Fabian Gomez was last year’s big winner at the Sony Open. Who will close out the PGA Tour’s Hawaiian swing with a victory this time around?
With the Tournament of Champions in the rearview mirror, the PGA Tour now moves on to the second half of its annual swing through the Aloha State: the Sony Open in Hawaii. Held yearly at Wailele Country Club, the list of past champions includes such notable names as Lee Trevino, Ben Crenshaw, Ernie Els and Zach Johnson.
Hawaii is always a popular destination for PGA Tour players and their families this time of year, but thanks to the stringent qualifying criteria for last week’s event, the Sony will be the only local event for many of them. For golf fanatics, this is an exciting opportunity to see some favorite players back in action — Kapalua is great in its own ways, but showing us a wide variety of different players and swings isn’t one of them.
With a standard 140 players in the field, there’s no telling how this tournament will unfold. Without further ado, let’s get to this week’s projections. Here are some of the best bets for success at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
1. Jordan Spieth
No. 5, four top 10s in last five starts
His title defense at the SBS Tournament of Champions didn’t exactly get off to a sterling start, but Spieth managed to finish strong, circling eight birdies on Sunday en route to a tie for third. That’s exactly the kind of momentum he needs as he heads to the first full-field event of the year. While his lone previous appearance at the Sony Open resulted in a missed cut, he’s had three years since then to mature as a golfer. With four top 10s in his last five worldwide starts, including a pair of podium finishes, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him pick up the ninth win of his PGA Tour career this week.
2. Hideki Matsuyama
No. 6, six consecutive top two finishes
This 24-year-old has been scary good over the past few months. Since the conclusion of last fall’s Tour Championship, Matsuyama has made six starts and found the top two in every one of them, most notably taking home the hardware at the WGC-HSBC Champions in October and finishing second at the SBS Tournament of Champions last week. Much like Spieth, his history at Wailele isn’t particularly inspiring, but his ridiculously good form more than makes up for it. A better track record would be nice, but you’d be foolish to bet against Matsuyama this week — he’s threatening to go on a historic run.
3. Justin Thomas
No. 12, five top 10s in last six starts
It took a whole 16 events for the PGA Tour to see its first repeat winner in the 2015-16 season, but thanks to his outstanding play at Kapalua last week, Thomas was able to halve that number for this year. That victory, along with a few strong finishes from last fall, makes him one of the hottest players in this week’s field. He’s also got the statistical profile to back up those results, ranking seventh on the PGA Tour in total strokes gained and third in birdie average. The only thing standing between him and another great week is a potential winner’s hangover, but judging from recent history, that shouldn’t be much of a problem.
4. Scott Piercy
No. 36, three top 10s in last five starts
There’s a massive gap between Thomas and Piercy in terms of fantasy projection, but make no mistake — this Las Vegas resident has a great chance to contend this week. He seems to always rise to the occasion at Wailele, racking up five top 25s, including a solo second in 2015, in eight career starts. That kind of track record should pair nicely with his relatively recent fall successes, which include a tie for third at the Safeway Open, a tie for fourth at the OHL Classic and a tie for 10th at the CIMB Classic. There’s no reason he can’t keep it going at a track that’s been so kind to him in the past.
5. Paul Casey
No. 15, five top 15 finishes in last six starts
While he’s taken plenty of rest weeks since last September’s Tour Championship, Casey’s good end-of-year form means that he’s worthy of our attention this week. The Englishman made three starts and found the top 25 in every one of them, peaking with a tie for third at the Safeway Open. While he’s sorely lacking in Sony Open experience, he did tie for 30th two years ago. His recent play, combined with his greater exposure to the course, should help him ascend to new heights at Wailele. His always impressive tee-to-green game won’t hurt either.
No. 84, three consecutive top 10 finishes
This once fiery Arizona State product has certainly cooled down his temper in recent years, but he’s only heating up on the course. His tie for third at last week’s Tournament of Champions was his third consecutive top 10 finish, coming on the heels of a tie for seventh at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and a win at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. He’s risen nearly 250 spots in the world ranking since the beginning of that run, so he should be brimming with confidence. He’s also the owner of a standout track record at Wailele Country Club: 13-for-15 with five top 10s, including two in the last four years.
7. Charles Howell III
No. 104, three consecutive top 15 finishes
This Georgia native always seems to start off his seasons on the right foot, and this one has been no exception — through his first five events, Howell has posted a trio of top 15s, including a tie for seventh at the OHL Classic and a tie for 13th at the RSM Classic. What’s more, the Sony Open has historically been an important element of his strong starts. With four top 15s, including a pair of podium finishes, in the past five years, he should be more comfortable with the course than just about anyone. He’s just so consistent in the month of January — there’s no reason to start doubting him now.
8. Russell Henley
No. 132, three consecutive top 25 finishes
Henley will be hard-pressed to reproduce the trio of 63s that lifted him to a three-stroke victory at the 2013 Sony Open, but he’s shown enough signs to inspire plenty of optimism nevertheless. The Georgia product will ride a wave of three straight top 25s into this week, having ended the year with a solid top 10 at the RSM Classic at Sea Island. Since his victory four years ago, Henley’s record at Wailele has been a sort of mixed bag, but he did tie for 17th in 2015. If he can continue to play as solidly as he has been, then expect to see his name on the first page of the leaderboard.
9. Jimmy Walker
No. 20, two time champion at the Sony Open
Walker hasn’t been at his best since his win at the PGA Championship last August, but as a two-time winner at the Sony Open, he’s earned the benefit of the doubt. He’s also missed out on the top 30 at Wailele just once in the last six years, posting a solo fourth in 2011 and a tie for 13th last year. While a cold putter led to some weekend woes at Kapalua, there was plenty to like about his ball striking. Given his overall performance year in and year out, the gut feeling here is that he impresses this week.
10. Gary Woodland
No. 50, two career top 15 finishes at Wailele
A long bomber with some positive history at the Sony Open, Woodland has everything he needs to make a strong showing this week. He finished his fall season in fine fashion, notching a solo second at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. Perhaps more importantly, he’s compiled a good record at Wailele over the years — he’s notched a pair of top 15s, including a tie for third two years ago. Last season, the Kansas native ranked 23rd on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation and a surprising 16th in total strokes gained, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see some low scores from him this week.