Ben Coley bagged the 50/1 winner plus place money at 150/1 in last year's Sony Open - see if he can double up with selections ranging from 18/1 to 350/1.
The Sony Open is usually an event in which two key trends can really help whittle down the field, but one is almost totally redundant this year and the other is only slightly less useless. The first of those trends is simple: course experience matters more at Waialae Country Club than almost anywhere. Since the event came to the PGA Tour in 1965, one champion has won here on debut. Why is it redundant? Because Erik van Rooyen is the only debutant in the field with serious designs on the title.
That debut champion was Russell Henley, a runaway winner on what was his PGA Tour debut in 2013, and he's connected to the second trend, too. Typically, those who succeed here (15 of 22, and five of the last six) have played over on the other island in Hawaii in the curtain-raising Tournament of Champions. There is something very self-fulfilling about this prophecy: the best players are the ones who usually apply. And that's never been truer than it is now, because Henley, at 33/1, is the first name in the betting who managed not to qualify for Kapalua.
It would be fair to say I'm not a huge trends man, hence being especially pleased to discover that, it turns out, being world number one isn't a bad thing at the Masters after all. But I don't mind a trend that makes sense, and it's certainly logical that those with competitive golf under their belts should be at some kind of advantage, something the top three at Kapalua in fact underscored given that they'd all played the final PGA Tour event before Christmas.
Also in favour of the best players in this field, a number which no longer includes Patrick Reed, is the change in course. Where Kapalua is long, expansive and undulating, Waialae is short, narrow and flat. It's difficult to find a player at the front of this market, bar perhaps Joaquin Niemann, who might prefer the former to the latter, and it's certainly a boost to the chances of the new tournament favourite. Webb Simpson has found his way to the top of the market and having only just recovered from Covid-19 in time for last week, the gentler terrain here will help as his symptoms evidently persist.
Simpson is one of several with excellent records here, and Harris English is another, but with the former still not at peak fitness and the latter having won for the first time in almost eight years, I prefer to turn to DANIEL BERGER and SUNGJAE IM at the top of the market.
Berger's profile is very similar to that of Cameron Smith, who won his first PGA Tour title in dramatic fashion last year, in that he's built up a very solid bank of course form, never yet missing a cut, without threatening to win. His scoring average of 67.85 is just 0.17 behind the Australian's now and he looks ready to put the pieces together at a course which looks an ideal fit for his game.
At just over 7,000 yards, Waialae is a positional course where driver is arguably the least important club in the bag - for some, it may even been the least used (OK, it's 2021, that'll likely be a five-iron or something). Berger is no slouch off the tee but it's clear through two wins at Southwind and one at Colonial, that it's on this type of course that he's at his most dangerous.
Southwind and Colonial are both short, they're both par-70s, they're both tree-lined, and the former has bermuda greens. Along with Harbour Town, where Berger has been third, and the likes of El Camaleon (23rd), even Sawgrass (ninth), they tie in nicely with the Sony Open. El Camaleon in particular has been a good guide, Patton Kizzire and Matt Kuchar winning both events in quick succession, and Berger played nicely enough there just before Christmas.
Key to winning for a fourth time will be improvement with the putter, which has held him back here and did so last week at Kapalua. In a broader sense though it is a strength of his and I would rather see the kind of strong ball-striking stats he's produced here down the years, dating right back to a debut effort which saw him lead the field in strokes-gained tee-to-green at a course which, as mentioned, favours experience.
Asked on Sunday to discuss the difference in courses, Berger said: "I think obviously next week's a little tighter, see how the course sets up in terms of firmness and fastness of the greens, but I'm driving it well and if I make a few putts then that really can be the difference between winning and not winning.
"I felt like today or this whole week I played well enough to win, I just didn't hole enough putts. So that's a positive for me, I just need to continue to do the things I'm doing and good results will happen."
Earlier in the week, Berger had described his ball-striking as 'the best it's been in a long time' and if he brings that long-game with him here, he looks as likely a champion as anyone. At 18/1 following Reed's withdrawal, that makes him a decent each-way play.
Im though is considered even better value, as his form lately is world-class and can even be marked up. To finish second on debut at Augusta and then fifth on debut at Kapalua, another course where first-time visitors have a poor record, is hugely impressive - as is the fact that this workhorse squeezed in a trip to Dubai where he was a respectable 10th in the DP World Tour Championship.
With no flaws in his game, Im can turn up and win anywhere but the best time to get him is on bermuda, which was key to his victory in last season's Honda Classic. Over the last 50 rounds, he ranks 10th in this field for putting on bermuda greens, versus 50th if you take grass type out of the equation. He's simply much more comfortable on this type of surface and that should remain true now that he's bought a house in Atlanta, Georgia, where bermuda is especially common.
Ironically perhaps, it was the putter that let him down at Kapalua but those big, undulating greens are difficult, especially for a first-time visitor. Here, he can call upon 16th on debut and 21st on his second visit, one poor round costing him each time. Of all those to have played the event more than once, the Korean actually boasts the best adjusted scoring average, and we already know he can cope in the breeze courtesy of wins in the Bahamas and Florida.
Nobody in the field hit the ball as well as Im did last week, and he's set for a massive year. There's no reason it can't take off here in Hawaii, where he excelled both off the tee and on the greens last year and was in the mix for a place until a late disaster at the 16th. Twelve months on and his iron play is in better shape, so expect him to stick around at the top of the leaderboard if picking up where he left off at Kapalua.
Berger and Im rate my two against the rest at the front of the market, but both Kevin Kisner and Abraham Ancer are worthy of a second glance. Kisner has placed three times in five years here and if you focus on courses where his lack of power isn't an issue, he's very reliable when it comes to contending. Ancer, like Kisner, got better as the Tournament of Champions progressed and though yet to do much here, that's largely been a putter issue - and he was making them from everywhere last week.
Ancer in particular is respected as a player ready to break through and win at this level, but at more than twice the price there have been sufficient positives lately to take a chance on MARC LEISHMAN at 66/1.
Granted, a similar bet went south very quickly after a bright start in Mexico just before Christmas, but before it Leishman had played really nicely at Augusta where his long-game was excellent. Last week, he ranked eighth in strokes-gained approach only to finish off as the 40th-ranked putter in a field of 41.
It's fair to say he will have to putt better and that what happened at Kapalua was not a one-off, but if there's anywhere we can really be hopeful of improvement it must be Waialae, where he's made the cut in all 11 starts, has shot par or better in 38 of his 44 rounds, and averages 67.61 - that's third among all those with multiple visits to the course.
Leishman has become something of a horses-for-courses player, reserving his best golf last year for Augusta (previously contended) and Torrey Pines, where he won having been a regular feature in previous renewals of the Farmers. For what it's worth, that was his second start of the year after a pipe-opener here, and perhaps he can repeat the trick having shown definite signs of encouragement at Kapalua.
Victories at Bay Hill (previously third) and in Malaysia (fifth) offer encouragement and it's worth reiterating that of all the top 30 or so players in the world, Leishman might be at the very top of the list when it comes to winning when we're perhaps not expecting it. In total, six of his seven career victories have come after he'd finished outside the top 20, and two after missed cuts.
His record here really is excellent - he's been third, fifth, ninth and 12th, and has only twice finished worse than 30th - and if he can stay in play off the tee, all we need is some improvement on the greens. At the prices, that's a chance worth taking.
Si-Woo Kim's price very much catches the eye given his form here, at Sawgrass, Sedgefield and Harbour Town, but at a few points bigger still I'd rather chance BRANDT SNEDEKER despite the obvious risks.
I've possibly been guilty of hoping for something from Snedeker when all signs point towards fairly rapid decline, and yet having had excuses at the RSM Classic and shown good signs before it, including when making the cut at Augusta, I want to give him one more chance.
Part of that comes down to the fact he turned 40 in December and might just be ready to give this one more good go, and I also want to give him a little leeway for the fact his mother passed away in October. It's possible to view the several good rounds he produced in isolation much more positively in the circumstances and, as with Leishman, if we're going to give him the benefit of the doubt then it should be somewhere like here.
Snedeker surely should've won the Sony Open in 2016, when runner-up to Fabian Gomez, and in the last two years has finished 16th and 12th. That means we've just one blemish to forgive, in 2019, as his other two missed cuts came at the start of his PGA Tour career in 2007 and 2008.
It makes sense that he'd enjoy this course, as a multiple winner by the coast, with a win to his name at Harbour Town and stacks of strong bermuda form, and short, low-scoring courses (bad weather toughened things up considerably in 2020) are plainly to his liking.
It's not ideal that we've not seen him since the RSM Classic, but Snedeker's missed cut there actually underlined the promise he's shown for much of the season. In the first round he hit 13/14 fairways and 14/18 greens, but made zero successful scrambles and needed 36 putts - a complete anomaly for a player whose career has been built on putting. On Friday, he shot a bogey-free 66 and that's added to rounds of 63, 65 and 66 since the US Open.
The RSM Classic was his first missed cut since Winged Foot and things may not be as bad as they seem. Given his title-winning credentials, course form and that slight chance he's revitalised ahead of 2021, I can't resist giving him one more go. And it really will be one more if he does fail to make the weekend, Torrey Pines or not next time out.
As is often the case in events like this one, my shortlist was particularly long and included impressive ball-striker Matthew NeSmith, arrow-straight Kramer Hickok, and the likes of Branden Grace and Russell Knox, who has more really low rounds here than just about anyone, loves bermuda, is back in form, and may be ready to do it for four rounds at last.
Of those island-hoppers who've historically dominated here, don't rule out Michael Thompson and Brendon Todd on this much more suitable course, and the same can be said of Richy Werenski and Hudson Swafford, the latter a course specialist with stacks of course form, an early-season win to his name, and whose friend Harris English was a popular winner on Sunday.
However my roll of the dice is KEITH MITCHELL, who could be equally inspired by Harris, who he says was like a big brother to him during their time together at Baylor, before both going on to the University of Georgia.
Mitchell hasn't kicked on since winning the Honda Classic in 2019, but he's another who started to show flashes towards the end of 2020 and his long-game in particular appears to be turning a corner.
Chances are he's not there yet, but with course form of 25-16-MC, and having been third through 54 holes during the middle one of that trio, he's been more effective at Waialae than we might expect him to be as one of the bigger hitters on the circuit.
He likely puts that down to the grass because, well, it would be fair to say he prefers bermuda.
"I hate poa annua so much I can’t even see straight," Mitchell said when upping his form for the switch from west coast to east a couple of years ago. "It’s definitely the grass. It’s bermuda. I grew up on bermuda. I know how to putt it. I know how to read it. It’s definitely helped a lot.
"Once I got back to bermuda, I knew I was a little bit more comfortable. My ball-striking has been above average on the west coast, but my scores aren’t there. The last great tournament I had was Sony, and I was in the last group on bermuda greens. I’m playing every bermuda event we’ve got this year."
In light of the above, and his golfing education in Tennessee, it's perhaps little surprise that the one big finish he managed in 2020 came at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, when fifth, and that his best performance in what's known as the west coast swing came on the bermuda-infused greens of TPC Scottsdale.
Having averaged 67.25 through his first two Sony Open starts, Mitchell stands out a mile among the massive prices and this event has a handy history of surprise names hitting the frame - and even winning. He is no forlorn hope if he's found a little improvement in the 'off-season', and at 250/1 and bigger is worth the smallest of speculative wagers.
Posted at 2010 GMT on 11/01/21
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