The First Tee – Sony Open

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly January 7, 2019 21:54

The First Tee – Sony Open


The Sony Open takes place at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, and plays as a par-70 at 7,044 yards. The two par-5s are both short (505 and 551) and are risk/reward holes off the tee, but should see their share of eagles this week; the par-4s are the key to finding success this week, as they’re short on average, and the longest is 480 yards.

Like last week, Waialae can create a birdie-fest event depending on conditions, with past winners ranging from -13 to -27, with the cut typically coming in below par if conditions aren’t tough; if last week’s scores with a windy couple days show anything, you should expect the cut to be below par yet again. Eagles come in bunches here – especially with a driveable par-4 at 351 yards – so longer hitters will have an advantage this week.

Off the tee, golfers will be faced with very narrow fairways – they typically are some of the hardest to hit on tour, which means the smart play is typically a long iron for the longer players – surrounded by spread out palm trees, but also with large out of bounds areas on some holes (9th and 15th). Winners typically have very strong SG: OTT rankings here – the median rank was 21st for all top-10 finishers between 2012 and 2017 – so that’ll be a big focus.

With a lot of doglegs from right to left, a lot of the holes on this course favour a cut, because the best possible landing spot is on the right to set up a clean approach shot in; however, the fatter parts of the fairway on the right also mean golfers hitting to that area typically have to contend with well-placed fairway bunkers as well. Drawing the ball is the more effective shot, but less likely to find the tight fairway, and the rough here is fairly tough to knock out of.

The greens here are Bermuda grass, of average size, and about as slow as the Plantation Course. They’re firm, with undulation that will offer tricky reads, but are definitely manageable for golfers familiar with Bermuda or just good putters in general. For golfers that miss the greens, scrambling will be absolutely crucial to avoid crushing bogeys on a scoring course – especially given the sand and tough rough off the greens.


The Strokes Gained stats to focus on in order (not including Tee to Green):

  • Approach
  • Off-the-Tee
  • Putting
  • Around the Green

Counting stats to focus on in order:

  • Par-4 Birdie or Better %
  • Approach 150-200 Yards
  • Scrambling %
  • Greens in Regulation %
  • Proximity to the Hole

The Golfers

Top-Tier Golfer

Justin Thomas ($11400):

Pros: Three of his four finishes at the Sony so far (T14, win, T6) make up for his previous missed cut, and JT played fantastic golf last week at Plantation to finish third with a Sunday 65. JT is one of golf’s true elites, and last year ranked third in SG: Tee to Green (1.563/round) and had the third-best birdie or better percentage (25.27%) last year. He’s long off the tee – averaged 301 on all drives, good for 11th – which made him the second-best golfer on par-5s, but his length combined with his strong irons also led him to the fourth-best par-4 BoB% as well. He’s clearly the class of the field, but his price tag may lead to lower-than-expected ownership.

Cons: His price tag is prohibitive, which is always a tough way to build a lineup. JT misses the fairway consistently, which isn’t ideal for Waialae (even though he’s done well here), but more importantly his proximity from the rough is atrocious – his average distance remaining is 45’1” and if he misses right, he’s been 8-over-par through 137 attempts. There aren’t many holes in his game to find cons, but the main one as mentioned will be his price tag.


Emiliano Grillo ($9200)

Pros: He’s yet to miss a cut here in his two attempts (’16 and ’18), finishing T33 and T47 respectively; while that score may not pay off his price tag, he did manage 18 birdies last year and 21 in 2016, so he can definitely score he just needs to avoid bogies. Grillo hasn’t missed a cut since the Open – which includes six finishes of 15th or better, in twelve events – and had a career year last year in all facets. Grillo’s game from tee-to-green has always been strong (0.587 SG/round), but last year he was also the tenth-best putter on tour. He’s very strong on par-3s and par-4s, and should see little-to-no ownership given his price tag.

Cons: Grillo has almost no distance off the tee (284.4, 123rd) which explains his poor performance on par-5s and low eagle numbers, and he’s in a world of trouble when he misses the green: 21-over par when he hit the rough last year (205 attempts), and an average proximity of 49’4” when punching from the rough (185th). His play around the green is bad and has always been bad, but the main concern when rostering Grillo is the possibility his putter suddenly goes cold.

Other: Abraham Ancer ($8800)

Value Golfer (below $8000)

Keith Mitchell ($6900)

Pros: Finished T25 here last year in his debut. Strong off the tee play thanks to hitting the ball a hundred miles, and can take advantage of both par-4s (18.4% BoB) and par-5s (53.02% BoB). His overall birdie numbers last year were outstanding – 12th on tour with 23.25% – which is a strong number at a salary below $7000. Although his SG: Approach numbers weren’t ideal (ranked 140th), he still hit 69.42% of greens in regulation (31st) and was 40th in proximity from the fairway.

Cons: Hasn’t played since the RSM Classic, where he missed the cut – that layoff isn’t ideal, when so many strong performances here have happened from players that also played at Plantation in the week prior. His putting is murder (183rd in strokes gained) and will definitely hurt him, as will his play around the greens (133rd in SG: ARG) especially at a course that’s penal on missed greens.

Sam Ryder ($7200):

Pros: In one of the best years for young golfers that I can remember, Ryder hit the second-most greens in regulation last year (72.08%) while gaining 0.399 strokes per round on approach (35th) with the 16th-best proximity to the hole and strong numbers relative to par on shorter approaches (below 150 yards). His par-3 numbers are elite (T5), he’s an above-average player on par-4s (T60) and his overall birdie or better number of 21.81% was good for 40th last year.

Cons: Made the cut here last year in his first attempt, but finished only T58; he also hasn’t played since November, when he missed the cut at the RSM. As with Mitchell, that’s a long layoff. He’s not the longest player off the tee, averaging 285 (103rd) last year on all drives, which can hurt at this course. Another thing Ryder has in common with Mitchell is awful, awful putting: ranked 172nd in SG: Putting last year, with a 3.82% three-putt avoidance (176th) and 35.7% one-putt percentage (also 176th).

You can follow me on Twitter @adalyfrey and good luck this week!

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly January 7, 2019 21:54

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