Sony Open in Hawaii: Expert picks and best bets

Webb Simpson, Paul Tesori
Our expert prognosticator says Webb Simpson is the play this week at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

EDITOR’S NOTE: Brian Mull is a former caddie who spent several years walking alongside the world’s best players inside the ropes on the PGA Tour. Throughout the 2019-20 season, he will be filing a gambling picks piece — as well as a weekly fantasy golf picks piece — applying the expert knowledge he’s acquired over the years by following the players and courses on Tour so closely.

Welcome back to the first full-field PGA Tour event of 2020, as the world’s best golfers return to the familiar fairways of Waialae Country Club for the Sony Open.

The weather is coming to make the course Seth Raynor crafted in 1927 more demanding than ever. Forget anything close to Justin Thomas’ 27-under performance on the par-70 layout in 2017 or any of the other recent birdiefests. The last seven Sony Open champions had an average winning score of 21 under with each at least 17 under.

Jeff Sherman of Golfodds.com, considered by many as golf’s most accurate bookmaker, has set the over / under for the winning score this week at 274.5, or 5.5 under.

SONY OPEN IN HAWAII: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis

To paraphrase the sage poet and rumored occasional golfer Bob Dylan: “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows – but you will need a seasoned caddie.” The 144-man field must handle winds from the East/ Northeast in excess of 20 mph. With the excess of dogleg par-4s at Waialae, the golfers and caddies will spend much of the round in the dreaded crosswind, trying to avoid gusts, determine the wind’s impact on their ball, select the proper shot and execute it. While most of the attention will focus on the two par-5s at Waialae, No. 9 and No. 18, it could be the string of par 4s from No. 12 thru No. 15 that determine the champion.

Speaking of the par 5s, No. 9 will play into the wind. No. 18, annually one of the more difficult fairways to hit on the PGA Tour but easily reachable in two shots by everyone in the field, will be downwind, meaning we might see pros taking crazy aggressive lines off the tee or opting for less than driver as they try to find the fairway to ensure a clean lie for their wind-aided approach.

We’re not overlooking power altogether, but iron play and scrambling ability are going to be most important. The players who grind out pars from what will likely be wet fairway or greenside rough – there’s a 50-60 percent chance of showers Friday-Sunday – will climb the leaderboard and have a chance Sunday evening when fans are treated to yet another prime time finale.

Odds on the favorites (via golfodds.com):

Justin Thomas +550
Webb Simpson +1200
Patrick Reed +1200
Hideki Matsuyama +1800
Collin Morikawa +1800
Matt Kuchar +2000
Sungjae Im +2000
Joaquin Niemann +3000
Charles Howell III +3000
Marc Leishman +4000
Kevin Kisner +4000
Chez Reavie +4000
Abraham Ancer +4000
Corey Conners +4000

Expert picks and best bets

The Pick

Webb Simpson (+1200): The 34-year-old North Carolinian is ranked 12th in the world. He’s represented the United States in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup six times and earned more than $36 million with a U.S. Open and Players title. Without question, it’s an impressive resume, making him one of the best Americans of this era. Yet, while I’ve never asked Simpson, I’d have to think, deep down, he feels like he should have more than five PGA Tour victories. He’s finished second 11 times, including last fall at the RSM Classic. Simpson has the mental toughness, tee shot accuracy and greenside touch to thrive in Waialae this week and one of the best caddies in golf, Paul Tesori, by his side. Simpson is second on Tour in scrambling for the second consecutive year, leads the Tour in bogey avoidance and has two Sony Open top 10s. He also has the late / early draw which could be preferable as the conditions are expected to deteriorate Friday afternoon. That’s a lot in his favor. This week he picks up his sixth trophy.

Last week: Dustin Johnson (+900). Shot four supbar rounds, tied for seventh.

The Longshot

Brian Harman (+6000): He’s won only twice on the PGA Tour – the 2014 John Deere Classic and 2017 Wells Fargo Championship – but his game has been trending upward with four top 20s in six starts in the 2019-20 season. Also in the late / early half, Harman is top 30 on Tour this season in proximity to the hole on approach shots, strokes gained: putting and scrambling. Always an accurate driver and another tough competitor, the more difficult the better for Harman, who can grind out pars with the Tour’s best.

Last Week: Joaquin Niemann (+5000) Led after 18 holes, tied for fifth, four shots out of the playoff.

The Fade

Hideki Matsuyama (+1800): While he showed promise with two top-3 finishes during the PGA Tour’s fall Asian swing, there’s nothing in Matsuyama’s track record at Waialae to give him any value this week. He’s never cracked the top-25 and his long, deliberate golf swing could be difficult to control in the windy conditions. I like the direction his game is trending, however, it’s better to wait until a later date to make a play on Matsuyama.

Head-to-Head

Sebastian Munoz (-125) vs. Carlos Ortiz: Slim pickings for matchups this week, but we like this one thanks to Munoz’s top 10 in his Sony debut last year. Ortiz has played the event three times, missing the cut twice and finishing tied for 29th last year. Both played terrific golf in the fall, but give the slight edge to Munoz, who is primed for an outstanding season.

Season: 0-1

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