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DraftKings PGA: Sony Open

Len Hochberg

Hochberg covers golf for RotoWire. A veteran sports journalist, he contributes to Sports on Earth and was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years.


SONY OPEN

Purse: $6.1M
Winner's Share: $1.116M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Honolulu
Course: Waialae Country Club
Yardage: 7,044
Par: 70
2017 champion: Justin Thomas

Tournament Preview

We don't want to say that last week was easy -- it's never easy in fantasy sports -- but there were only 34 golfers and no cut. This week, the fantasy-golf season begins in earnest with the first full-field event of the year. Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Marc Leishman and 17 others island-hopped from Maui to Honolulu to head the 144-man contingent. It's important to note right off the bat that 12 of the last 19 Sony winners played the week before at the Tournament of Champions, and 11 of the past 12 had played the Sony multiple times before. One of those golfers on both counts is defending champion Thomas, who opened with a 59 last year en route to a whopping 27-under winning score. Yes, this is one of the easiest tracks the golfers see every year, but they will be hard-pressed to match that record score.

Every year since its inception in 1965, the tournament has been contested at famed Waialae Country Club. That is the fourth longest association between tournament and course on the PGA Tour, behind Augusta, Pebble Beach and Colonial. Waialae is a short track with numerous dog legs that take driver out of play much of the time. There are only two par-5s, and they both were among the easiest holes (out of 900) played on the PGA Tour last season. In fact, the 506-yard ninth was the absolute easiest, averaging .786 under par with 36 eagles opposite just one double bogey. No. 18, at 551 yards, was tied for the ninth-easiest hole, averaging .596 under par with 18 eagles opposite, again, a lone embarrassing double bogey. The importance of these two holes cannot be understated: Thomas played them in a collective 10-under last year (eight birdies, two eagles). And in 2015, winner Jimmy Walker birdied every one for more than 33 percent of his 23-under score. So, birdie or better percentage will be among this week's key stats, along with birdie avoidance (there is a difference), and we'll delve deeper into that in the Champion's Profile below.

While the fairways at Waialae are not nearly as wide as at Kapalua, they are still pretty wide. Really, the only defense the course has is wind. Weather-wise, the forecast right now calls for extremely light wind, maybe single digits in mph, so maybe another sub-60 round will be in play.


Key Stats to Winning at Waialae


Note - the most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key stats" follow in importance.

Greens in regulation/strokes gained approach
Birdie-or-better percentage
Bogey avoidance
Putting average/strokes gained putting


Past Champions

2017 - Justin Thomas
2016 - Fabian Gomez
2015 - Jimmy Walker
2014 - Jimmy Walker
2013 - Russell Henley
2012 - Johnson Wagner
2011 - Mark Wilson
2010 - Ryan Palmer
2009 - Zach Johnson
2008 - K.J. Choi

Champion's Profile

We noted above that 12 of the past 19 winners had played the TOC the week before and 11 of the past 12 had played Waialae multiple times before. Not only is getting in four tournament rounds a big advantage over other golfers who have been idle since before Thanksgiving, but the nature of the track, including the dog legs and the smallish, tricky greens, take some getting used to. Every winner this decade, all eight of them, finished in the top-12 in greens in regulation, and most of them were much higher than that. That's key to making birdies. As important as it is to make birdies this week, for obvious reasons, making bogeys will be the real killers -- on some holes, that's akin to losing two shots. Putting is not as critical on smaller greens, or at least smaller greens tend to neutralize the best putters, but still Thomas was first in putting average last year, as was Jimmy Walker in 2015. Only out-of-nowhere winner Fabian Gomez in 2016 finished outside the top-10 in putting average this decade.


DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
(Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)

Tier 1 Values

Jordan Spieth - $12,000 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 5-2)
Spieth is at or near the top of every key metric this week, but really, all anyone needs to ever say is: He's Jordan Spieth! Pick him!

Brian Harman - $10,600 (20-1)
Harman really seems poised for a big year. He was a value pick last week, when he finished third, giving him a fourth straight top-10. Harman has had three consecutive top-25s at the Sony, but his game is in a far better place right now than ever before. Last season, he finished 137th on Tour in GIR. This year, in very limited play, he ranks fourth.

Kevin Kisner - $10,100 (20-1)
The key to Kisner's week may boil down to this: Can he get over the crushing loss of his beloved Georgia Bulldogs on Monday night? Because nothing derailed him the past two years, when he turned in a pair of top-5s. Kisner tied for 17th last week at Kapalua.

Zach Johnson - $9,500 (25-1)
This is a lofty price to pay for a golfer who has been in decline the past few years. But that decline has more to do with the lengthening of golf course (and also age). This track still aligns to Johnson's game, winning the tournament in 2009 while cashing top-10 here three of the past four years. Johnson played three times in the fall with three top-25s.

Tier 2 Values

Webb Simpson - $9,300 (40-1)
There's a good chance Simpson finishes 13th this week. After all, that's where he's ended up each of the past three Sonys. Seriously, we see a better result this time around; certainly, we need that from a $9,000-plus investment. Simpson was playing his best golf in years, really making strides with his putting since the anchored stance was banned, when he suddenly withdrew from the RSM Classic in November. Soon after, Simpson's father passed away, and this will be his first tournament since then.

Tony Finau - $8,900 (30-1)
Finau was a favorite of ours last year and 2018 is starting off the same way. He had eight top-10s last year and opened the fall season with three top-25s in four starts (plus a T26). The prime obstacle to Finau's second Tour win has been putting, and the small greens at Waialae will benefit him.

Charles Howell III - $8,500 (40-1)
If you're looking to stand out from the crowd, perhaps it's best to move on to the next golfer. Howell historically has been an early-season DFS darling, and his Sony course history shows why he will be popular again this week: He's notched top-10s in seven of the last 11 years, including T8 in 2017. Howell notched thee top-20s in the fall season, including a T4 at Mayakoba.

Si Woo Kim - $8,500 (40-1)
Kim has played six tournaments since the season began and he hasn't WDed once! Always a good sign, albeit one that can change on a dime. Kim tied for 10th last week at Kapalua, continuing to show that he can complete with the elites of the sport. Kim has played Waialae once before, a solo fourth in 2015.

Tier 3 Values

Jamie Lovemark - $8,100 (60-1)
Every year around this time, golf followers speculate about the best candidates to win their first tournament. Lovemark, after 124 career starts, will be on some of those lists. With a T4 last year at the Sony and a T7 the year before, this is a prime spot for Lovemark to take the next step in his career.

Gary Woodland - $7,800 (30-1)
Woodland wasn't great in the fall season, with just one top-25 in four starts. But he has excelled at the Sony, going T6-T13-T3 the past three years. He ranked 11th on Tour last season in GIR.

Patton Kizzire - $7,600 (60-1)
Kizzire held his own with the big boys last week at the TOC, tying for 15th. That was a fourth top-15 in what has been a very active early portion of the season for him. Kizzire recorded his first career win two months ago at Mayakoba, a track not too dissimilar from Waialae. He's ranked top-40 on Tour in both GIR and strokes gained putting so far this season.

Hudson Swafford - $7,300 (60-1)
Swafford has placed top1-15 at Waialae in three of the past four years -- every time without the benefit of playing Kapalua the week before. Now, he adds that to his resume, although a T27 in a 34-man field had to be a disappointment for him. Swafford was 23rd on Tour in GIR last season.

Long-Shot Values

Beau Hossler - $7,000 (150-1)
Hossler is only 22 and he's already played 17 PGA Tour events, including five this past fall in his first go-round as a Tour member. He made all five cuts, with two of them being top-10s.

Andrew Landry - $7,000 (100-1)
Landry is a Web.com grad but far from a youngster at age 30. He had a win, a second and two thirds last year as a Webbie (not an official term). His first time as a PGA Tour member, back in 2016, didn't go so well, even in the watered-down fall season. Landry is off to much better start in 2017-18, already notching two top-10s.

Kevin Tway - $6,800 (150-1)
Every week, some DraftKings prices really stand out as too high or too low. This is one of them. Tway made real strides last season, with six top-25s. He doesn't have such a high finish yet this season, but he did make 4-of-5 cuts in the fall.

Ben Silverman - $6,800 (125-1)
Silverman is another Web.com grad and, like Landry, not a young one. He, too, is 30 years old. Also like Landry, Silverman had two top-10s in the fall season, making four cuts in five starts.

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