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The First Tee at The Sony Open
Congratulations are in order for another American rising star, Justin Thomas. Thomas, who finished the tournament at (-22), was able to hold off Hideki Matsuyama (-19), although it was never really that close. Thomas shot three consecutive rounds of 67, before finishing with a final round 69. The win was the type of victory that Thomas needed to really cement his status as one of the best young players in the game. It was the third victory of Thomas's career, and his second win of the young 2017 season. Matsuyama has been the hottest player on the planet, with two wins, two 2nd places and a 6th in five events in the 2016-17 season. He has been knocking on the door as a top 10 player in the world, and it looks as though he will be bypassing his goals of being a top 10 player, and setting his sights on top 5, and perhaps the title of the #1 player in the world by season's end. In any event, Matsuyama is going to be a player to look out for in Major Championships in 2017.
The Tour does a little island hopping this week, jumping over to the Waialae Country Club for this week's Sony Open. The course was originally created by the famed golf course architect, Seth Raynor in in 1927. It underwent some changes in 1992 by Desmond Muirhead, but the essence of the course was largely kept in-tact. The changes were more along the lines of modernizing the course, lengthening some holes to keep up with technology.
Even with the lengthening, Waialae Country Club will play as a Par 70, and will be stretched out to a little over 7,000 yards. The course is very short by PGA Tour standards, as it is perennially among the shortest courses played on tour. The routing takes advantage of the strategic location that borders the Pacific Ocean, and there are only a handful of holes that do not allow for direct sightlines to the Pacific.
Waialae's layout is typical of what you'd expect from a Seth Raynor created golf course. Raynor's routing is famous for demanding players to work the ball in both directions off the tee, and Waialae certainly follows that philosophy. There is nearly equal dogleg right and lefts, but the nice part of this is that the fairways are wide open and inviting, so a player with only one shot-shape can still feel comfortable hitting their preferred tee shot. The only rub is that they leave themselves with increasingly difficult approach shots, although for PGA Tour players, the length is so short that they will have middle irons as their longest approach shots, which should pose little problems for them. If there is one course defense, it is the wind, and that is even fairly tame. Players will have to contend with several tall coconut trees that border the greens and can make certain approach shots more difficult, but players will get around that by laying up off the tee with long irons or fairway woods, which will give them the correct sightline into the green.
The green complexes at Waialae are fairly flat in comparison to the championship courses they see from week to week. Combine that with lush Bermuda grass greens, and you will see a lot of made putts this week. The most difficult green that players will face this week is the Par 3 13th hole. The green features two large swales that bisects the green into three different tiers. Players will need to depend on proper club selection and will need to judge the wind correctly to get their ball on the correct tier, or they will be looking at a difficult two putt. Other than the 13th, there isn't too much here in terms of the green complexes, as gentle knolls border the greens and help to funnel the ball toward the pin placements, but they are more of a strategic advantage than an impediment to players.
For this week, the metrics I will be looking at are Proximity to Hole, Strokes Gained: Putting, Strokes Gained: Tee to Green and Strokes Gained: Approach.
Jordan Spieth: Spieth is coming off a solid start to his season, finishing 3rd at last week's Tournament of Champions. Waialae Country Club plays right into Spieth's strengths as the world's best putter, and given the lack of length, he will not be sacrificing much if anything off the tee. In fact, given the ample width of the fairways, Spieth's sometimes erratic accuracy off the tee is almost completely negated, which means he will be hitting off short grass. This will give him a ton of birdie putts, and when that is the case, Spieth is more than likely the favorite.
Hideki Matsuyama: Matsuyama is just too hot right now to consider anyone else at this position. In the new season, Matsuyama has four 1st place finishes, two 2nd places and one 6th place. He is absolutely striping the ball off the tee, and his ball-striking/approach shots have been taken to another level. His putting is the one area where he has really improved with respect to previous seasons, and when he is putting well he is a scary player for his fellow competitors to be playing against. His course history isn't great at Waialae, but that takes a backseat to his current form.
Jimmy Walker: Walker started off very hot at last week's TOC, before fizzling out to finish in 9th place. That was merely a warm up for Walker though, as this week is where he has really shined in previous seasons. He is a two time winner at the Sony Open, and in his last win in 2015, he lapped the field by nine strokes. He should be the co-favorite along with Spieth and Matsuyama.
Charles Howell III: For DFS purposes, Howell is a fantastic plug into your lineups this week as his course history at Waialae Country Club is fantastic. In 15 appearances at the Sony Open, Howell has never missed a cut, and has two runner ups and 10 top 15's. He makes for a great secondary or third option in your lineups.
Brandt Snedeker: Another fantastic putter, Snedeker has solid results at Waialae. He lost last year in a playoff, but has proven to be very consistent at the Sony Open otherwise. The course fits his skillset very well, and he should be considered as a GPP anchor, and perhaps a secondary option if you want to stack your lineup with a Studs and Duds approach.