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33 First Dates ๐ŸŒบ

Published 5 months agoย โ€ขย 7 min read

The first timers

Imagine being a rookie on the PGA TOUR. You have officially achieved your dream and your headed to paradise. That's just one of the reasons I love the Sony Open. The private jets leave Maui and head east to back to the mainland, while the commercial charter takes the middle tier guys from Kapalua over to Honolulu. Approximately 70% of the Sony winners over the past two decades have played in The Sentry. As those upper middle-class PGA TOUR seasoned veterans and younger elite descend upon Waialae Country Club, the rookies arrive wide eyed and cautiously optimistic.

The Sony Open has a field of 144 players competing for $8.3 million dollars. The top 65 and ties earn the right to play the weekend and compete for the $1.4 million dollar prize. Thirty-three players are new to the course in the field of 140+. Keep in mind, 16 of the last 17 winners have competed at Waialae CC prior to winning the Sony. Waialae is the second most predictive course on TOUR. Only Augusta National Golf Club is more โ€œpredictiveโ€ year after year. Waialae is anything but quirky, but not everyone makes the trek to Hawaii. Many players wait for the PGA TOUR to hit the mainland.

Sony starts in...

Count down to 2024-01-11T16:30:00.000Zโ€‹

Familiarity with the course and conditions (link below) gives player's an edge. The average winning score over the past ten years is 18 under par. The average cutline sits around 2 under par in that same time period. Much like last week, players need birdies to contend. Getting to 20 under par on a tight, target specific layout is hard. There will be bogeys along the way. Therefore, the winner will probably need 23 or 24 birdies to win. The field has plenty of history to study in order to generate a successful game plan. The PGA TOUR has called Waialae Country Club home since 1965.

The par 70 design covers 7,044 yards. It is the fifth shortest course on TOUR. Quite the stark contrast from last week with 100-yard wide fairways and 675+ yard par 5s! The course features 83 bunkers and five holes where water comes into play. Above average sized greens (7,100 sq/ft) finish each of the 18 tests. Straight flushers make the cut here as keeping the ball between the palm trees is imperative. The Sunday contenders are those who hit it well and putt Bermudagrass effectively.

The middle tier of the PGA TOUR tends to dominate the Sony winner's circle. The average pre-tournament odds of the last ten winners are +4900. Each winner fell between +1400 and +10000 on the betting board. Their keys to victory, I'm getting there. I still think about how it must feel being a rookie. Maybe youโ€™re a ten-year TOUR veteran needing a bounce back season. No matter the pending narrative, each of the 144 has a story. One that we get to see play out in primetime like last week. That's another benefit to the Hawaiian swing; late night "live" golf.

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Course conditions

โ€‹Waialae Country Clubโ€‹

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TV/Streaming

โ€‹Coverage timesโ€‹

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Real-time weather

โ€‹Honolulu, HIโ€‹

Hawaiian swing

The key to winning Waialae over the past decade has been the putter. Winners have gained an average of six strokes on the field with their flatstick. When you consider short positional layouts on TOUR generally don't give you many ways to separate from the field, pulling away with the putter is a real advantage at the Sony. Nine of the last ten winners have gained well over three strokes when they won and six have gained over seven strokes! Our card is filled with experienced Bermudagrass putters.

It is going to take 20 under par to win taking into account the recent the rain shower they got on Monday and Tuesday. The course will be in perfect scoring conditions for these boys to tear up. Rookie or seasoned shark, TOUR pros live under par. In order for that hot putter to help, contenders will need to create 30+ birdie chances. Looking back, the winners gain a bunch of GIRs on the field. Those same ten winners were gaining an average of six greens on their competitors. More putting equals more birdies.

Hitting those greens falls into an approach game focused on 150-200 yards. Seven of the 12 par 4s are over 440 yards and the two par 5s call for a 175-200 yard approach shot. Many PGA TOUR pros are good from this range which is yet another reason why the putter becomes so important. Seth Raynor's design presents some challenges off the tee. For example, the closing holes call for a right to left ball flight on four of the final five tee shots. The one that isn't is a par 3!

Read The Line recap ๐Ÿ—ž๏ธ

Si Woo is the only winner in the last ten years to gain less than a stroke with his putter in route to winning. Kim DID gain over eight strokes against the field with his approach game! Who could forget the stripe show he put on all weekend shooting 12 under par (64-64) in the final 36 holes to capture the championship!

It is tough to measure the impact of strokes gained OTT since many of the fairway targets are specific sides of the fairway. Positional golf is a very well-rounded skill set. Shaping the ball off the tee, flighting approach shots on a coastal layout, and saving par when you guess wrong or make a mistake all come into play. Par 4 scoring is a very strong indicator of success at the Sony Open. There are 12 par 4s, but when you consider the par 5s are reachable in two, it is like there are 14 of them! The best par 4 players are extremely well-rounded. They excel on par 70 golf courses and in the toughest scoring conditions.

Those same ten recent winners gained an average of just over 10 strokes on the field on the par 4s. If you're looking for a second valuable measure after putting, par 4 scoring is it. When the winners are gaining eight strokes T2G overall, scoring on the 4s really tends to differentiate you from others. It's not sexy, but it gets the job done. 2023 Champion Si Woo Kim made 13 birdies on par 4s and won the tournament at 18 under par.

Adjusting to Waialae after the bombs away mentality everyone employed last week is also a unique challenge. Finding those players who actually play better on a positional course will lead to a profitable card. You can't always pick the winner, but as you saw last week, we killed the live betting markets because this research applies all four days. Bogey avoidance is sometimes overlooked when we see an average winning score in the high teens or 20 under. Saving par at the Sony is imperative.

Many contenders have failed on Sunday evening by death of a thousand bogeys. Miss the fairway and make bogey. Miss the green and make bogey. Hit the green and three putt, and... make bogey. At Waialae it is just so easy to get off track. That's why the leaders are 13 or 14 under par after two days, and the cutline is 1 or 2 under. Mistakes happen and the best players maintain their momentum and keep their round going. Do I think short game should be an important indicator? No, but the last five winners did gain two strokes (average) on the field with their around the green acumen.

This is a very predictive place. We can confidently say the player archetype is set. The question now becomes who is ready to perform the gameplan? Our outrights fill these factors and all have tremendous momentum heading to Honolulu. Only one lacks win equity, and he just won a major award. Our on-site experiences from the past two years pay dividends on weeks like this. Let's get one...

Outright winners - Sony Open

The time has come for 2023 PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year Eric Cole.

  • Four top 4s in his last six starts.
  • Bermudagrass putting, wedge game, and has played Waialae before.
  • In his last five starts, he's gained an average of 7.6 shots on the field.

Matt Kuchar 2.0, JT Poston will deliver this week at Waialae Country Club.

  • Ranked third in the field for BoB% and first for opportunities gained.
  • He's gained in eight of last nine events on approach.
  • Top 5 putter in any field, finished fifth last week in Maui.

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