2022 Sony Open: Betting Odds, Picks & Preview, Including How To Back Marc Leishman, Sungjae Im
Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images. Pictured: Marc Leishman
Click for Sony Open odds, as of Monday afternoon via FanDuel.
|Si Woo Kim||+4600|
|Erik van Rooyen||+5500|
|Charles Howell III||+7500|
|Hao Tong Li||+35000|
|Dawie van der Walt||+55000|
We’re halfway into the Hawaii Swing, with the year’s first full-field event taking place this week. Fans might celebrate the big names and beautiful images from the Sentry TOC. Bettors know the Sony Open is where it gets really real.
I’ve already written about the low-scoring at Kapalua, but here in the weekly preview, I’m not done looking back, because looking back this week helps us to look forward.
Allow me to explain.
Unlike perhaps any two other back-to-back events on the PGA TOUR schedule, there is a major correlation between these two tournaments.
On the surface, it doesn’t really make sense. Kapalua’s Plantation Course is a big ballpark featuring wide, sweeping fairways and massive greens. Waialae CC is more of a ball-striker’s paradise, with accuracy necessary on what is often a windswept track.
I mean, they’re not even on the same island. There are plenty of inland courses more similar to either of these venues than they are to each other.
So, what’s the connection? There are a few of ‘em.
Perhaps most relevantly, players who competed at Kapalua last week have enjoyed four rounds in a competitive environment, something nobody at Waialae will have had in over a month. That’s a massive advantage in itself. Throw in the fact that these players going back-to-back are already accustomed to the time zone and have already dipped their toes in the ocean or sipped a mai-tai, and it’s easy to see why they might have an edge.
Don’t just listen to me, though. Check out the numbers.
I went back over the past five years and examined how much of a correlation, exactly, there is for players making that quick island-hopper flight this week.
Over the past five years, 117 players have made the trip from Kapalua to Waialae. Of those 117, 86 have made the cut (74 percent); 48 have finished top-25 (41 percent); and 22 have finished top-10 (19 percent). There’s not necessarily any comparison to another similar situation, but one-in-five players inside the top-10 feels like a definitive trend.
Two years ago was an outlier. It marked the only time since 2013 that a TOC competitor didn’t win the Sony and more players missed the cut than made it. Other than that, we should understand these numbers give an obvious edge to those who are making their second start of the year.
Granted, some of this can be explained thusly: The best players are those who win, so it stands to reason that some of the better results have come from that specific talent pool.
That doesn’t mean, though, that we can’t – or shouldn’t – take advantage of such information.
My picks this week begin with a player who owns a specific connection to last week’s winner, hoping to make it an Aussie sweep in Hawaii.
One player to win the tournament.
Marc Leishman (+2900)
On last week’s episode of the Links & Locks Podcast, my new pod partner, Ben Everill, who also writes for the PGA TOUR’s digital space, offered up some inside knowledge on Leishman, suggesting that his game was in tremendous shape entering the new year. (An Aussie himself, I’ve already started referring to Benny as the Aussie Whisperer, as he’s usually in tune with how his mates from Down Under will perform.)
Leishman responded with a T-10 result at Kapalua, leading right into the one for which I’ve been targeting him for a while. By the way, while playing at Kapalua seems a prerequisite for winning at Waialae, contending at Kapalua isn’t. Somewhat ironically, considering this past week’s result, the only player since 2013 to win the Sony Open without first playing the Sentry TOC was Cameron Smith in 2020.
Of the others, Jimmy Walker was T-21 at the TOC in 2014, but runner-up in 2015; Fabian Gomez was T-6 in 2016; Justin Thomas went back-to-back, winning both events in 2017; Patton was T-15 in 2018; Matt Kuchar was T-19 in 2019; and Kevin Na was T-38 last year.
Moral of the story? Competing the previous week is important at this one, but contending isn’t. On a course where long irons and wedge play are important, it should come as no surprise that a guy who excels in both areas should own such a stellar record here.
In a dozen previous starts, Leishman owns a third-place finish, a fourth, a fifth and seven total top-25s without a single missed cut. I have little doubt he’ll be a popular outright play, as it’s been nearly two full years since his most recent of five PGA TOUR victories and he’s more than due, but there could be strength in numbers on this one, with all signs pointing toward another big week for the big Aussie.
Potential selections for one-and-done options.
Talor Gooch (+3400)
It’s sort of amazing that the previously red-hot Gooch could shoot 15-under, posting scores of 67-67 on the weekend to finish in a share of 15th place, and yet it feels like he’s flying a bit under the radar going into this one.
For the week at Kapalua, he finished ninth in strokes gained tee-to-green, all of which suggests he could be on the verge of putting together another strong week.
A middling record at the Sony – MC-63rd-MC-18th — might keep your fellow OADers from picking him, but you’ll be getting a guy who’s been top-15 in six of his last seven starts.
Russell Henley (+4100)/Brian Harman (+5500)
I’m grouping these two former UGA Dawgs together for a few reasons. The first is that they’ve each enjoyed a level of success at this event.
Henley is a past champion, having won this tourney in 2013, and has three other top-20s; Harman was T-4 here in 2018 and owns three other top-20s in 10 career starts. Just as importantly, they’re each players I’m targeting as guys whose results haven’t quite caught up to their performance.
What I mean is that each has played good enough to win over the past 12 months, but haven’t gotten as much out of their play as they would’ve liked (or maybe deserved). I think it’s coming soon for both, though.
Matt Jones (+3400)/Keith Mitchell (+5500)
With so many OADers just getting going, I’m trying to offer plenty of options this week. Jones and Mitchell are grouped together as past champions of the Honda Classic.
According to Data Golf, there are about 20 courses on the regular PGA TOUR schedule which own a better “similarity score” with Waialae than PGA National, but I’ve always believed that similar tools are needed at both, especially if the wind blows this week – and it usually does. Jones might be a little too chalky after everyone watched him tear up Kapalua this weekend, but three top-25s in nine previous starts suggests he could have another solid performance.
Meanwhile, Mitchell is a guy I’m very bullish on for the entire year; he owns three top-25s in four starts here.
One player to finish top-five.
Sungjae Im (+350 for top-five)
It wasn’t the greatest Sunday final round for Im, who didn’t play terribly, but shot 4-under 69 and got lapped by all of his fellow competitors flying past him in the fast lane. That won’t dissuade me from being on him this week, as he was one of just five players to gain strokes in every major category at Kapalua.
For me, that’s a bigger sign than his final-round score or anything else. Im is an elite-level ball-striker; if his putting stroke is at a plus-number heading into this one, I like him for a top finish.
One player to finish top-10.
Chris Kirk (+700 for top-10)
Over the past decade, it’s really been all-or-nothing for Kirk at this event – but that’s exactly why we should play him for a top-10 (or better), with a high ceiling, yet potentially low floor.
Last year, his comeback was the feel-good story of the early year, returning after a prolonged absence due to alcohol abuse and depression, finishing runner-up to keep his PGA TOUR playing privileges.
Since 2013, he owns four top-10 results here, including two of those runners-up, but four missed cuts, as well. There’s definitely some risk involved with this play, but there’s some great potential for a nice reward, too.
One player to finish top-20.
Maverick McNealy (+220 for top-20)
On short, tight courses, McNealy is just about an auto-play for me these days, though it’s obviously dependent on how liberal we want to be on his prop bets. While I still have concerns about his overall ceiling, which will keep me from playing McNealy outright, he’s quickly shown that he owns an uncommonly high floor for a non-superstar, grinding out solid results on a seemingly weekly basis.
In his past 14 starts, dating back to last May, McNealy has only missed one cut, while posting seven top-20 finishes, but only one top-10. His best results last season came at Pebble Beach, Silverado and Harbour Town, so we shouldn’t have to guess where he might play his optimal golf.
He’s at his best when he can ball-strike his way from Point A to Point B, when overpowering the course isn’t necessary. That should fit well this week, as he makes his first Sony appearance.
One player to finish top-30.
I’ve written many times before about the PGA TOUR’s all-around category and how it can help recognize performance that might only be waiting on impending results. Essentially, the all-around is exactly what you’d think – it takes players’ rankings in just about every major statistic, then combines them together to prove which players do everything well. As you might think, the really good players are really good at everything.
Here are the top-19 in last season’s all-around: Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger, Harris English, Collin Morikawa, Tony Finau, Patrick Cantlay, Louis Oosthuizen, Sam Burns, Sungjae Im, Cameron Smith, Bryson DeChambeau, Corey Conners, Jason Kokrak and Scottie Scheffler. You get the point: Good players do everything well. Why am I focusing on this here? Because the man who ranked 20th last season, after all those names, is Kizzire.
This week, you can get a decent price on prop bets for a player who excels in all areas at a course where he’s often excelled, with a victory back in 2018, a T-7 last year and a T-13 three years ago. He was running hot for a while last summer, but the early fall portion of the schedule wasn’t too kind to Kizzire. That doesn’t bother me much, considering recent form isn’t all that recent this week, so he should make for a smart play.
One player to finish top-40.
Brandon Wu (+300) & Dylan Wu (+230)
If you’re going to spend the next 12 months betting on erstwhile Korn Ferry players, you’d better know one Wu from the other. Brandon, 24, is the world’s 333rd-ranked player, a Stanford product who won the 2020 Korn Ferry Tour Championship. Dylan, 25, is the world’s 346th-ranked player, a Northwestern guy who won last year’s Price Cutter Charity Championship.
Can’t say I have a strong lean as to which one owns more equity – either over the long-term or just this week – but I do think they both have bright futures and will be guys who keep their PGA TOUR cards in their rookie season, despite making a combined four of nine cuts so far, with a best finish of 34th place.
That starts this week, as I’ll take the entire Wu Clan for a little top-40 parlay at the Sony.
DFS Free Bingo Square
A safe plug-and-play option for DFS.
This should be a big year for Conners, who’s a proficient enough ball-striker that he only needs to putt a little better than average in order to contend. In three previous Sony starts, he’s posted finishes of 12th-3rd-39th, with 10 of 12 rounds under par. Speaking of high floors, Conners has made the cut in each of his past nine starts, with seven top-25s during that span.
A lower-priced option for DFS.
We all know about course horses. There are certain players who tend to play well at the same course, year after year. Steele is a courses horse – as in, there isn’t just one track where he tends to play well every year, but up to a half-dozen which account for a large portion of his success throughout his career. Until a few years ago, Waialae wasn’t one of ‘em. He played here in 2011, shot 77-70, missed the cut, and took nine years away from Oahu.
Two years ago, though, on the recommendation of a fellow player who believed that he’d be a good fit for Waialae, Steele decided to return. Rounds of 68-66-64 gave him a three-stroke lead entering the final round, but he was caught from behind by Cameron Smith and lost in a playoff.
Last year, thanks in large part to a third-round 61, he finished in a share of fourth place. So, it’s safe to say that this venue is now on his list of those he plays well – and remember, he tends to play well at the same places every year.
For a player who is regularly undervalued on every platform, he should be a strong piece to your DFS puzzle this week.
One player to post the low score Thursday.
Rory Sabbatini (+10000 for FRL)
Since 2006, here are Sabbatini’s opening-round scores at Waialae: 65-69-66-68-68-69-67-69-73-64-68-63-71-68-68-72. That’s a Thursday scoring average of exactly 68 with four totals of 66 or better.
Last year’s Olympic competition notwithstanding – when he claimed the silver medal for his adopted Slovakia – it isn’t often that Rory puts together four consecutive solid rounds, but for any one given day, the 44-year-old can still go low.
There aren’t many other rounds in many other places where I’d rather take him to accomplish it than at this one on Thursday, as he can rely on a few decades of experience to hopefully post something in the low-60s.
One player who should beat comparable players.
Webb Simpson (+1800)
If there’s a deviation from the aforementioned Sentry/Sony correlation, it exists in the form of Simpson, who apparently needs no warm-up start. Last year, he did play at Kapalua first, then finished T-4 at Waialae. In his previous five trips, though, he went 3rd-4th-13th-13th-13th – each time playing in the Sony as his initial start of the calendar year. At the time of this writing, matchups haven’t been listed in any books, but I’d play Simpson in most non-Leishman/Im head-to-heads.
That might leave players like Cameron Smith, Hideki Matusyama, Harris English and Bryson DeChambeau; I’d feel comfortable playing Simpson against any of them.
Also Receiving Votes
Other players who should provide value.
Branden Grace (+7000), Emiliano Grillo (+8000), Chez Reavie (+8000), Aaron Rai (+8000), Tyler Duncan (+12000), Greyson Sigg (+15000), Stephan Jaeger (+15000)
The Big Fade
One top player to avoid at this tournament.
Charles Howell III (+5000)
Full disclosure: This spot was originally reserved for Bryson DeChambeau, until his Monday morning withdrawal from the field. There isn’t a guy at the top of the board who I really don’t like this week, so instead I’ll fade CH3.
That might seem like a random fade, but there’s some thought behind it. I think bettors, DFSers and OADers might all look at his pristine record here and blindly dive in. I get it: He’s 20-for-20 making the cut, owns a pair of second-place finishes, a pair of thirds and a ridiculous 14 top-25s.
I mean, he’s the all-time leading money-winner at this event without ever winning it, which might be the only longstanding tournament on the schedule that we can say that about. I’d love to be wrong about one of my favorite dudes in the game, but the rationale behind this is based on form. In his last 13 events, dating back to last spring, Howell hasn’t finished better than 16th.
While I think he makes the cut this week to extend his record to 21-for-21, I’m not sure I see him seriously contending as he’s done in the past. For a guy whose history might make him a popular play, I’m going to hold off until he gets to California and has a few rounds under his belt.