Sony Open 2023 Picks, Odds: Tom Kim Favored; Bet Corey Conners
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images. Pictured: Corey Conners.
- Tom Kim is favored at the 2023 Sony Open in Honolulu.
- This is the PGA Tour's first full-field event of the calendar year.
- Jason Sobel breaks down the 2023 Sony Open odds and makes his picks below.
Click arrow to expand 2023 Sony Open odds via BetRivers
|Si Woo Kim||+4000|
|Haley II, Paul||+17500|
|Byeong Hun An||+25000|
You can ride in a taxi three blocks through Manhattan rush hour traffic in the same time it takes to fly from Maui to Oahu. Plane goes up, plane comes down. Boom, you’re there. Officially, the flight is listed at 37 minutes, but it feels half of that – barely enough to catch a few scenes of your favorite Netflix show.
These flights have held the key to figuring out the Sony Open odds board over the past several years, as the winners – and many contenders – largely come from their passenger lists.
Before I get into the rationale for why Sentry TOC competitors tend to fare so well at the Sony, let’s take a look into the numbers for one of my favorite trends of the year:
Since 2017, Kapalua-to-Waialae players have accounted for just 15.9 percent of the Sony Open field. And yet, they make up five of the last six winners, and of the 66 players to finish inside the top 10 over these past six years (including ties), 26 of those players (39.4%) competed the previous week. Extend that to making the cut, and we find that 73 percent (100-of-137) of players who competed in the first cashed a check in the second.
As for the reasons, well, the first theory is easy: The Sentry TOC field is, by definition, filled with more successful players, so they should own an innate advantage against many less-accomplished peers, as the year’s first full-field event features plenty of rookies and journeymen.
Another reason: Those who competed last week already have those competitive juices flowing, while the players who didn’t have largely gone a month-and-a-half since playing a tournament round that mattered. Having an opportunity to shake off the cobwebs is another massive edge at this one.
And more, if you choose to continue down the rabbit hole: The players coming from Kapalua have already done the Hawaii thing, for lack of a better term. From getting their body clocks attuned to the time zone to already enjoying a few happy hour mai tais, the allure of the 50th State becomes old hat by the second week.
Ironically, there are only 19 players making the quick island-hop this week – ironic because the TOC officially expanded its field to also include Tour Championship competitors, seemingly creating a larger player pool. This was also done in 2021, due to the COVID-shortened season of 2020, and 30 players competed in both events that year.
It’s tough to believe at least a few of ‘em won’t be in contention once again this weekend. At least, that’s what the oddsmakers believe, considering as many as seven top the pre-tournament boards in some markets.
As for the type of player we should be targeting, other than Guy Who Took a Short Flight, the analytics show a trend no less surprising. The top 26 players on last year’s Sony Open board each finished with a positive Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green number at Waialae CC – and the top 16 were all at least a stroke better than field average. That’s no outlier, either. Two years ago, the top 24 on the final leaderboard all gained strokes tee-to-green; the previous year, it was 30 of the top 31.
Keeping all of that in mind, it would be downright irresponsible if I didn’t start out this week’s picks with a tee-to-green specialist who was in last week’s field. Good thing I found someone.
Outright Winner (Short Odds)
One player to win the tournament.
Corey Conners (+2500)
About once per week, I’ll uncover some statistic which makes me rethink how I view a player. That happened recently with Conners, whom I’ve long pigeon-holed as one of the game’s great (and underrated) iron players.
Now, if you’re going to get saddled with some all-encompassing reputation, being known as an elite ball-striker isn’t a bad one to have – and I’m hardly alone in this feeling, as there’s a general sense that he belongs somewhere in the next tier of iron players after whatever combination of Justin Thomas, Colin Morikawa and Will Zalatoris is at the top.
And so, it was a bit baffling to unearth the fact that – last season, at least – Conners was actually better in comparison to his fellow players with a driver in his hands as opposed to the irons. Last season, the Canadian ranked sixth in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee (.700) and 16th in Strokes Gained: Approach (.601).
That’s hardly a major differential, but it does help paint a slightly different picture of Conners as one who excels in two major categories, not just one. With there being such a major onus on tee-to-green this week, his skillset should fit perfectly, as evidenced by top-12 finishes in each of the last three years. It’s about time for Conners to claim that second career title, and there aren’t many courses which fit his game like Waialae.
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Outright Winner (Long Odds)
One player to win the tournament.
Kurt Kitayama (+5500)
Full disclosure: When I recently added a second outright play to the column for the designation of someone with longer odds, I envisioned usually going deeper than 55/1 to find it.
You can easily find bigger odds this week, though none of these tickets have cashed at this event over the past several years. Hideki Matsuyama won last year’s tournament from 18/1; before him, there was Kevin Na (60/1), Cameron Smith (40/1), Matt Kuchar (40/1), Patton Kizzire (60/1) and Justin Thomas (15/1).
As the year’s first full-field event, I think there’s a palpable yearning from the public to play some bigger prices just for the novelty of them being available for the first time in close to two months, but a winner max-out of 60/1 over the past six years suggests that isn’t the wisest strategy.
Instead, I landed here on Kurt Kitayama, whom I’ve always believed is valuable in the outright marketplace. He is the world’s 42nd-ranked player – a ranking which would surprise most casual fans – largely based on a high ceiling, which accounts for three runner-up finishes (Mexico Open, Scottish Open, CJ Cup) and a third (Honda Classic).
The 29-year-old has yet to show consistency at the highest level, missing the cut in 12 of 26 starts last year, but we’re not betting on consistency; we’re betting on him having one of those spike weeks and finally getting rewarded with a victory. Currently seventh in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, he fits every profile of what we’re looking for this week, other than course history, as he MC’d in his lone start last season. At this number, it’s worth paying to find out if his ceiling game shows up again.
Potential selections for one-and-done options.
Russell Henley (+2500)
In every OAD that I’m in which requires all picks made before the start of the year, Russell Henley is my guy at this event, which he won 10 years ago, lost in a playoff last year and owns three other top-25 finishes. In last week’s Sentry TOC preview, I not-so-subtly hinted that I’d be all over him for this one, but coming off an average ball-striking week, the 25/1 number feels a little too short.
Even so, I do like him at a place where he’s shown success. I’d expect him to be a popular OAD pick this week, but if you’re in the camp which believes it’s too early to start thinking about leverage plays, he makes as much sense as anyone here.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout (+4500)
Anytime we’re dealing with an old-school course that features smaller green complexes, I’m taking a long look at C-Bez, who quietly owns one of the better short games at this level.
I recently wrote about players whom I believe will make “The Leap” in 2023, and while Bezuidenhout’s name was one of the last to hit the cutting room floor, I still think this could be a big stepping-stone campaign for a player who’s enjoyed success all over the world. He was T17 here last year, and there’s reason to believe that international experience can help at a place which doesn’t really feel like a U.S. venue anyway.
Chris Kirk (+8000)
Like Henley, another Georgia Bulldog, there appears to be some correlation for the Southeast guys out in the Aloha State. Chris Kirk owns a pair of runner-up finishes and four top 10s in 12 career starts here. If you’re looking for a guy with experience and don’t want to burn one of the bigger names yet, he offers a nice opportunity to cash a big check while hanging on to those other options.
One player to finish top-five
Cam Davis (+900 for top five)
Here’s how much I like Cam Davis this year: I don’t totally love him at Waialae, which doesn’t completely fit his game – and yet, I’m still picking him for some ho-hum top-five finish this week. He’s essentially so talented and ready to pop (even more than he has already) that I don’t want to miss out, even when the situation isn’t totally right for him.
The truth is, I would’ve downright loved him at Kapalua last week, as the Plantation Course suits him better and Aussies own a strong record there, but since he failed to make that field, this one feels like a decent backup plan to start. I’ll be owning plenty of Davis shares throughout the year.
One player to finish in the top 10
Nick Hardy (+700 for top 10)
For as bullish as I am on Davis, I’m probably too bullish on Hardy, but I really like what I’ve seen from him so far this season. After getting an initial PGA Tour campaign under his belt, albeit a disappointing one, the Illinois product owns three top 25s in six starts already this season, with just a single missed cut.
He missed the Sony Open cut last year, mired in a string of poor results but played here as a non-member two years ago and finished T14. With his game in better shape now, finishing a few notches higher isn’t asking too much.
One player to finish in the top 20
Maverick McNealy (+170 for top 20)
Some plays listed in my preview each week are on the aggressive side, and others are more conservative. This is about as conservative as it gets, but I love these types of bets on McNealy to help boost an early-year bankroll, from which you can take a few more chances.
Few players of his status have shown a floor as high as that of McNealy over the past few years, whom I’ve likened to a modern-era Charles Howell III – essentially, the type of guy who’s a human ATM. He’s finished in the top 20 in four of his last five starts (the other was a T-27) and just missed cashing this ticket here last year, posting a T27.
We’ve still really yet to see what McNealy’s ceiling can be – I do think he has win potential – but we can bet what we know here, and what we know is that he posts solid results nearly every single time he shows up.
One player to finish in the top 30
He doesn’t overpower the ball off the tee or roll in an inordinate amount of putts, and he’s not a 20-year-old up-and-comer – he’s 27 – so Sigg tends to get lost in the shuffle when discussing talented young players, but the results are coming. I liken him to a poor man’s Kevin Kisner a year-and-a-half into his PGA Tour career, a compliment of the highest order as a guy who punches above his weight on a regular basis.
With three top-15 finishes already in the early part of this season, I think he makes sense for conservative props or as a piece to a DFS lineup this week.
One player to finish in the top 40
The former No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, Nakajima turned pro this past fall and promptly finished T12 at the Zozo Championship, then followed with a pair of top 10s in four starts on the Japan Tour to close out the year. I’m very intrigued to see where his game is in 2-3 years, but for now I think he makes sense for a top-40 play.
DFS Free Bingo Square
A safe plug-and-play option for DFS.
I’m writing this preview on Monday morning, so I’m not sure if Hoge is about to take off, is still in the air or has already landed at his destination today. Unlike the other 18 players making that quick trip from Maui to Oahu, though, Hoge is taking a detour through Los Angeles to watch his TCU football team take on Georgia in the national championship game.
That story alone might be enough to keep some bettors/DFS players from investing in him this week, but I won’t be dissuaded. To be frank, you can try to read something into this – either he won’t be prepared enough to play his best golf or taking focus away from the game will be a blessing in disguise – but I’m largely ignoring it as a narrative point and looking at him strictly from this perspective:
When Hoge gets hot, he tends to stay hot for a few weeks in a row. Fresh off a T3 result at Kapalua that featured a closing 9-under 64, he should be ready to keep stepping on the gas pedal this week.
A medium-priced option for DFS lineups
I had Palmer as a guest on “Hitting the Green,” my SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio show, last week. One of the things he said which really struck me is that as he enters his 20th full year on the PGA Tour, he still loves playing the game.
I know that might not sound like much, as most recreational golfers would like to believe that all high-level pros love playing as much as we do, but that’s not always the case. Palmer, though, was out that afternoon playing a casual round with his son and sounded as stoked about playing competitively this year as he probably was in his rookie season.
For the forty-something crowd who can still play but might lack motivation, a little enthusiasm could be the lone thing which separates a good year from a disappointing one. With a win, six top 25s and 12 made cuts in 16 career starts at this event, Palmer should arrive with a smile on his face, and those who play him could very well have one, too.
A lower-priced option for DFS lineups
Where have you heard this name before? Allow me to remind you: Last week, Augusta National announced Higa as one of two players who will receive a special exemption into this year’s Masters. They don’t simply hand these out to just anyone, so you know he’s a little special.
Last year, Higa had four wins and top-10s around the world, mostly on the Japan Tour. I’ll admit there’s a wide spectrum of potential results this week, but don’t be surprised if he pays off his value at low ownership.
One player to post the low score Thursday.
In eight starts already this season – he plays every week! – Kim already owns five Thursday scores of 68 or better, including a 65 at the Shriners Children’s Open. He’ll need to improve upon that, as first-round leaders have posted an average score of 62.4 on the par-70 track over the past five years. For a player who wasn’t afraid to go low on the KFT last year, posting a handful of 64s, he could be ripe for taking a shot here.
One player who should beat comparable players.
Aaron Rai (+10000) and David Lipsky (+13000)
New year, same ol’ grouping from me, as I admittedly keep putting these Zurich Classic partners together when they’re playing the same event. It’s not totally out of left field, as they’re usually similarly priced, play similar types of fairways-and-greens games and have similar backgrounds, having won on other tours around the world before landing on the PGA Tour.
In any case, I like both for matchups, considering their consistency and reluctance to make errors. We should find a few players near these prices who can MC, meaning Rai and Lipsky can potentially cash some H2H tickets before you sit down for your Friday evening dinner.
Also Receiving Votes
Other players who should provide value
Sungjae Im (+1400), Brian Harman (+2500), Emiliano Grillo (+5000), Andrew Putnam (+5000), Brendan Steele (+8000), Justin Suh (+9000), Hayden Buckley (+10000), Brandon Wu (+15000)