The PGA Tour hops from Maui to Honolulu for part two of the Hawaiian Swing and let’s hope this week offers more of a challenge.
In last week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions, the scoring was truly ridiculous, with three players – winner Cameron Smith (-34), runner-up Jon Rahm (-33) and third-placed Matt Jones (-32) – all breaking the previous 72-hole scoring record on the PGA Tour.
Jones shot 23-under on the weekend. Does not compute.
The weather this week is a little hard to predict. Initially, it looked set to blow on Sunday but, at the time of writing (Tuesday morning UK), winds are forecast at no more than 10mph.
Not that lack of wind was the only reason for the daft numbers last week. As Justin Thomas said: “It’s so low because it’s so soft and if you give us soft conditions, fairways this big, course this short, we’re going to shoot nothing. Then if you give us not very much wind, we’re going to shoot even lower.
“You look at a place like Pebble Beach. Pebble Beach is 68- or 6900 yards and when it gets firm it’s all you want. But you give us a place, what, Erin Hills was a bazillion yards and it was soft and Brooks shot 16-under.”
Waialae Country Club is Pebble Beach in length and once did a great job of protecting itself. Vijay Singh won with 11-under in 2005 and the winning scores from 2007-2012 were all between -14 and -16.
But six of the last eight have been won with 20-under or lower and we saw Justin Thomas fire 27-under in 2017 although he did demolish the field by seven.
It’s fair to expect something 20-under or better once more so Birdie Average is worth a check.
Looking at past editions, this is where Strokes Gained Approach proves a fine indicator. Smith was an outlier in 2020 but four of the last five winners were ranked in the top seven in that category. Plenty of those who bagged place finishes also did so thanks to strong approach play.
The other stat punters usually want to know in this event is the number of Sony winners who had played in the previous week’s Sentry TOC. It’s a reasonable question given the timing of the two events as rust may have gathered over the Festive break and shaking it off at the Sentry could be an advantage.
With Kevin Na winning here last year, 16 of the last 23 Sony Open champions had teed it up the week before. That’s two thirds so I’ll reflect that in the three-man staking plan by picking two who did and one who didn’t.
One of those who did is Talor Gooch. I put him up last week at 40s against some of the best players in the game and I think the 30s in a much weaker, if much bigger, field is fair enough here.
As stated at the Sentry, I think he’s a player of vast potential and he probably looks a better fit for this course than he did last week’s. Not that he did too badly at the Sentry, shooting a pair of 6-under 67s on the weekend to finish in the top 15.
Gooch’s breakthrough win came at the RSM Classic in late November so it’s both recent and on a track which has many similar properties to this one.
The negative seems to be that his course form at Waialae looks modest (MC-63-MC the last three years). But, he’s never shot higher than 71 here, was second at halfway on debut in 2018 and he’ll be far more tuned up this time having played last week, something he’d never done previously.
The absolute clincher is that he has some excellent Strokes Gained: Approach stats and sits 9th in that category on the season-long list.
In addition, he’s 19th for Birdie Or Better Average so is equipped for a low-scoring week.
For those that didn’t play at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, it’s been quite a break.
Ideally, I’m looking for someone who played in the last full-field event of 2021, the RSM Classic which finished on November 21.
If that golfer has strong Strokes Gained: Approach stats for the season, I’m giving him a good look.
Someone who jumps out is Tom Hoge, the 32-year-old from North Carolina who has made solid progress over the last couple of seasons.
Perhaps Hoge’s improvement can be tracked by his results at the Players Championship where he made the field for the first time in 2018 and finished tied 78th, jumped to tied 30th in 2019 and took tied 22nd last year (2020 was cancelled).
Even in itself that’s not a bad form guide for this place given the small bermuda grass greens shared by both courses.
Sea Island, host course of the RSM, can also be linked closely to Waialae given that it’s a short, seaside track so I’m hoping that’s a good pointer to Hoge’s chances after he finished tied fourth there a couple of months ago.
Hoge, who was also fourth in the Northern Trust at Liberty National in August, was third at Mayakoba in December 2020. El Camaleon is very much another venue that falls into the category of correlating course.
As for this tournament, he always puts it on his schedule which is a good thing. His results are mixed but I’d rather it be boom or bust rather than a string of tied 30ths.
True, Hoge has missed four of his six cuts but his other two finishes were third in 2018 and 12th in 2020. In the former, he was the 54-hole leader after opening 65-65-64.
Even last year when he went out at halfway, Hoge was 10th after an opening 65 so it’s a course where he can shoot low numbers.
Having made his last six cuts at the end of 2021, posting that top four at Sea Island and two further top 20s, Hoge’s confidence is high.
And, as with Gooch, what really pushes him from potential bet to actual bet are his Strokes Gained: Approach numbers. They’ve been excellent, so much so that Hoge is second on the season-long list.
Get on board at 80/1.
As promised, I’ll reflect the ratio of winners here that had played at the Sentry by making a second selection from last week’s field.
There are a few candidates including Sentry champion Cameron Smith. The Aussie also won here two years ago but this column isn’t about putting up 8/1 shots.
Hideki Matsuyama and Sungjae Im both contested the Sentry and are 16/1 here. Preference would be for the Masters champion.
I have to give Marc Leishman a decent chance too. The 20/1 shot has three top fives at Waialae and was tied 10th last week.
But I’ll end with a punt on Seamus Power at 40s.
As with Gooch and Hoge, I’m hoping he’ll be carrying some momentum over from 2021 when he capped an excellent run of form with victory in July’s Barbasol Championship.
That got the Irishman into the Sentry field and there he recovered from a slowish start to shoot 65-69-67 over the final 54 holes and finish a very respectable tied 15th.
Power has a bunch of good form on correlating seaside tracks and showed that at the back end of 2021 when 12th at the Bermuda, 11th at Mayakoba and tied fourth in the RSM Classic.
Having ended 2020 ranked 429th in the world, he’s now as high as 63rd. In other words, he’s within range of the top 50 and all the rewards that brings such as a place in the Masters.
Similar to Gooch, his course form isn’t the best (49-54-MC-MC) but he’s simply a different player now and has the benefit of a sharpener at the Sentry.
Even then, seven of his 12 rounds here are in the 60s so the potential is there for him to have a big week.
Strokes Gained: Approach is Power’s highest statistical ranking when looking at the main SG categories and he’s 24th in Par 4 Scoring which bodes well for this par 70. If the putter gets working (22nd SGP last week) he could be in for a big week.
Note: The each-way terms are back to the usual 1/5 odds, 8 places now it’s a full-field event once more.