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Sobel: Morikawa, Henley, Steele Offering Live Outright Value at Sony Open

Sobel: Morikawa, Henley, Steele Offering Live Outright Value at Sony Open article feature image

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images. Pictured: Russell Henley.

Earlier this week, I was asked whether I’m partial to picking the previous week’s winner and runner-up in general — and whether my usual preference would carry over specifically to Harris English and Joaquin Niemann at the Sony Open, the two players who topped last week’s leaderboard.

I’ll start with the first part of that query.

I’ve often felt like doubling down on the most recent 1-2 finishers is like having an answer key to a test which only results in a B-minus grade.

You’re very rarely going to completely fail by taking these players, if not for outrights, then at least for props or DFS plays. They were obviously playing well and that form should supersede any worries about taking their games to a different track and starting over from scratch.

Then again, you’re very rarely going to completely succeed, either. Sure, there are instances of winners going back-to-back, or a runner-up finishing one spot higher the following week, but expecting a stiff case of déjà vu just seven days later isn’t usually the best formula for prognosticating such things.

Even laser-like ball-striking and torrid putting can fall victim to the physical and mental energies that were burned the previous weekend.

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In the case of English and Niemann — the former beat the latter on the first sudden-death playoff hole at last week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions — I was sticking by my regular rule of thumb.

I figured English might open with a solid start. After all, he owns a first-round scoring average of just over 68 in his last dozen starts and he’d just removed a large monkey from his back by finally winning for the first time in eight years. It wasn’t a poor assumption to think he’d continue playing well until some fatigue set in.

As it turned out, he was neither great nor terrible, posting an opening-round 70, which probably feels like that B-minus grade right now if you picked him.

Niemann’s performance, though, can be considered a surprise — a very pleasant surprise for those who remained on the bandwagon.

It’s not easy to hop back on the first tee after a playoff loss the previous Sunday. On the two other occasions this season when a playoff loser competed the very next week, Wyndham Clark missed the cut (at the Houston Open) and Matthew Wolff finished 73rd in a 77-man field (at the CJ Cup).

On Thursday, however, he disproved any theory of burned up energy, firing an 8-under 62 to grab a share of the overnight lead alongside Peter Malnati and Jason Kokrak.

What does that mean for us from a betting perspective? Well, a few things, potentially.

If you stayed with Niemann, congrats. That bet could very well pay off. If you didn’t and want to get back in, it’ll cost you. He’s now listed as the favorite at +550.

And maybe there’s a lesson in there, too — something about not all losers of playoffs being created equal.

In any case, I won’t be recommending Niemann at his current number, but here are three live outrights to consider entering Round 2 at Waialae CC.


Collin Morikawa (+1200)

I was a bit surprised that Webb Simpson opened as the pre-tournament favorite over Morikawa this week; I thought they at least could’ve been co-faves, based on Morikawa’s proven win equity over the past 18 months.

If there was a reason for his price to be just a tad higher, it likely correlates to his finish to the 2020 campaign, when he followed his first career major victory with five middling results.

On Thursday, he fired a 4-under 66 that included an unfortunate (and somewhat strange) double-bogey. He ranked fourth in the field in strokes gained on approach shots, which is right on brand. What really impressed me, though, is that he followed last week’s poor putting performance by posting a +1.34 number on the greens.

If he keeps that up, he’s going to be very hard to beat. At more than twice the price of Niemann, I think there’s some value here.

Russell Henley (+3300)

On the eve of the opening round, my co-host Michael Collins and I welcomed English as a guest on “Hitting the Green,” our SiriusXM PGA Tour radio show. Toward the end of the interview, I asked last week’s winner whether bettors should back him again. He didn’t say no, but what he said about some else was more interesting than what he said about himself.

“If I were throwing a bet out there,” he said, “I would probably go with Russell Henley.”

That was an unsolicited prediction from English, who (like Henley) attended the University of Georgia and who (like Henley) spent the past year putting on a ball-striking fiesta while waiting for that next elusive victory.

A past champ at the Sony, Henley is sitting at 4-under 66, as well. Much like Morikawa, he’s not known as a great putter, but is rolling it well so far, which could bode nicely for his chances this weekend.

Brendan Steele (+6600)

Yeah, I get it. I’m the guy who hosts “The Gimme” each week with a STEELE caddie bib over my shoulder, so you might think I’m a bit biased.

The truth is, I try to abstain from naming him too often for fear of such accusations. I did, however, believe Steele was incredibly underpriced entering this tournament, both in the books and DFS. This is a guy who’s won three times and nearly had a fourth at this very event last year, so he obviously likes this course.

We also had Steele on “Hitting the Green” prior to the first round. (That’s right, what a guest lineup!)

“You know, I’m normally pretty honest, so I would tell you if it was time to fade me,” he told us, “but I’m excited about this week. … I’m feeling good, I’m excited. Whenever I’m coming off a long break, that’s usually when you want to take a look at me.”

Following a 5-under 65, we should all be taking a look at this 66/1 number and realizing the value.

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