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Sobel’s Sony Open Preview: Banking on the Kapalua 22

Jan 10, 2019 8:19 PM EST

USA Today Sports. Pictured: Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson

  • The 2019 PGA Tour moves onto its next stop with the Sony Open in Hawaii, which starts on Thursday.
  • Jason Sobel makes his picks between those who competed in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and those who did not.

I am not in Hawaii right now. I’m not writing these words from a poolside bar with a fruity cocktail beside me, the ocean air dancing through my fingers as I type.

I know, you feel soooo badly for me.

I’m not looking for any sympathy, though. I’ve covered the festivities at Kapalua about six or seven times before — and on each occasion, I made the 28-minute journey from Maui to Oahu for the Sony Open because, well, why the hell not? I mean, it’s right next door anyway. Might as well.

My guess is that many of the 22 players making that trip this week felt the exact same way.

Sure, there are some — like Justin Thomas, who opened with a 59 en route to winning at Waialae two years ago — who would be playing no matter what. But there are definitely those — and maybe it’s the majority — who rationalize that since they’re already in the Aloha State, it only makes sense to stay another week and keep their games sharp.

Two-thirds of last week’s year-opening Sentry Tournament of Champions field have entered this week’s event — and for good reason: Each of the past five Sony Open champions competed the previous week at Kapalua.

Could that be a coincidence? Well, sure. However, those making the island hop annually account for about 15% of the latter event’s field. Factor that percentage by five and you’ll understand that’s got to be more than a coincidence.

Instead, the answers lies in some tangible factors, even if they can’t be found within their analytics.

First of all, these players have all enjoyed an extra week to get their body clocks adjusted to Hawaii time. That might not sound like much, but even a few days of jet lag can throw a guy off his game for the week.

Secondly, their vacation is over. Look, nobody arrives at Waialae thinking about keeping their card or qualifying for bigger events. There’s not much pressure in Hawaii in January, so you can bank on some of those starting this week to not quite have their games in gear yet. That’s a major advantage for the Kapalua kids.

Lastly, these guys already have that competitive edge sharpened. Just like any of us returning to work after the holiday break, it sometimes takes a little while for pro golfers to get back into the groove, but the 22 playing a second tourney shouldn’t have that issue.

Let’s get right to the picks, with a little curveball. Instead of favorites and longshots, I’ll break them down between Kapalua competitors and those who are starting their year this week.

Kapalua Players

Justin Thomas (+550)

Easily the favorite on the board, and for good reason. I mentioned JT’s exploits at this event two years ago, and fresh off a solo third-place finish at TOC, it’s hard to believe that he won’t be a major factor this week.

Marc Leishman (+1700)

My favorite pick of the week.

Whether it’s as a 17-1 bet, a DFS mainstay or a one-and-done selection, the Aussie should be primed for a big performance. He was T-4 last week and ranks as one of the game’s best wind players, which could be a major factor yet again.

Charles Howell III (+2800)

I liked him a lot at Kapalua, which didn’t quite pan out, but I’m doubling down with more CH3 this week on a course that he’s finished 32nd or better in each of the past seven years, including a pair of top-three results.