele (+6600), but Charles Howell III (+6000) is a player I have been keeping my eye on for quite some time.
+7500 at FanDuel felt a touch too high given the fondness the 42-year-old has of this venue. First playing in the Sony Open TWO decades ago, this week will be his 21st appearance in the event. I often say a player has “done everything, but win,” but with Howell III it is true at Waialae CC.
With a scoring average of 67.50, the Augusta, Georgia native has never missed the weekend in his Sony Open career having finished outside the top-30 on only four occasions. The remaining 16 results are distributed as six top-5's, three top-10's, five top-20's, and two top-30's.
Playing some fine golf this past fall, Howell III should be in line for yet another strong showing. Finishing in a tie for 16th in his last start at the RSM Classic, the former Oklahoma State Cowboy actually lost strokes on approach and if able to straighten out his irons this week, the rest of his game should fall into place.
While Howell III is the all-time money leader and possesses the most history at the Sony Open alongside Rory Sabbatini (+12500) and Jerry Kelly (+35000), Alex Smalley (+12500) is at the other end of the spectrum. As high as +16000, Smalley appears ready for his first title run on the big stage as the rookie’s game has been rock steady since August.
After a nice result at the Wyndham Championship, the Duke standout went to the Korn Ferry Tour Finals where he secured his playing privileges for this season. Taking full advantage of the fall swing, Smalley made four consecutive cuts at one point, collecting top-20 finishes at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship and the HPE Houston Open.
Proven to be comfortable on Bermuda grass, I am willing to chance the putter cooperates this week as it appears to be the only club holding him back. A strong tee-to-green player, Smalley has the profile to be a surprise contender at this year’s Sony Open.
Billy Horschel +4600 (0.72 units)
Jason Kokrak +4600 (0.72 units)
Joel Dahmen +7500 (0.44 units)
Charles Howell III +7500 (0.44 units)
Alex Smalley +16000 (0.21 units)
Outrights YTD: +31.06 units, 902.07%
Total YTD: +32.16 units, 418.41%
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