Sony Open Picks: Ancer, Kisner and Thompson Among Best Bets at Waialae

Sony Open Picks: Ancer, Kisner and Thompson Among Best Bets at Waialae article feature image
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Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images. Pictured: Kevin Kisner.

  • The 2021 Sony Open tees off on Thursday morning and is the first full-field event of the year.
  • Webb Simpson is the favorite to win the tournament, but Josh Perry has his eye on five golfers further down the board.

It wasn’t a good week for us at the Tournament of Champions.

Patrick Reed and Patrick Cantlay only hovered around the first page of the leaderboard on a few occasions and were never really threats for the title.

We’ll move on to the Sony Open, which in recent seasons, usually correlates well with the Tournament of Champions. Seven of the last nine winners at the Sony have played the week before at the Tournament of Champions. Cameron Smith threw a wrench into that run last season, but Smith had been playing some of the higher-profile events in Australia along with the President’s Cup so he definitely didn’t arrive rusty.

This year, we’re back to a more normal schedule where if a player didn’t tee it up at Kapalua last week, they don’t have a competitive start in over a month.

I mention it each season when we get to this event, but the reasons behind this trend aren’t too hard to figure out. The TOUR is coming off an extended layoff for most of the players. That gives the guys who played at the Tournament of Champions a chance to get back into form.

We don’t know how the rest of the players have spent their time off. December is really the only offseason the TOUR players get, so this is a spot where players can be testing out new equipment in competition for the first time or simply haven’t practiced much over the holidays and need to work their way back into the swing of things.

It also doesn’t hurt that players from the Tournament of Champions are usually among the best in the field. In normal seasons, they’d have a win under their belts in the last year to get there. That wasn’t a requirement this year but if they didn’t win, they at least needed to make it into the top 30 of the FedEx Cup. So they’re all coming off solid seasons.

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The Course

Not much has changed at Waialae Country Club. It is still one of the shorter courses on tour, measuring 7,044 yards as a par-70.

Length off the tee doesn’t play too much of a factor here. We’ve had shorter, inaccurate drivers like Smith, Patton Kizzire and Fabian Gomez come out on top in recent years. It’s really a second-shot golf course where a player who can get hot putting on Bermuda greens will come out on top.

It’s a vastly different course than Kapalua, which is more of a bomber’s paradise and favors strength from tee to green. Because of that, you shouldn’t just look at players who finished strong last week. Guys like Kevin Kisner or Brendon Todd aren’t really the best fit for Kapalua, but shaking off that competitive rust is important for this week heading to a course that better suits their game.

It tends to play pretty easy by TOUR standards unless the wind picks up. Last year, 11-under was enough to make a playoff, but that’s more of an outlier. In four of the last six years, the winner needed to reach at least 20-under.

The Favorites

With most of the top players taking this week off, Webb Simpson opened as the favorite at +1200. Simpson finished in the middle of the pack last week, but heading to a shorter course that favors irons and Bermuda putting is right in his wheelhouse. He’s finished third and fourth in his last two appearances at the event.

Right behind him are Collin Morikawa, Reed, Harris English and Daniel Berger who are all in the +1400-1800 range. None have a top-10 finish here in the last five years and of the group, I’d probably lean toward Morikawa (+1500 on DraftKings). He was 21st in his debut last year and is coming off a top-10 at the Tournament of Champions.

Sungjae Im, Joaquin Niemann, Hideki Matsuyama and defending-champ Smith are all in the +2000 range. Im is probably the most interesting for me at +2200 on DraftKings. He’s got two solid results here, finishing 16th and 21st the past two seasons and is coming off a fifth-place finish last week.

The Midtier

I’ll steer clear of the very top of the board this week and start with a couple players who drifted just outside the favorites range.

First is Abraham Ancer at +3100 on FanDuel. Ancer got off to a slow start last week but gained just over three strokes on approach in the final round of the TOC to lead the field that day. He also closed the fall with solid results at Augusta and Mayakoba, finishing inside the top 15 in both events.

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I’ll also go back to Kevin Kisner at +3300 on DraftKings again on another short Bermuda course. We lost with him in a playoff at the RSM to finish out the fall, but this is another course that fits his eye. He was fourth last year and has three top-5 finishes over the past five years. Kapalua is just too long and wide open to fit Kisner’s game but as the week went along, the irons started to get better and he’s putting well.

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I’ll dip down the board a bit for two more plays in this range.

We’ll start with Sebastian Munoz at +6600 on DraftKings. Munoz had an awful first round last week but gained strokes ball striking each of the next three rounds to finish inside the top 20. Munoz doesn’t have much of a history here, but a 10th-place finish in his debut in 2019 shows it’s a course where he can compete.

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I’ll end with Marc Leishman at +8000 on DraftKings. Leishman was eighth in the field last week in approach but putted miserably. I’ll look for a bounce-back showing on the greens from him since he’s above average on the surface. This has been a solid spot for him, as he’s made the cut in all 11 starts at the Sony and was third two years ago.

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The Longshots

This really hasn’t been a spot for many longshots to come through. Usually, the triple-digit guys didn’t play the TOC or performed rather poorly so they’re entering the event a step behind the more talented players near the top.

But I’ll try one play here with Michael Thompson at 160/1 on Bet365. Thompson is a good Bermuda putter who can hit short irons well. He’s coming off a 21st last week despite losing nearly five strokes off the tee. This course will limit the longer hitters a bit, so his disadvantage with the driver won’t be as apparent.

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My focus is always on the guys that played last week. It has just been a big advantage over the last 10 years or so.

But if you want to jump in on a few other players who didn’t tee it up in Kapalua, this is the range I’d target. J.T. Poston is someone I’d look at on a normal week at a course like this, and Anirban Lahiri spent much of December playing in India, so he won’t have the rust like many here.

Sony Open card

  • Abraham Ancer +3100 (1.06 units)
  • Kevin Kisner +3300 (1 unit)
  • Sebastian Munoz +6600 (.5 units)
  • Marc Leishman +8000 (.41 units)
  • Michael Thompson +16000 (.21 units)

Total Stake: 3.18 units

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