Sony Open betting preview and tips from Ben Coley including Sungjae Im

Sungjae Im gets the vote in the Sony Open
Sungjae Im gets the vote in the Sony Open

Sungjae Im can make a winning return to action in the Sony Open - that's according to Ben Coley, who has selections ranging from 25/1 to 300/1.

Recommended bets

2pts e.w. Sungjae Im at 25/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Cameron Smith at 50/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Nate Lashley at 150/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Graeme McDowell at 150/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Matt Every at 300/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

0.5pt e.w. Doc Redman at 200/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

The Sony Open is the first full-field event on the PGA Tour in 2020, and it might be second only to The Masters when it comes to a straightforward formula for all to follow should they wish.

Historically, those who began their campaigns in last week's Tournament of Champions, played on Hawaii's other island, have been at an advantage. They've won the last six renewals, with Fabian Gomez and Patton Kizzire best demonstrating that shaking off the rust in Maui can be hugely beneficial, as well it ought to be.

Still, there is some mitigating evidence. For starters, the overall record is 15 from 21 which, while strong, isn't overwhelming, particularly when you consider that those playing both events are of a high standard. To qualify for the Tournament of Champions requires a win during the previous year, so while there's a numerical bias in favour of those making their reappearances here, there's a class bias towards those who we saw at Kapalua.

It's also worth acknowledging that the record would be 12 from 21 had three of the four play-offs here since 2000 gone to the other man. Last year as in many previous, the winner was doubling up, but most of the top 10 were making their seasonal reappearances.

This week, five of the top eight in the betting played in the Tournament of Champions. Should one of them win it, such as 11/2 favourite Justin Thomas, the main contributing factor will be how good they are at golf. That sounds churlish, but the point is trends and statistics rely on context.

Still, the starting point was to look through last week's event in the hope of finding this Gomez, Kizzire or even Andrew Putnam, who was runner-up here in 2019. But before coming to some candidates, I'll start with the headline selection and best bet - SUNGJAE IM.

Im did not play at Kapalua, because he is not yet a PGA Tour winner - though he's surely clear at the top of the list of expected new champions in 2020.

Yet he did play in mid-December at the Presidents Cup, very much the standout performer on either side as he went to the well and back in all five sessions as a rookie, ending with a singles win which made him joint top scorer. It was a sensational debut, but not an unexpected one - he'd just been crowned Rookie of the Year for 2019, and started the 2020 season having upped his game to another level.

Sungjae Im
Sungjae Im

Im is fast closing in on the world's top 10, having been unfortunate not to win the Sanderson Farms Championship, finished third behind Tiger Woods in the ZOZO, and then taken 11th, contending to a point, in Rory McIlroy's WGC-HSBC Champions.

Back to the Presidents Cup, and it's that which allays any fears over rust here. Last week, nine Presidents Cup players took part in the Tournament of Champions, and eight finished T7 or better. Last year, the biennial team event took place in mid-December rather than October, which means those who took part in it have very recent experience of intense, high-pressure golf, this time in the sort of windy, tough conditions expected once more in Hawaii.

It's no wonder these players dominated at Kapalua, albeit once more we must acknowledge that they were also the best in the field. Still, to fill every single place suggests that there will be no need for those returning for the first time since to shed rust, even those like Im, Cameron Smith and Abraham Ancer, who have had an extra week's rest.

Im also showed in Australia that a break can do him good - he'd been off for a month since the HSBC - while in 2018, on the Korn Ferry Tour, he won the first event of the year. It came in the Bahamas, in tricky conditions, and this youngster born on the wind-exposed Jeju Island is more comfortable than most by the coast, as he demonstrated with an excellent debut here a year ago.

In terms of skill-set specifics, Im is quite simply an all-rounder, but given that he's not as long as a Thomas off the tee, he's better suited to a shorter par 70 like this one than he would have been the Plantation Course. Here, his wonderful iron play and silky putting stroke can prove decisive weapons and earn him a breakthrough victory which we all know is coming.

CAMERON SMITH and Ancer are also interesting at twice the price, particularly the former who also goes in the staking plan.

He'll have taken great encouragement from a singles victory over Thomas at Royal Melbourne, showing the tenacity which ought to make him a bonafide PGA Tour winner soon, and will be all the more keen to shoot the lights out here having pledged to donate $500 for every birdie and $1,000 per eagle to help combat the damage caused by bushfires back home in Australia.

Waialae is a good course for the Aussies - several have gone close since Brett Ogle won here in 1994 - and Smith, who was an outspoken critic of Patrick Reed after that incident in the Hero, has a scoring average of 67.33 over the last three years of the Sony.

It's particularly encouraging to see that he's struck the ball so well at Waialae, gaining strokes with his ball-striking across all three of these appearances and ranking eighth for greens hit last year. At 54th in the world he has all the added incentive he needs and I expect a few players from Ernie Els' International side to really kick on having done so well despite defeat Down Under.

Others of interest towards the head of the betting are Collin Morikawa and Joaquin Niemann, but both will have to come an often overlooked yet hugely significant trend in the Sony Open: there has been one first-time winner here since the opening 1965 edition. In finishing seventh and fourth respectively last week, both overcame an inexperience disadvantage, but it's even more pronounced here and at the prices they can be left alone.

Marc Leishman and Kevin Kisner are much more interesting, but there are a couple at bigger prices who played last week, showed signs of encouragement, and will be far better off around this flat, short course than they were on the exhausting undulations of Kapalua.

First, NATE LASHLEY, who bagged some experience here as a rookie two years ago, playing well in the main to finish 39th at a time when it was rare to see him much higher up a leaderboard.

This time he returns a PGA Tour winner who finished 19th despite a poor final round last week, where he ranked ninth in strokes-gained approach despite the elite company. That statistic, along with putting, tends to be key here at Waialae and he tends to be reliable with the flat stick, ranking 40th of 188 players for the 2019 season.

I wouldn't be absolutely sure that the forecast winds are a positive, but having ranked 24th in strokes-gained approach in 2019 and 14th in par-four performance, this course looks so much better for him than Kapalua, where he did perfectly well on debut to keep tabs with world-class players for three days.

Lashley won a shootout for the Rocket Mortgage Classic last June but it's actually his more recent form which I find most encouraging, as he seems to have adjusted to his elevated status with 20th in a WGC and the CJ Cup, plus fourth at the Greenbrier - played at a course designed by the same team behind this one.

He is inconsistent, which explains the price, but he's also more than capable of getting in the mix here and looks a value option.

So too does GRAEME MCDOWELL, dismissed at similar odds on account of ageism and nothing more, because he looks a genuine title contender to me.

McDowell's PGA Tour wins have all been by the coast, from Pebble Beach, to Harbour Town, down at Mayakoba and over in the Dominican Republic. His accuracy, tenacity, scrambling skills and golfing education all make him one of the finest wind players around when at his best.

Last year he showed that he's got plenty more to give, not only by winning in the Dominican Republic but also by qualifying for The Open in fabulous style in Canada, and now 40 he's been making all the right noises when it comes to making the most of what he has left.

Four top-25 finishes and one withdrawal in his last five starts is really solid form, and while 23rd last week it's potentially of great significance that he ranked third in strokes-gained approach. That's simply world-class iron play, but he cannot compete at Kapalua giving up 30 or 40 yards from the tee, and he cannot compete having such a torrid time on the greens, either.

The former is immediately taken care of by the move to a course which cannot be overpowered, and the latter comes and goes. McDowell said he had real trouble adjusting to the speed of the greens, but he actually putted really well on Sunday so the hope is he's now made the adjustment.

Otherwise, I see very few negatives. The fact he missed the cut here in 2016 isn't ideal but he missed six cuts in eight events at the start of that year, so there were obviously some underlying issues. Make no mistake, this is a very good venue for an on-song McDowell and the evidence of the last few months is that he can contend under the right circumstances.

J.T. Poston is the pick of the lights-out putters if you want one more from around the 50/1 range while Lanto Griffin is another island hopper with an each-way chance, but I've got two at even bigger odds who are perfect for Waialae.

First up is DOC REDMAN, the former US Amateur champion who has been a big eye-catcher since turning professional.

Although not quite lighting things up in the manner of a Morikawa or Matt Wolff, Redman quietly did enough on invites last year to earn full playing rights on the PGA Tour, going close in the Rocket Mortgage (2nd), along with 18th in the Wells Fargo and 20th in the Open Championship.

Since getting his card, he's been 24th in the Greenbrier, 13th in Houston and 23rd in the RSM Classic, and were it not for the influx of ready-to-win youngsters around the world we'd be talking more about a really solid start to life as a professional.

Redman isn't as explosive as some of the youngsters mentioned, but his old-fashioned game is just right for this tournament and despite what I've said about experience of the course being vital, it's not something I'd worry too much about as we chase a place at 200/1.

He does at least have a decent amateur title to his name in Hawaii, but the key here is that his profile suggests Waialae may prove to be a happy hunting ground in years to come. At 12th in driving accuracy and 25th in strokes-gained approach, Redman has a similar make-up to Chez Reavie and I think he could well establish an equally good record here, perhaps even starting this week.

Finally, while it's tempting to give Jim Herman another go after he briefly threatened the leaders at 500/1 last week, I much prefer to take a chance on MATT EVERY at around the 300/1 mark.

Every was last seen securing back-to-back top-30 finishes in Vegas and Houston, showing signs of promise in each - especially the former, where his iron play was right out of the top drawer.

For a while now, this two-time winner of the Arnold Palmer Invitational has hinted that he's ready to climb the world rankings again, but the PGA Tour stepped in after Houston to ban him for three months for medicinal marijuana use.

Every was admirably unrepentant - he takes the drug legally in Florida having been prescribed it to help combat mental health issues - and is entitled to feel he was dealt with rather harshly versus other, higher profile players who do things, on or off the course, which should be considered far worse.

It's not the first time this has happened to him. Back in 2010, Every incurred a three-month ban from the PGA Tour which ultimately forced him to drop down to what was the Web.com Tour. It was this tournament in 2012 which effectively marked his comeback to the top level and he certainly made a point by finishing sixth.

He'll no doubt be eager to do something similar this time and the nature of the course makes that a real possibility. That sixth-placed finish in 2012 saw him lead at halfway and through 54 holes despite it being his debut in the Sony Open, and two years later he finished eighth to underline how comfortable he is here.

His subsequent three visits don't amount to much, but remember Every spent much of these years in the wilderness yet on his latest in 2018 he still started brightly to sit seventh after round one. Again, this is fundamentally an ideal course for his talents, and at eighth in strokes-gained approach so far this season, the hope is he returns in the form he showed before his latest ban.

If that's the case, expect him to hugely outplay his odds.

Posted at 1015 GMT on 07/01/20.

Laurie Canter features among five SA Open selections
Laurie Canter features among five SA Open selections

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