Damien Kayat previews the 2023 edition of the PGA Tour’s Sony Open taking place at the Waialae Country Club in Hawaii.
2022/2023 US PGA Tour
Waialae Country Club, Honolulu, Hawaii
Let’s hope that last week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions was a harbinger of things to come this year. That must have been one of the most insane comebacks in recent golfing memory.
Rahm trailed Colin Morikawa by nine shots after he bogeyed the first on Sunday. But a back nine 31- aided by a Morikawa capitulation- led to a sensational come-from-behind win.
Former World No.1 Jon Rahm has now won three of his last four international starts. The burly Spaniard seems hellbent on re-establishing himself as one of the de facto favourites for every title.
The Tour stays in Hawaii for the 2nd leg of this picturesque island swing: the Sony Open.
The Sony Open
The Sony Open is the first full-field event since last year’s RSM Classic. The tournament dates back all the way to the 1920’s and has been a PGA tour event since its inception as the Hawaiian Open in 1965.
Sony took over as sponsors of this event back in 1999 (a fairly long engagement in this age of sponsorship musical chairs). Since 1999, 15 winners of this event teed it up at the Sentry the week prior.
This is really quite odd when you look at how different this test is in comparison to Plantation. But I think it speaks to the comfort of playing in this climate and enjoying early-season momentum.
Speaking of comfort, this event has been hosted at the exact same venue since it first joined the PGA Tour: Waialae Country Club.
Waialae Country Club
Designed by Seth Raynor, Waialae is very much the antithesis of last week’s test at Kapulua. Last week was a bomber’s paradise, with wide-open fairways and prodigious length.
Waialae is a short, tree-lined course that has a slightly links feel. In that sense, it is similar to courses such as Harbour Town and El Camaleon. So, I would favour the more surgical operators this week.
Also, look for players who can make plenty of putts on these slow, Bermuda greens. This is a more old-fashioned test of golf that rewards accurate tee-to-green players that can hole a putt.
Also, look for players who are proficient on par 4’s. The last six winners have all ranked inside the top six for Par 4 Scoring.
There is a notable absence of golf’s elite talent following that breathless season opener. But that shouldn’t make this week any less interesting.
Defending champion Hideki Matsuyama has become a serial winner on Tour and will take some beating once again this week. But it’s two fellow Asians who currently lead the market.
20-year-old Korean sensation Tom Kim has rocketed to 14th in the World Rankings (courtesy of some impressive form towards the end of last year). He finished 5th last week and makes a compelling tournament favourite.
Fellow Korean Sungjae Im is one of the most consistent players on tour and should suit this course perfectly (though that hasn’t been reflected in his course figures thus far).
Jordan Spieth could be a factor this week while the likes of Brian Harman and Corey Conner lurk dangerously.
2022: Hideki Matsuyama (-23) *playoff
2021: Kevin Na (-21)
2020: Cameron Smith (-11) *playoff
2019: Matt Kuchar (-22)
2018: Patton Kizzire (-17) *playoff
To Win Outright:
Tony Kim 12/1 | Sungjae Im 14/1 | Hideki Matsuyama 16/1 | Jordan Spieth 18/1 | Russell Henley 20/1
Brendan Steele- To Win 75/1 | To Place 16/1
This is purely a horses-for-courses pick. Steele is exactly the sort of player who can thrive in these slightly quainter events. Sure, he missed the cut last year. But prior to that he has been exemplary at Waialae. He finished runner-up following a playoff in 2020. And he was the 54-hole leader in 2021 before settling for a T4 finish. He finished in the top 20 in his last event (the CJ Cup). Steele often gets himself into contention when many of the elite players are absent.
Keith Mitchell- To Win 35/1 | To Place 15/2
Despite a fairly consistent 2022, Keith Mitchell will feel disappointed that he hasn’t added to his 2019 Honda Classic title. Currently sitting 57th in the world rankings, there is plenty to suggest that Mitchell has what it takes to take home the title this week. He has made four of five cuts here, with a best finish of seventh a year ago. But let’s look a bit deeper at his results. When 16th here in 2019, he was third going into the last round. And he shot middle rounds of 62 and 63 to finish 14th in 2021.
The Man to Beat- Corey Conners- To Win 25/1 | To Place 11/2
I have opted to avoid most of the nominal favourites this week. I just think that Corey Conners should fit the bill perfectly. He is a regular here (his last three results reading T3-T12-11). He has started solidly this season, with three top 25s in four starts. This included a respectable 18th at Plantation last week. And that was a course that doesn’t really suit his style. He is a real old-fashioned operator who adroitly plots his way around courses. I think he could be a real dark-horse contender this week.