We’re back in the swing of things and the return of tour action didn’t disappoint as some of the biggest names in the game treated us to a low-scoring masterclass in Hawaii, where Cameron Smith won the Sentry Tournament of Champions, finishing with a score of -34 to claim his third PGA Tour success.
From Maui to Honolulu, Hawaii serves as the setting for this week’s event too. The 2022 renewal of the Sony Open will take place at Waialae Country Club, where 2021 winner Kevin Na will be looking to defend his crown.
Following his success at Kapalua, searching for a quickfire double, Cameron Smith will be in attendance this week, and he’ll be joined by fellow Australians Matt Jones and Marc Leishman, both of whom come off the back of solid efforts in Maui. High-profile participants include 2021 Masters winner Hideki Matsuyama, Bryson DeChambeau, Abraham Ancer, and Harris English, all of whom currently rank inside the top 20 in the world. However, compared to last week, there is a slight lack of top-end talent, with only two top-ten players set to feature. Billy Horschel and Sungjae Im, who right now rank 23rd and 24th in the world respectively add to the quality, while previous major winners such as Webb Simpson, Jimmy Walker, Graeme McDowell, and Keegan Bradley will be involved too.
With plenty of the sport’s big names missing, this is one of those tournaments that must be viewed as an opportunity for both rising stars and less-likely winners. The likes of Denny McCarthy, Corey Conners, Maverick McNealy, all of whom who’ve performed with promise over the last 12 months should be feeling confident.
What to expect at Waialae Country Club
Designed by Seth Raynor during the early part of the 20th century, the course at Waialae measures out at 7,044, so it’s not a course where distance is overly important. Instead, thanks to the addition of tight fairways and greens that are certainly on the small side, accuracy is what’s required, while a measured approach is likely to be more rewarding than a kamikaze one.
Being precise off the tee and finding the fairways will be key, but mainly because accurate approach play is what’s required. Hitting a high percentage of greens in regulation won’t be possible unless players are regularly playing from the short stuff. Scoring can be low at Waialae, as Kevin Na showed last season when emerging with a winning score of -21, though don’t expect the birdies to be flying in as frequently as they did last week. Only one of the last four winners of this tournament has surpassed -20, with winning scores of -11, -12, and -17 in 2020, 2019, and 2018. Justin Thomas did become something of an outlier when winning with a final score of -27 in 2017, but that was easily the lowest score since the 90’s so it’s fair to say that something very eye-catching in terms of the score seems unlikely.
Recent winners have also shown that it’s important to be doing the business around the green. Kevin Na finished the week ranked second for strokes gained: around-the-green in 2021, while 2020 winner Cameron Smith finished ninth in that category. Hitting greens in regulation have proven to be important at this venue in recent years, with only one of the last six winners ranking lower T23 for GIR, while only two of those six ranked outside the top 20 in that area.
Once again, we try to identify that elusive outright winner, which despite a few near misses, in my case hasn’t been found since South African Garrick Higgo picked up his first PGA Tour success when winning the Palmetto Championship back in June of last year.
Marc Leishman – 1 Unit @ +2200
This week, there are a few standouts in the outright market. Firstly, Marc Leishman catches the eye. We saw an Aussie thrive in Maui last week, and we may see something similar in Honolulu. Leishman himself played well at Kapalua last week, finishing inside the top ten with a final score of -23.
In addition to his solid effort at the Sentry, the Aussie comes here with some eye-catching form figures, recording three top-ten finishes in his last four starts, including two-thirds. Such form shows a player whose game is in decent shape. Furthermore, Leishman is a player who’s done well at this venue in the past, making 12 out of 12 cuts since his debut at Waialae back in 2008. Of those 12 cuts made, the 38-year-old has posted seven top-20’s and four top-tens, finishing third in 2019 and fourth in 2021.
If we delve into the strokes gained data on this track, the six-time PGA Tour winner shows up favorably too. In the last five seasons, Marc Leishman, who has featured inside the top ten the joint-most on the PGA Tour this season, has posted the seventh-best numbers in terms of strokes gained: tee-to-green at the Honolulu course, while he’s also the seventh-best in this field in terms of strokes gained: total here too. Meanwhile, of those involved here, Leishman ranks as the ninth-best on tour for strokes gained: total. He’s also the seventh-best in terms of strokes gained: putting, which bodes well ahead of a test at a course where putting has proved crucial in previous renewals.
If we combine some very solid strokes gained data with some excellent recent form and consider this in conjunction with the fact that Marc Leishman has shown a clear liking for this venue, then it’s extremely easy to make a case for the Australian as an outright winner, especially at generous-looking odds of +2200. All things considered, from a price point of view, few appeal more.