Cameron Smith, priced between 20-1 and 25-1, won the Tournament of Champions on Sunday by shooting the lowest score in relation to par in a four-round event in PGA Tour history. Smith, who led the field in both SG: Putting and SG: Off-The-Tee, finished at 34-under par to hold off world No. 1 Jon Rahm by a stroke and give this column its first win of the year.
Smith stays on the islands for the second portion of the Aloha swing, the Sony Open. At 9-1, he’s the tournament favorite coming off the victory at Kapalua and having won the Sony in 2020. He’s trying to become the third player to complete the Aloha Slam (Ernie Els, 2003; Justin Thomas, 2017).
Of the 38 players in the field last week, 23 are playing in the Sony Open. Seven of the last eight Sony winners played the prior week in Hawaii. Among the group playing back to back are Sungjae Im (16-1, 8th last week), Hideki Matsuyama (20-1, 13th), Marc Leishman (22-1, 10th), defending champion Kevin Na (30-1, 13th), Abraham Ancer (33-1, 35th), Harris English (35-1, 30th), Kevin Kisner (35-1, 8th), Talor Gooch (35-1, 15th), Matt Jones (50-1, 3rd).
Players making their 2022 debut include Webb Simpson (14-1), Corey Conners (25-1) and 2013 Sony winner Russell Henley (40-1).
The Sony Open in Hawaii has been contested at the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu since the event’s inception in 1965. There have been five multiple winners: Hubert Green, Corey Pavin, Lanny Wadkins, Ernie Els and Jimmy Walker. In 2017, Justin Thomas set the tournament scoring record of 253 (-27), the course record of 59 (Round 1), the 36-hole record of 123 (-17) and the 54-hole record of 188 (-22).
Waialae Country Club is a flat, bayside track where the scoring has gotten lower over the years. It plays as a par-70 of 7,044 yards and was designed in 1927 by Seth Raynor (also designed the Old White TPC, which hosts the Greenbrier Classic). It was last restored by Tom Doak in 2017. The course is all Bermudagrass including the TifDwarf Bermuda greens, which run a bit slower at 11 on the stimpmeter. The track has ranked as the easiest (2013, 2016, 2017), second-easiest (2014, 2015) and third-easiest (2019) par-70 on the PGA Tour in recent years. It played as the sixth-easiest course overall in 2021 with an average score of 67.98. Waialae is very much a second shot golf course.
The layout has six doglegs, tight corners and tree-lined fairways. Waialae has 83 bunkers and four water holes.
Wind is ordinarily a determining factor and the last two years provide the clearest evidence. In 2020, Waialae was hit with upwards of 35-40 mph winds over the first two days and the winning score was just 11-under par. Last year, the winds were around 12-14 mph and the winning score was 21-under.
According to Data Golf, Waialae is second to only Augusta National in terms of predictive course history, so course form triumphs over recent form more often than not.
Comparable courses to Waialae include Port Royal (Bermuda Championship), Pebble Beach (Pebble Beach Pro-Am), Harbour Town (Heritage), Coco Beach (Puerto Rico Open), El Camaleon (Mayakoba Golf Classic), Sea Island (RSM Classic) and Sedgefield (Wyndham Championship).
— 2021: Kevin Na (-21/259); 80-1
— 2020: Cameron Smith (-11/269); 55-1*
— 2019: Matt Kuchar (-22/258); 40-1
— 2018: Patton Kizzire (-17/263); 80-1**
— 2017: Justin Thomas (-27/253); 14-1
— 2016: Fabian Gomez (-20/260); 100-1***
— 2015: Jimmy Walker (-23/257); 18-1
— 2014: Jimmy Walker (-17/263); 40-1
— 2013: Russell Henley (-24/256); 100-1
— 2012: Johnson Wagner (-13/267); 125-1
— 2011: Mark Wilson (-16/264); 80-1
— 2010: Ryan Palmer (-15/265); 250-1
*Playoff win over Brendan Steele
**Playoff win over James Hahn
***Playoff win over Brandt Snedeker
Trends and Angles
Kapalua finish for Sony winners
Having an extra week on the islands has proven to be an advantage. Eight of the last 10 Sony Open champions teed it up at Kapalua the week before.
— 2021: Kevin Na, 13th
— 2020: Cameron Smith, DNP
— 2019: Matt Kuchar, 19th
— 2018: Patton Kizzire, 15th
— 2017: Justin Thomas, 1st
— 2016: Fabian Gomez, 6th
— 2015: Jimmy Walker, 2nd
— 2014: Jimmy Walker, 21st
— 2013: Russell Henley, DNP
— 2012: Johnson Wagner, 9th
Course form also seems to trump recent form, so it is best to look for players that consistently play well here. The following players have at least three starts over the past five years here without missing a cut: Marc Leishman, Webb Simpson, Matt Jones, Stewart Cink, Charles Howell III, Hideki Matsuyama, Hudson Swafford, Kevin Kisner, Lanto Griffin, Emiliano Grillo, Brian Stuard, Sungjae Im, Cameron Smith, Corey Conners and Joel Dahmen.
SG: Approach for Sony winners
As mentioned above, Waialae is a second-shot golf course. Here are the rankings of each of the last six winners in SG: Approach the week they won here.
— 2021: Kevin Na, 5th
— 2020: Cameron Smith, 53rd
— 2019: Matt Kuchar, 7th
— 2018: Patton Kizzire, 3rd
— 2017: Justin Thomas, 4th
— 2016: Fabian Gomez, 2nd
Smith was the outlier in 2020, but the man he defeated in the playoff, Brendan Steele, ranked second in SG: Approach that week.
SG: Approach (last 36 rounds)
— Russell Henley, 31.2
— Cameron Smith, 28.1
— Kyle Stanley, 26.2
— Talor Gooch, 25.7
— Keegan Bradley, 23.1
— Henrik Norlander, 22.5
— Webb Simpson, 22.1
— Emiliano Grillo, 21.5
— Hideki Matsuyama, 20.5
— Luke Donald, 19.8
SG: Par-4s (last 36 rounds)
There are 12 par-4s on this track, so par-4 scoring will be of utmost importance.
— Webb Simpson, 39.5
— Sungjae Im, 37.5
— Cameron Smith, 37.2
— Kevin Na, 32.2
— Seamus Power, 31.1
— Alex Smalley, 22.3
— Denny McCarthy, 22.3
— Russell Henley, 21.9
— Branden Grace, 21.3
— Brian Stuard, 21
Driving Accuracy (2021-22 season)
Players hit the fairway at Waialae around 53% of the time, as opposed to a 62% tour average.
— Kevin Kisner, 75%
— Lucas Glover, 74.61%
— Abraham Ancer, 74%
— Billy Horschel, 72.41%
— Kevin Na, 72.22%
— Corey Conners, 71.43%
— Brian Harman, 71.36%
— Brian Stuard, 70.97%
— Graeme McDowell, 70.62%
— Tyler Duncan, 70.45%
SG: Putting for Sony winners
Most of the previous winners here have been at or near the top of the field for SG: Putting during the week they won. Here are the rankings of the previous six winners:
— 2021: Kevin Na, 23rd
— 2020: Cameron Smith, 1st
— 2019: Matt Kuchar, 3rd
— 2018: Patton Kizzire, 3rd
— 2017: Justin Thomas, 2nd
— 2016: Fabian Gomez, 5th
SG: Putting on Bermuda Greens (last 36 rounds)
— Chesson Hadley, 38.4
— Cameron Smith, 36.9
— Christiaan Bezuidenhout, 36.2
— Denny McCarthy, 33.6
— Brendon Todd, 29.3
— Adam Long, 24
— Zach Johnson, 23.1
— Kevin Kisner, 21.6
— Brian Harman, 21.3
— Billy Horschel, 20.6
Marc Leishman (22-1)
Leishman won the Zurich Classic of New Orleans with fellow Australian and last week's winner Cameron Smith in 2021. He comes in with good form, posting a top 10 last week at Kapalua (ranking second in greens in regulation). He finished third in the QBE Shootout in December with partner Jason Day. Plus, he was third at the Shriners Open and fourth at the Fortinet Championship in the fall. His form here at Waialae is excellent. In 12 appearances, he has finishes of 12th (2009, course debut), ninth (2013), fifth (2014), third (2019) and fourth (2020).
Kevin Kisner (35-1)
Kisner is not a long hitter, so there are few courses on tour where he has a legitimate chance to win, but Waialae is one of them. In fact, he has three top 5s in his last six appearances here. He leads this week's field in driving accuracy and is consistently one of the best Bermudagrass putters on tour. Kisner has victories at both Sea Island and Sedgefield, which are strongly correlated courses to Waialae.
Billy Horschel (46-1)
Horschel finished seventh here last year, gaining eight strokes on the Bermuda greens. Four of his six PGA Tour victories have come on Bermuda, including TPC Louisiana (2013 and 2018), East Lake (2014) and Austin Country Club (2021). He was last in the field for SG: Approach last week, but that looked more of an aberration than a trend.
Seamus Power (46-1)
Power has never finished better than 49th here, but seven of his 12 career rounds at Waialae have been in the 60s. Finishes of fourth at the RSM Classic and sixth at Heritage, both correlating courses, indicate he could do well here. He comes in with four top 15s in his last five starts, including last week at Kapalua.
Joel Dahmen (66-1)
Dahmen has two top 15s in four appearances at Waialae and has shown he can win on a coastal layout (Corales Puntacana last year). He was fifth at Houston just three starts ago.
Brian Harman (90-1)
Harman was fourth here in 2018. He ranks fifth in SG: Short Game over the last 36 rounds.
Branden Grace (100-1)
Grace has a great history on coastal courses, including victories at the Puerto Rico Open last year, the Heritage in 2016 and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in 2012. He ranks 13th in SG: Short Game and 17th in SG: Putting over the last 36 rounds.