Sony Open Contenders
Smith looks to be only the third player to complete the Sentry and Sony double since they found permanent homes in Hawaii, with Ernie Els and Justin Thomas the only two to have managed that feat so far, and with Bryson DeChambeau having withdrawn it’s no surprise that Smith goes into this as the firm favourite.
He’s no stranger to this course having won here back in 2020 and while that will give him great confidence, it’s a big ask to replicate the kind of form in successive weeks, especially on a course that despite being in the same state, differs in many ways.
The fairways are narrower and flatter and the greens are noticeably smaller than what Smith would have encountered last week, so at the prices we’re inclined to find better value further down the market.
Jason Kokrak is one that certainly flies under the radar, though is no stranger to a tour victory. He played poorly last week, truth be told, though his game isn’t exactly suited to undulating tracks and Waiʻalae Country Club’s flat nature may see him go well.
He won on his last start of 2021 in Houston, leading the field in putting average on similar Bermuda greens to this one, while each of the last five winners here have ranked in the top six for that metric.
Tee to green there is no issue at all for the American, and while his form here isn’t the best on first look, on closer inspection he’s been very competitive. From his last five starts here he’s been leading after the first round last year, top five at the halfway point in 2014 and eighth heading into the final day the following year. At his price, he looks worth an each way shout.
We tipped Leishman last week, and he showed enough in his performance against what was a very strong field to convince us to get behind him again here. Remarkably, he’s never missed a cut in Hawaii despite playing 17 times in this state since 2009, although the Tournament of Champions admittedly is no cut event, while five of his last eight starts in Hawaii have resulted in a top-10 finish.
He will massively benefit from having played, and played well, last week and history suggests that’s very much the case. Indeed, his four Sony Opens that followed him playing in the Sentry have resulted in three top-10s, with the last two such occasions seeing him finish third in 2019 and fourth last year.
His form of late goes a long way to matching his course pedigree as he hasn’t missed a cut since the Open in July, while three of his last five events have resulted in top-10s and he’ll take motivation in following his compatriot and friend Smith into victory.
Charles Howell III
Finally we’re look further down the market and give our backing to Charles Howell III, who has an exceptional record at this tournament and will be making his 21st start here, with his previous 20 resulting in 18 made cuts, 14 top-20s, 10 top-10s and seven top-5s, so he’ll be desperate to convert one of those into his fourth PGA Tour victory and a weakened field may give the opportunity to do just that.
It’ll work against him that he hasn’t featured competitively since the back end of November, though it’s rare that he goes into this with it not being his calendar year opener, and that has obviously served him well historically so shouldn’t be too much of an issue here. His recent form is nothing to write home about, though a near two month rest may just have been what was needed for him to go well here.
CHARLES HOWELL III