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Thomas seeks back-to-back on islands

By Wes Reynolds  () 

Sony Open

 

Justin Thomas won a three-man playoff last week over Patrick Reed and Xander Schauffele at the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. Thomas, the tournament favorite at 5/1, and Reed, the co-second choice with Webb Simpson at 12/1, are staying on the islands this week for the Sony Open on Oahu. Hideki Matsuyama and Collin Morikawa check in at 18/1. Defending champion Matt Kuchar and Sungjae Im follow in the marketplace at 20/1.

 

The event

 

The Sony Open has been contested at the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu since its inception in 1965. It was contested as a mid-fall event during its first five years before being moved to the late winter in 1971. The event’s 55-year history features only five multiple champions: Hubert Green, Corey Pavin, Lanny Wadkins, Ernie Els and Jimmy Walker. Thomas won in 2017 and set multiple tournament records, including the tournament scoring record of 253 (-27), the course record and tournament low-round record (59 in Round 1), the 36-hole record of 123 (-17) and the 54-hole record of 188 (-22).

 

The course

 

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. The course is all Bermudagrass. The layout has ranked as the easiest (2013, ’16, ’17), second easiest (’14, ’15) or third easiest (’19) par-70 on the PGA Tour in recent years. It could be more difficult this year, with winds of 25 mph or more in the early forecast. Waialae is very much still a second-shot course in spite of various renovations over the years. SG Approach and SG Putting are the key factors in winning at Waialae. Winners over the last four years have averaged rankings of fourth in the field for SG: Approach and third for SG: Putting.

 

Recent history/winners:

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 James Hahn

** — playoff win over Brandt Snedeker

 

One recent angle is that golfers who play the week before at the Sentry Tournament of Champions seem to have an advantage at Waialae:

 

Year

Winner

Previous week result at Kapalua

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

 

Twenty-three of last week’s 34 players at Kapalua are teeing it up this week at Waialae:

Corey Conners, Tyler Duncan, Dylan Frittelli, Lanto Griffin, Jim Herman, Sung Kang, Kevin Kisner, Matt Kuchar, Nate Lashley, Adam Long, Graeme McDowell, Keith Mitchell, Collin Morikawa, Sebastian Munoz, Kevin Na, Joaquin Niemann, Ryan Palmer, J.T. Poston, Chez Reavie, Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas, Brendon Todd and Martin Trainer.

 

Selections

 

Collin Morikawa 18/1

The 22-year-old finished a solid seventh last week at Kapalua. He has loads of family on Maui and Oahu. Perhaps the homecoming distraction subsided from last week in Maui, and now he can focus on golf.

 

Joaquin Niemann 30/1

Niemann finished fifth last week at Kapalua. His ball striking is among the tops in this week’s field. He was the first-round leader (-7/66) last week and shot a 70 (-3) in the worst of the wind conditions Sunday. Niemann won the Greenbrier last fall on the Old White TPC course — like Waialae, an original Seth Raynor design.

 

Kevin Kisner 40/1

Kisner likes coastal courses with Bermuda and tends to thrive on shorter tracks like this one. He had back-to-back top-5s here in 2016 and ’17.

 

Brendon Todd 50/1

He disappointed some at Kapalua, but Todd has thrived of late on shorter coastal courses. That is evidenced by his back-to-back wins in Bermuda and Mayakoba, followed by a fourth at the RSM Classic in Sea Island, Ga.

 

Sebastian Munoz 60/1

Munoz finished 10th here last season. He has taken a liking to Bermuda greens, as shown by his win at the Sanderson Farms Championship last fall. That victory was just one week after his seventh at the Raynor-designed Old White TPC course.

 

Graeme McDowell 150/1

McDowell has a great history on coastal golf courses, with wins at Pebble Beach, Harbour Town and Mayakoba and last year in the Dominican Republic. With the wind expected to blow this week, we get one of the better wind players in the world at a huge price.

 

Tyler Duncan 150/1

A recent winner on another shorter, coastal course at the RSM Classic in November, Duncan looks like a good fit here at a fairly big number.

 

 

South African Open

 

The first 2020 calendar-year event on the European Tour is co-sanctioned with South Africa’s Sunshine Tour. The South African Open is the tour’s flagship event. Defending champion Louis Oosthuizen won by six strokes last year and is the favorite this time around at 5/1. Fellow South Africans Erik van Rooyen (10/1), Charl Schwartzel (12/1) and Branden Grace (14/1) follow in the marketplace. In-form Belgian Thomas Detry rounds out the top five choices at 16/1.

 

The event

 

The South African Open is one of the oldest national open golf championships in the world, dating to 1903. It has been co-sanctioned by the European Tour since 1997. In December 2018, the tournament became part of the Open Qualifying Series, so the top three non-qualified finishers can earn spots into the British Open at Royal St. George’s. Gary Player is the most successful player in this tournament’s history, with 13 wins between 1956-81. Four-time British Open champion Bobby Locke won this event nine times. Other notable winners include Ernie Els (5), Retief Goosen (2), Henrik Stenson, Vijay Singh and Oosthuizen. South Africans have dominated, but non-South African players have won six of the last 10.

 

The course

 

Randpark Golf Club, about 45 miles north of Johannesburg, hosts this week’s event on two courses, Bushwillow and Firethorn. Bushwillow, the shorter one at 7,114 yards for its par of 71, is used for the first two rounds. It has more undulation but is the easier course. Firethorn is longer at 7,595. It is the flatter course but more challenging. Both courses are played at an altitude of about 5,750 feet, so the ball will travel an average of 7% longer than at sea level. Temperatures are set to be in the low to mid-80s with a threat of thunderstorms for Friday's second round. The wind could also be a factor Friday afternoon, when it is due to pick up toward 15-18 mph. The wind should be calmer but still present the other three days.

 

Recent history/winners

 

2018: Louis Oosthuizen (-18/266); 13/2*

2018: Chris Paisley (-21/267); 125/1

2017: Graeme Storm (-18/270); 150/1**

2016: Brandon Stone (-14/270); 55/1

2015: Andy Sullivan (-11/277); 33/1***

2014: No tournament (rescheduled to January 2015)

2013: Morten Orum Madsen (-19/269); 80/1

2012: Henrik Stenson (-17/271); 14/1

2011: Hennie Otto (-14/274); 33/1

2010: Ernie Els (-25/263); 9/1

 

Notes

* — Event was moved from January 2019 to December 2018

** — Playoff win over Rory McIlroy

*** — Playoff win over Charl Schwartzel

Randpark Golf Club began hosting this event for the second 2018 tournament

2013-18 events were played at Glendower Golf Club

2011-12 events were played at Serengeti Golf Club

2010 event was played at Durban Golf Club

 

Selections

 

Charl Schwartzel 12/1

Last time here at Randpark, Schwartzel was out of form and still tied for third. He returned last month after a six-month layoff with a wrist injury and finished third at the Alfred Dunhill Championship, also in his native South Africa.

 

Thomas Detry 16/1

The 26-year-old Belgian is still knocking on the door for his maiden European Tour win but keeps getting closer. Detry tied for third on South African soil in November’s Alfred Dunhill, tied for fourth at the Mauritius Open and tied for second at the Asian Tour’s Thailand Masters just before Christmas. Four of the last six winners of this event recorded their first European Tour victories, so that could be a good omen for Detry.

 

Zander Lombard 30/1

Another youngster in fairly good form is seeking his first tour win. Lombard, 24, was the 54-hole leader at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in November before tying for eighth. He also tied for seventh at the Alfred Dunhill Championship, so he comes in with two high finishes on his native soil. Lombard also won on this track as an amateur in 2012.

 

Min Woo Lee 50/1

In his last five starts, the 23-year-old Aussie boasts a tie for sixth in the Korean Tour’s Genesis Championship, a tie for third at the Aussie Tour’s NSW Open and another tie for third in the European Tour’s Aussie PGA Championship.

 

Connor Syme 80/1

Syme recently graduated from the Challenge Tour. However, he tied for 11th in his last two events in South Africa. Although he has missed the cut both times here, he has shown some early mettle, tying for 11th at the Alfred Dunhill Championship and tying for ninth in Mauritius.  

 

Tapio Pulkkanen 100/1

A bit of a speculative play here, considering the Finn hasn’t played since October. But he seems to have taken a liking to this track with a 15th here last year and a third on this course in 2017 at the Joburg Open.

 

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