It’s a new year, and a continued golf season… 6 full-field events have already occurred in the PGA season, but since we haven’t yet been able to wrap our heads around the wrap-around season concept, this is – for all intents and purposes – the first full-field event of the season.
And the Sony Open in Hawaii is a classic. Though it has not always been the Sony Open, the Hawaiian tournament has been played at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu since 1965. The course opened in 1927 and was designed by Seth Raynor (also designing the Old White Course at the Greenbrier), though Raynor died from pneumonia before the course was completed. It is a course with the type of beauty you would expect given the surroundings, and is known for intertwined palm trees behind the 16th green that form the letter “W” (there, now when you see golfers tweeting ‘#W’ you’ll know what they mean).
The tournament itself has consistently provided a thrilling start to the new year. No one has ever won this tournament more than twice, and only four have two wins, including Ernie Els and Corey Pavin. Russell Henley set the 72-hole record with a 256 (-24), en route to earning his first PGA win in 2013. Last year, Jimmy Walker carded a -17 to win one of his three PGA wins last season. Aside from Henley’s record-setting affair, the winner of each of the past five years has won with a score ranging from 13 to 17 shots under par.
This year, a strong field will tee it up on Thursday. The list includes highly ranked golfers in Jason Day, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Webb Simpson, and Luke Donald. It also includes up-and-comers like Hideki Matsuyama and 2013 champ Russell Henley, both of whom finished in a T3 at the Tournament of Champions, and Chris Kirk, who carded a 62 in the final round of the TOC. Charles Howell III returns to Waialae, perhaps being the hottest player on this golf course – in 13 appearances he’s finished in the top 5 seven times, and finished in a T8 last year.
For our predictions this year, we are going to share our official fantasy picks on both PGATour.com and GolfChannel.com. The rules are slightly different: PGATour.com allows you to pick any player in the field, but you can only pick the same golfer 10 times all season. Golf Channel sets up 4 tiers of golfers, and you must pick one from each tier. Here are our teams for the week:
Jimmy Walker. The defending champion is just too solid this time of year. He proved that by taking a commanding lead at the TOC last week, granted he lost the lead to a surging Patrick Reed and ultimately lost the tournament. Still, we expect Walker to be in the mix at a course he clearly enjoys, and this time around he’s far less likely to choke.
Chris Kirk. Coming off the 62 on Monday, Kirk can easily carry that momentum with him to the island of Oahu. In fact, he finished as a runner-up last year and in the top 5 two years ago. Another safe pick here.
Charles Howell III. Third safe pick. The aforementioned “horse for the course” is too tempting a pick to pass up. Even if he doesn’t win, he’s likely to earn a solid payout for the team.
Tony Finau. You gotta be able to play the game. So with three ultra-conservative picks, we’re going to go with a complete flier for the fourth. Finau is a member of what is being considered one of the strongest rookie classes in years. Word on the street (credit: Golf Week) is that he has distance that could redefine the term “Bubba Long.” We think this distance will give him a huge advantage on a course that favors the long ball. If he can keep it straight, he can be in the mix, and we want to take advantage of that before everyone else knows about this guy.
Jason Day. In this tier, we had the option to take either Jimmy Walker or Chris Kirk. But deciding to hedge our bets a little bit, we went with Day. The Aussie, who ranks highest in the field on the Official World Golf Rankings at 8, is also coming off a 62 on Monday at the TOC that vaulted him into a T3. Day is poised to have perhaps the strongest season of his career, and kicking things off with a win in Hawaii is not out of the realm of possibility.
Brendon Todd. The UGA product had an acceptable T20 finish in this tournament last year, but is coming off a T8 at his first try at the TOC. Todd is capable of playing some quality golf, and is one of many golfers touted to have a breakout season in 2015.
Charles Howell III. The seasoned veteran slipping to the third tier? Yes, please. They ought to put Howell in the first tier just for this tournament, but their oversight is fine with us.
Jeff Overton. The last tier doesn’t consist of many sexy picks, but we believe Overton is a solid choice and an underrated player. His game has not been up to the level that saw him making a Ryder Cup team in 2010, but he does have lots of experience at Waialae, finishing in a T24 in his first try back in 2006, and playing every year but once since then, including back to back top 10s the past two years.
There is the list for (our) week 1… We will see how it goes. Good luck to all who share in our love of fantasy golf, and enjoy watching some warm, sunny golf this weekend, no matter what chilly pocket of the world you reside!