It was great to get TOUR golf back last week, but as it relates to DFS, I always prefer traditional events with the added cut sweat and that’s what we get this week with the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu. Thirty players from the Sentry Tournament of Champions will take the plane over from Kapalua to Honolulu to be part of a field of 144 for the year’s first full-field event.
As I noted in my course preview, those players that are coming over from having played the TOC last week, have often played a key role in deciding the champion of this tournament. They have the advantage of getting four rounds in to shake off the rust that the others will be bringing in as the last tournament on TOUR was more than a month ago. I wouldn’t go crazy here, but if you need a tiebreaker, that can be it for you.
When I go into Fantasy Labs to build my model each week, I start with the shell provided by Peter Jennings, then adjust some of the categories up or down depending on my preference. My model is naturally a little heavier on long term form this week as it’s really hard to rely on something, at best, from a month ago as a player’s “recent” form. The keys for me start with scoring as Birdie or Better Percentage and Bogey avoidance have shown to be big keys at this event, and they are both two of the most impactful areas in DFS.
Waialae Country Club provides narrow fairways and just below average green sizes, so the key for birdies will be getting to the putting surface. One area I think may be overblown a bit this week is driving accuracy and fairways hit, as many players have noted that it is really difficult to hit the fairways around this course, but the rough isn’t very penal.
The key is more about placement off the tee, missing bunkers, and if you miss the fairway, doing so on the correct side to allow for a clear approach to the green. There isn’t really a statistic to be able to draw out the players we want for that explanation, but rather than hammering driving accuracy, I am giving more weight to course history where players with an understanding of how to play this course will have a leg up on the players making their debut.
Harris English ($10,800 DK/$11,600 FD)
Full disclosure, I rarely play someone off of a victory unless they are the elite of the elite and shown the ability to handle that success into their next event. The reason I am listing English here is that he is the top player in my model and it appears that most take a similar stance to me as he is currently projected at about half of the ownership of Webb Simpson.
Any argument not to play English starts and ends with his win last week, the headspace, and potential hangover (both real and figurative) that comes with a player getting his first win in over seven years. The state of his game can’t be argued, and that’s been the case for several months now. My question on Harris is if this will be a monkey off his back, freeing him up to go on a run of top finishes and more wins or if it will naturally take away some of that drive and focus at least over the next couple of events.
I truly haven’t decided how I will handle him this week from an exposure standpoint and may pivot to Morikawa if he also avoids high ownership, but English is a GPP play for all of the reasons above and will provide leverage on anyone around him.
Daniel Berger ($10,000 DK/$11,400 FD)
The decision in the high end appears to revolve around what to do with Webb Simpson has he is hovering around 30% ownership in projections so far this week. I understand it as this is a Webb track, similar to a Wyndham where he’s nearly a lock for a Top 10 finish. The issue is that with him as the top priced player, you need him to likely Top 5, and avoid any of the other top end players winning in order for it to pay off in GPPs. My preference instead will be to start my lineups at the lower end of the upper tier with Daniel Berger.
I believe he has just as much winning upside as Simpson and provides a hefty discount in price to allow me to build a little more balanced. Berger has also seen success on similar style courses to Waialae Country Club, most notably at TPC Southwind, and he comes in with good form off of a Top 10 at the Sentry TOC. He’s going to be a player that I will target early this season as I think he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder after being left out of the Masters in November, and this is a perfect spot for him to post an early victory on the season in a field lacking the star power up top. He will be popular, but there are plenty of spots to make your lineup different in a 144 man field.
Sungjae Im ($9,800 DK/$11,200 FD)
When the Sentry TOC wrapped up on Sunday night, I started digging in for my new wrap up and look ahead article on GolfBet. It quickly became clear to me, and I even tweeted that night that Sungjae Im was my pick to win this week at the Sony Open. I still stand by that, though the value on his odds to win got chopped up with the withdrawals from Reed and Hovland, as this is a great course fit for him.
Sungjae has made it clear in his young career that he prefers bermudagrass courses as his performance on those greens are well above any other surface he plays. He also comes in off of the best tee-to-green week of any player in an elite field in Kapalua and if he keeps that form with a better putter, he can become one of the players to beat this week.
Again, he will be popular, but the strength of this field is in the Top 50 or so players in the World not the Top 10, so I will be looking to jam more of them in by going balanced and Sungjae’s price point allows for that.
Kevin Kisner ($8,800 DK/$10,600 FD)
Despite the way this article has started, this is not a cash game article. Unfortunately, the PGA DFS community has just gotten sharper and you can’t slide guys through a lower ownership like you used to be able to do. Kisner is one of those players that even at a high price like he is this week, you just play him at courses that fit his short, accurate game and rewards good putters. Waialae Country Club checks all of those boxes for Kiz and he acknowledged as much at this event last year.
He’s also shown it in his results as he has three top five finishes in his last five appearances. The former Georgia Bulldog looks to be set to contend again as he improved his ball striking with each round last week and now he heads to a course where his shorter off-the-tee game won’t be a disadvantage. You can confidently place him in lineups as a second or even third player and look to find value down low.
Matt Kuchar ($8,400 DK/$10,100 FD)
It took me five picks to go against my own advice from earlier in the article, which is actually pretty good for me. I was looking for a mid-tier leverage spot and both Kuchar and Sergio Garcia provide that at projected low ownership this week. Instead of taking the advice to allow my tiebreaker to be a guy that played last week, I am taking the course history and more reliable putter of Matt Kuchar.
It’s really a catch-22 of sorts as Kuchar may have a heck of a time getting to the green based on his play to finish last year, but he should be able to get it in the hole if he can get there. My issue with Sergio is around his putter at a tournament that often turns into a putting contest, and the this is the first time he’s played here since 2003, which tells me it’s not really a fit to his game.
We gave some credit to English last week for winning the QBE Team event in December, but it appears we aren’t willing to credit his partner Matt Kuchar for the play in that tournament. He had to have played pretty well with how those guys pulled away from the field, and honestly it’s just a positive sign in a spot that is difficult to find many on the course for Kuchar. He still seems to show up at the courses he likes, and I’ll take a few stabs at that continuing this week at Waialae.
Erik Van Rooyen ($8,100 DK/$9,500 FD)
It was unfortunate for EVR that he had a back injury pop up after a good opening round at The Masters. He came into that event in good form off of a 23rd at the US Open, 6th and 27th in Europe, and a Top 20 in Houston the week before. One key reason I am willing to jump back in so quickly off of that injury is that he finished 14th in the World Tour Championship in Dubai in mid-December. He is known for a sharp short game and the South African is well versed in these coastal, windy style courses.
As of now, it looks like I can get EVR, the 52nd ranked player in the world, around just 5% ownership as CH3 and Grillo eat up ownership around him. He’s too skilled to be overlooked to that extent and he can score in bunches, allowing him to reach value even if it’s a Top 20 type of finish.
Sebastian Munoz ($7,800 DK/$9,700 FD)
Back to the chalk here, but Munoz is another player that stuck out following the TOC. He started terribly but was fantastic over his final 54 holes and gets to carry that momentum into a place he had a Top 10 in 2019. I am hopeful that his missed cut at this event last year will turn some away, but it doesn’t appear to be the case at this point in the week.
He actually ranks just behind Brian Harman in my model and they are projected for just about equal ownership, so I’ll take the player that has a tournament under his belt in Sebastian Munoz.
Rory Sabbatini ($7,400 DK/$8,900 FD)
Everything I ran this week from a stat standpoint kept shooting the other Rory up my rankings, so I wasn’t surprised to see my model do the same on Fantasy Labs. Sabbatini comes in as one of my top plays in this range, and he’s showing low ownership compared to those around him. He hasn’t missed the cut at the Sony in any of his last five appearances, and is coming off of his best recent finish with a 21st last year. If he can replicate that type of result, we will be happy with it at this price level in a range where I have to be cognizant of ownership with some of my chalk up top.
Tom Hoge ($7,300 DK/$8,900 FD)
My top price per dollar play on the board before the absolute bottom tier is with Tom Hoge. He looks like an ideal GPP play where he’s below double digit ownership and has alternated missed cuts and a 12th and 3rd in four of his last five trips to Waialae Country Club. As long as his ownership stays down, I will be happy to go here and hope to hit Hoge on a good year rather than one that sends him home early.
Branden Grace ($7,100 DK/$8,800 FD)
One thing that doesn’t seem to have changed much, similar to EVR above, is that when European players come over to any TOUR event, they go a bit overlooked. Branden Grace isn’t the same player he was a few years back, but he doesn’t lack good form either. He also played in the World Tour Championship in Dubai, finishing 8th in a strong field, and has a tendency to flash a bit at the start of the year. I’ll take my chances at low ownership that he comes out ready to play and utilizes his familiarity with coastal courses to find a Top 25 type of finish in Hawaii.
I’ve covered a lot of bases here, so rather than go player by player in the lowest ranges, I will just throw a few names out that I will use to spread around in my lineups when I need to dip into these prices. The ones that jump out are Michael Thompson ($6,900 DK/$8,500 FD), Brian Stuard ($6,900 DK/$8,300 FD), Richy Werenski ($6,800 DK/$8,000 FD), and Mark Hubbard ($6,600 DK/$8,000 FD).