Well, it was quite the unusual opener on the PGA Tour at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Because of high winds in Maui, the tournament’s start was postponed and it ended up being shortened to 54 holes and a Tuesday finish. I don’t have any statistical records to back this up, but I can’t remember such a quick turnaround for the next week’s event as will be the case starting Thursday at the Sony Open in Hawaii – thankfully the players only have to travel from Maui to Honolulu.
Dustin Johnson won the Hyundai by four shots to become the first player since Tiger Woods to win an event in his first six years on Tour. Johnson’s seven overall wins are the most by any player under age 30 (Rory McIlroy has six). And never bet against Johnson if somehow you know the tournament will be shortened. He has won the past three Tour events reduced to 54 holes because of weather: Pebble Beach in 2009 (rain), The Barclays in 2011 (hurricane) and then this event.
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Unfortunately, I didn’t pick Johnson to win as I rarely will do with the favorites unless it’s obvious (like Tiger at Bay Hill). I mentioned Scott Piercy as good value at 25/1, and he finished T13. My best value choice was a dud, however, as Ryan Moore (20/1) finished next-to-last after rounds of 72-77-76. On the Top 4 props, I missed on “yes” on Matt Kuchar (T9) and Jason Dufner (T18). I hit “no” on Webb Simpson (-350, T11) and Nick Watney (-400, T13). I also recommended no on Steve Stricker and Bubba Watson, but they finished runner-up and T4, respectively.
A total of 19 players who competed at the Hyundai are playing against this week at the Sony, which is the first full-field event of the season. Johnson is one of them. In addition, it’s the debut for all 25 of last year’s Web.com Tour graduates, and 20 graduates from the December Q-school finals. Of course, going forward Q-school now won’t be a way to qualify for the PGA Tour but the Web.com Tour.
The par-70 Waialae Country Club is much different than Kapalua. It’s about 400 yards shorter and accuracy, not length, is paramount this week. According to the Golf Channel, four of the last six Sony Open Champions averaged less than 290 yards per drive during the event. Last year’s winner, Johnson Wagner, ranked just No. 78 in the field in driving distance at 276.4 yards. The driving accuracy percentage at narrow Waialae of 46.61 and greens-in-regulation number of 63.03 percent were six-year lows in 2012. Wagner ranked T10 in greens hit a year ago on the way to a two-shot victory over Charles Howell III, Harrison Frazar, Sean O’Hair and Carl Pettersson. Nine of the past 11 winners of this event have finished in the Top 10 of greens hit.
As always in Hawaii, wind will likely be a factor – but not crazy like last week.
PGA Tour Picks: Sony Open in Hawaii Favorites
At Bovada, Johnson is the overwhelming 9/1 favorite to win for the second time in six days – presuming no weather delays in Maui. But as noted above, length of the tee isn’t necessarily a good thing at Waialae, and length is Johnson’s strength. He hasn’t played this tournament since 2010, when he finished T16. I happen to think all the guys who played last week will be a little worn down, not that golf is a strenuous sport by any means. But, at a minimum, those guys get less practice on the course. By the way, since 1999 only one player has won the Hyundai and then this tournament: Ernie Els 10 years ago.
Keegan Bradley, Kuchar and Simpson are all next at 16/1. I noted how the latter two fared last week, while Bradley finished T4. Bradley has played here the past two years, with a best finish of T13 a year ago. Kuchar has played nine times and has two Top-10 finishes with a best of T5 in 2011. He didn’t play a year ago. Simpson has played each of the past four years and hasn’t been better than T38 the past three.
Pettersson and Zach Johnson round out the favorites at 20/1. The Swede finished eighth last week, while the former Masters winner Johnson was T18. This course sets up well for Johnson, who won in 2009. But he hasn’t been better than T54 the past two years. Pettersson had that runner-up finish a year ago but has missed the cut here in the past three odd years, which is odd.
PGA Tour Picks: Sony Open in Hawaii Predictions
On the Top-5 props, go yes on Zach Johnson (+450) and Charles Howell III (+550). No on Dustin Johnson (-325), Bradley, Kuchar and Simpson (all -550).
I think the best value by far on the board to win at 40/1 is Brian Gay. His T6 here last year was his fourth consecutive Top-25 result at Waialae. Gay hasn’t missed a cut in this tournament in 13 years and has two other Top 10s to go with last year’s finish. Gay didn’t play last week.
Tim Clark at 25/1 also is good value. He missed last year’s event due to injury but was T2 in 2011 when he led the field in both proximity to the hole and co-led in greens in regulation. He’s a short, but accurate, driver who is perfect for the course.
But the pick is Howell III at 22/1. He has a whopping six Top-5 finishes in 11 starts (making every cut). His runner-up last year was his second in the tournament (also 2007). “Chucky Three Sticks” needs a win by the end of March to qualify for the Masters, and he gets it on Sunday.
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