Sobel’s Sony Open Preview: Justin Thomas is Favored, but Collin Morikawa Provides Value


Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images. Pictured: Collin Morikawa in Kapalua, Hawaii.

Jan 07, 2020, 11:28 AM EST

When handicapping golf tournaments and trying to predict winners, there’s always an edge — it’s just that some are sharper than others. That’s the case at this week’s Sony Open, where a recent trend could help narrow down the year’s first full field.

First things first: For those of us who waded through the fall portion of the PGA Tour schedule and waited through the admittedly abbreviated offseason, last week’s Sentry TOC was like a tease.

Sure, we got some of the game’s best players on an increasingly demanding layout, but the 34-player field is always akin to starting out the NBA season with an opening-night 3-on-3 tournament. (An idea I’d completely support, FWIW.)

The festivities at brilliantly-devious Waialae CC won’t be more star-studded, but they will be more crowded, a sight for sore eyes amongst those of us who love the potential of an underdog story.

Then again, even with a fuller house, the ‘dogs haven’t been allowed inside lately.

That’s because of that edge I mentioned earlier: Each of the past six editions of the Sony were won by a player who competed at Kapalua the previous week.

There are plenty of explanations for this. Unlike those who are easing their way into competition, guys making the 28-minute flight from Maui are already game-tested. Their body clocks are accustomed to overcome any possible jet lag. And they’ve already enjoyed a Mai Tai or two in the Aloha State. Now it’s business time.

I’m not suggesting that only players who also competed last week — there are 23 of ‘em, by the way — have a chance this week, but the edge is sharp.

Problem is, that edge appears to stop there.

Here are the results at Kapalua for each of the previous six Sony Open champions:

There you have it, guys: Based on recent history, anyone who finishes between first and 21st can parlay that into a win at the next Hawaiian stop.

Trying to examine whether any trends went deeper, I looked at the Kapalua strokes gained stats (in tee to green, around the green, putting and overall) for each of these players, thinking one related aspect of their games might’ve vaulted them onto the leaderboard one week later.

Well, not much of a hint here, either. Half of these guys drove it better than average the previous week, half didn’t. They were all right about average around the greens, but without that number being a major positive for each guy, I can’t see how that is anything more than coincidence.

Similarly, none had been putting great and none putting terribly. Even total strokes gained finds a couple on the wrong side of the average right before their wins.

Wish I had more of an edge here, but when seeking Sony winners, the trend remains only this: Pick a guy who played the week before and wasn’t terrible.

Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty of these guys lined up in the selections below, including my pick to win.

If you’re in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana or West Virginia and bullish on Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed this week, be sure to check out FanDuel, which has boosted the odds that either Thomas OR Reed win the 2020 Sony Open from +250 to +300.

Outright Winner

One player to win the tournament

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