Welcome back to golf indeed.
Though we never got a hit on him during his reascension despite a continued presence among our picks, we couldn’t be happier that Harris English won his first PGA tournament since 2013. Other players who gained in our rankings last weekend were Joaquin Niemann, Ryan Palmer and Brian Gay.
Week 2 of the PGA’s 2021 keeps us in Hawaii for the Sony Open, hosted by Waialae Country Club in Honolulu. The course is a short par 70, playing just over 7,000 yards. With only two par 5s, four par 3s under 205 yards and eight short par 4s, distance is a skill that won’t be useful this week.
Last year’s tournament was haunted by trade winds and intense squalls, turning the course into a puddle-filled mess. The weather for this week starts to get a little messy on Friday, and the course could swing more towards last year’s conditions. While last year’s winner finished at 11-under par, we project a winner right around 20-under par, which is more in line with how the course has played in the past, but we don’t expect scores to go much lower.
It’s a plodding 18 without too many opportunities to score, and a lot of pars. Last year, 14 of the 18 holes had par rates of 65% or more, and two that did not are the short par 5s. The course rewards players who avoid big numbers and have a good understanding of risk vs. reward.
The course plays fairly open, but there are sneaky trees and mounds in the rough that can require some creativity to save par. Last year’s winner, Cameron Smith, dazzled with his creativity at the Masters, and this course bears some resemblance to the shorter holes at Augusta National.
The field is strong by Sony Open standards. While the withdrawals of Viktor Hovland and Patrick Reed put a damper on the top, there is still a host of big names teeing it up this week. Nine of the top 25 in the Official World Golf Rankings are playing this week, and we’ll discuss a few of them below.
PICK TO WIN
If you told me before last year that Scott would have higher odds to win a tournament in 2021 than Ryan Palmer, I would have called you crazy. Alas, here we are. Scott debuted a new putter last week after ditching the broomstick, and it showed in his putting stats. He was third in SG: Approach last week, but eighth to last in SG: Putting. Most of that came in the first two rounds where he lost a combined 3.7 strokes on the greens. He appeared to have figured it out over the weekend though, putting at almost field-average on Saturday and Sunday.
Fortunately for Scott, his favorite type of holes are featured this week — short par 3s and short par 4s. If he can avoid scrambling and putt at the field-average rate he showed on Saturday and Sunday, he has the ability to put up some low scores. Stats Perform’s model projects him to be fourth in the field in short par 3 scoring (+0.58 strokes per round) while leading the field in short par 4 scoring (+1.33 SPR) en route to eking out a victory over Webb Simpson.
OTHERS WHO COULD CONTEND
Henley needs some quality tournaments to sneak into the Masters field this year. Currently sitting at No. 58, Henley could vault into the top 40 with a win. Like Scott, he’s an irons wizard who does his best work when the course is short.
He’s projected to score in the top 10 in both short par 3s and short par 4s, but 42nd on the par 5s. With only two par 5s, he should squeeze enough juice out of the shorter 3s and 4s to remain in contention. The model gives him a 3.7% chance to win the tournament, eighth highest in the field.
Few golfers play the plodding courses as well as Kuch. He’s 97th in the field this week in variance, meaning he’s more likely to play a hole at the hole average. When we talked about players who are good at assessing risk and taking what’s presented to them, it’s Kuch who we had in mind.
He’s had success at Waialae in the past, winning in 2019 before missing the cut last year. His form has been unspectacular of late, failing to crack the top 30 in any of his last five tournaments, but we love the course fit for him. He’s projected to score fourth best on the short par 4s (+1.23 strokes per round).
Cam Smith won last year while losing strokes on approach and putting the lights out. There are a few players in this field who can turn it up with the putter, and Johnson is one of them. We know he’ll hit just about every fairway, which puts to rest any serious concern about carding big numbers.
His scoring proficiency on short par 3s could provide him with a few more birdie opportunities, where he’s projected to score sixth best in the field. He’s had three top 15 finishes in his last five trips to Waialae and his form is strong with three top 10 finishes and no missed cuts in eight tournaments since mid August.
LONGSHOTS WHO COULD SURPRISE
Unlike our other tips of the week, Poston doesn’t play his best on short par 4s. He’s projected to score 38th in the field on short par 4s, but where he really has a chance to score is on the short par 3s. His field adjusted short par 3 projection is gaining 0.22 strokes per hole. With the short par 3s expected to have as much total variance in score as the two par 5s, his excellent skills with the short irons offer him a way to make up any ground he loses on the par 4s. He’s projected to have a better chance than most, at about 69-1 to win.
Another horse for the course, Sneds has finished in the top 20 thrice in his last four trips to Waialae, including a runner-up finish in 2016. He’s another golfer who can get hot with the putter. The model only has him with a 1.1% chance to win this week, but we think his cut percentage is above 66%, which is a good number to look at when looking at longshots.
Hubbard is our super longshot of the week. Hubbard plays worst on long par 3s and 4s, of which there are only five this week. He has just a 0.7% chance of winning, but he’s another golfer with a projected cut percentage of over 60%.
FAVORITE DRAFTKINGS GPP PLAYS
$9,000 and over
This range features some hot golfers and some consistently top golfers, and we’re fading the former this week. Don’t get us wrong, we love Niemann and Palmer, but not at their prices.
Webb Simpson ($11,100)
Collin Morikawa ($10,600)
Daniel Berger ($10,000)
Sungjae Im ($9,800)
These next two ranges are where we find the majority of our picks this week. We particularly love Henley, ZJ and Garcia at their prices.
Kevin Kisner ($8,800)
Russell Henley ($8,700)
Zach Johnson ($8,500)
Matt Kuchar ($8,400)
Sergio Garcia ($8,300)
Lanto Griffin ($8,100)
Charles Howell III ($8,000)
Here’s where we start looking mostly at players who we think have the best chances of making the cut. Finding a winner here is tough, so getting consistent golfers who could get into the top 10 is the goal. Our favorites from this range are Poston and Na.
Sebastian Muñoz ($7,800)
Brian Harman ($7,800)
Jason Kokrak ($7,700)
Kevin Na ($7,500)
Chez Reavie ($7,400)
Tom Hoge ($7,300)
J.T. Poston ($7,300)
Brandt Snedeker ($7,200)
Branden Grace ($7,100)
Charley Hoffman ($7,000)
$7,000 and under
Hubbard ($6,600) is the only one we’re comfortable with, but if you want a few more, the two who almost made our projected cut are Adam Schenk ($6,600) and Wesley Bryan ($6,300).
Enjoy this? Subscribe to The Analyst to receive five stories each Friday from Stats Perform. It’s free.