After spending last week in Maui at the Plantation Course at Kapalua, the PGA TOUR is headed to O’ahu for the second week of the Aloha Swing in this year’s Sony Open, held just outside of Honolulu at Waialae Country Club.
This event will be the first full-field event of 2023 and the first event with a cut. Last week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions was won by a very chalky Jon Rahm, who bested the limited 39-man field to claim the first PGA TOUR title of the new year. This week, 19 of those 39 players who teed it up at Kapalua are planning on playing, led by Tom Kim, Sungjae Im, defending champion Hideki Matsuyama, Jordan Spieth, Tom Hoge, and Russell Henley, who lost in a playoff last season. In the 24 years these two events have opened the season, 17 of the Sony Open winners (71%) also played the Sentry the week before.
Since this is the first week of the New Year with a full field, many of the successful rookies and emerging options from last fall return to play as well as plenty of well-known veterans looking to start the year off right with a strong showing in the 50th state. There will be 144 players in the field this week with the top 65 and ties making the cut and playing Saturday and Sunday.
The course this week should be familiar to golf fans and fans of getting some warm Hawaiian sunshine on your screens during January. Waialae Country Club has hosted this event since it began as the Hawaiian Open back in 1965. In stark contrast to last week’s sprawling par 73, this week’s course is a tight and narrow par 70. It was originally designed in 1927 by Seth Raynor but was updated and restored recently by Tom Doak. It’s a fun and quirky course with several holes designed to mimic and introduce features from some of the famous courses in Europe.
The course has played relatively easy to par over the past few years, with the winning score getting all the way to -21 or better in three of the past four tournaments. Par 4 scoring is especially important since there are only two par 5s on the track. While the fairways are typically harder to hit than average, SG: Approach and SG: Putting have been the two most dominant metrics that have led to success. The tricky Bermuda greens run a little slower than average and give players with past experience on the track a slight advantage.
In the picks below, we’ll be focused on players with success on this track in the past, good form, and good shotmaking metrics. Since these are picks for GPP play, we’ll also pay close attention to places to gain leverage and go against the grain as far as ownership trends.
In this weekly post, the focus is players who are strong plays in GPP contests. These contests usually have lots of entries and pay out big prizes to the top few percent. One example is the DraftKings $600K Pitch + Putt, which pays out $200K to first place. In large contests like this one, it is critical to try and target players who have a chance to outperform salary expectations and come with low projected ownership.
The players highlighted will be good options if they deliver in all formats, but they come with risk factors that usually keep them from being the safest plays. Safety and reliability should be the focus of lineups in cash and double-up contests, where finishing in the very top spot isn’t quite as important. On the other hand, GPPs call for high-risk, high-reward options with high ceilings and low projected ownership. To find specific guidance for all the different kinds of contests, check out our full Daily Fantasy Golf coverage each week.
No matter how you prefer to play, be sure to use the FantasyLabs PGA Models to help you make the best choices. These models use stats and simulations to highlight different players’ strengths and weaknesses. A couple of key new stats to specifically use for GPP play are Perfect% and SimLeverage, which are further explained here.
Usually, I rely on the Stroked Gained Model, which is very predictive of results. I also tend to lean into players that gain shots on approach since week-to-week putting performance can be extremely volatile, even for the best players on the PGA TOUR.
As you dig into the numbers, you can enjoy the many tools that FantasyLabs offers, including the Lineup Optimizer, which effortlessly creates up to 300 lineups. Alternatively, you can use the Lineup Builder if you prefer a more hands-on approach.
Check out my top picks in each price range listed below.
High-Priced PGA DFS Picks
Tom Hoge $9,900
There are four options over $10K on this slate, but there’s a good chance to get some leverage by dipping just under the $10K level and targeting Hoge and Henley. Hoge is projected to have the lowest ownership of any player over $9.5K and the third highest leverage of any player over $9K. Hoge also brings the highest SimLeverage in the entire field since he is in 18.7% of perfect sim lineups but only projected for 11.5% ownership.
The reason for Hoge’s lack of ownership may be his mixed results on this course in the past. He has missed the cut at Waialae in three of the past four years, although he has posted strong finishes when he does get to play the weekend. He finished 12th in 2020 and also posted a third-place finish in 2018 when an even-par final round landed him just one. shot out of the playoff between Patton Kizzire and James Hahn.
While his course history is checkered, his recent form has been straight fire. He posted top-15 finishes at the Fortinet Championship, the Shriners Children’s Open, the ZOZO Championship, and THE CJ CUP last fall. He and his partner Sahith Theegala won the QBE Shootout in one of the unofficial events over the holidays, and he finished third last week at Kapalua.
Hoge leads the field in SG: Approach over the past six weeks by a wide margin, and if his iron play stays so sharp, he should be set up for success. He typically plays well early in the season and won last year’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, where he’ll be defending his title soon.
Getting him with such great form at such low ownership is definitely an option to consider.
Russell Henley $9,800
Priced just below Hoge, Henley also comes in with some good shotmaking form, although he struggled last week at Kapalua, where he faded to a T30 in the 39-man field. He still has the third-most SG: Approach over the past six weeks, behind only Hoge and Sungjae Im. He also leads the field in long-term SG: Approach over the past 76 weeks.
Henley won last fall at the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba for his fourth PGA TOUR victory. His first came on this track back in 2013, when he fired a -24 and finished three strokes clear of the field. He looked on the way to a second career win at Waialae last year before being caught on Sunday by Matsuyama. In total, he has made the cut in 7-of-10 career appearances at the Sony with five top-20 finishes.
His showing last week must be keeping people away despite his past success on this course, though, and he’s projected for only 14% ownership. As a result, he brings the third-highest SimLeverage in the entire field.
Building around Hoge and Henley as your two “pay-up” plays is an attractive roster construction since they both come at relatively low ownerships and have serious chances to contend on Sunday.
Mid-Priced PGA DFS Picks
Kyoung-Hoon Lee $8,700
Lee has the second-highest SimLeverage in the entire field ranked right between Hoge and Henley in that metric. He has the fifth-highest Perfect% in the field as well.
Lee is coming off a strong season in which he won his second straight AT&T Byron Nelson and made it to the TOUR Championship. This fall, he posted a 2-1 record at the Presidents Cup and then finished in third place at THE CJ CUP in South Carolina. Last week, Lee also worked his way into the to top with a pair of 67s on the weekend, so his form is on point, giving him more upside than his ownership projection would indicate.
The 31-year-old from Seoul has also found some success in Hawaii in his recent visits, making the cut in each of the past two years and posting a top 20 in 2021.
In his past 10 tournaments, he has exceeded salary-based expectations seven times with an impressive +17.97 average Plus/Minus.
Andrew Putnam $8,000
Putnam has also been regularly outplaying his salary and has been on the right side of Plus/Minus in eight of his 10 most recent tournaments. He is the first player highlighted in this post that didn’t play last week, so there are some question marks about his form since we haven’t seen him since last fall. Once we get into this price range, though, that’s the case for most of these players.
In the fall, Putnam had a pretty busy schedule playing eight tournaments and making the cut in all of them. He posted back-to-back top 15s at the Shriners Children’s Open and the ZOZO Championship, where he finished runner-up to Keegan Bradley. He brings a solid course history at Waialae, where he was runner-up in 2019 and has made the cut in four of the past five years.
Of all the players under $9K, Putnam has the third-highest SimLeverage and comes at a fairly affordable salary when you compare his median, ceiling, and floor projections to the players priced around him. He has the sixth-highest projection of all players under $9K in each of those three categories, even though there are many that are priced closer to $9K, like Taylor Mongtomery and even Cameron Davis.
I like both Montgomery and Davis, but both are getting plenty of buzz and are projected to be chalkier plays than Putnam, who comes in a bit under the radar.
Value PGA DFS Picks
Chris Kirk $7,400
Kirk is a play that always comes with a wide range of results, and this week is no exception. That does make him a target that works well for GPPs, though, since his ceiling definitely deserves attention. He has the highest ceiling projection of all players under $8K and is projected for the most points per $1,000 of salary in the entire field.
Despite that ceiling, he is still projected to be owned in under 6% of lineups, putting him in the top 10 in SimLeverage in the entire field with the fifth-highest SimLeverage mark of players priced at $9K or under.
Kirk hasn’t won on the PGA TOUR since 2015, but he has battled his way back to being a solid member, making it to the BMW Championship in last season’s playoffs. After his resurgence, he made the cut in each of the past two seasons at the Sony Open and finished runner-up in 2021.
David Lipsky $7,100
Of all the players under $8.5K, Lipsky actually has the highest SimLeverage, barely ranking above Kirk and Scott Piercy and actually finishing just behind K.H. Lee in that metric of all players under $9K. Part of the reason people aren’t playing Lipsky may be that he had to withdraw after Round 1 of the RSM Classic. The reason for that withdrawal has not been announced, but apparently, he’s good to go for this week.
Prior to withdrawing from that event, Lipsky posted a T10 at Mayakoba and a T22 at the Houston Open for his two best finishes of the fall. He missed the cut in his only trip to this event in his career, but he has exceeded salary-based expectations in five of his past 10 tournaments, even including his early withdrawal.
Lipsky’s projections are very similar to players priced about $1,000 higher than he is, so he should be able to return excellent value if he can make the cut and get to the weekend at Waialae for the first time in his career.
Sleeper PGA DFS Picks
Kazuki Higa $6,900
As we dive into the bargain flier section of this field, Higa stands out as a player who definitely knows how to win. Granted, all of that winning has been on the Japan Golf Tour, but the 27-year-old’s season was still impressive, highlighted by four wins and finishing the year at the top of the money list to earn his chance to play on the 2023 DP World Tour. The most recent of his wins was at November’s Dunlop Phoenix, where he won by three strokes over recognizable names like Mito Pereira, Tom Kim, Corey Conners, and Aaron Wise.
He is the only Japanese player in the top 100 of the OWGR other than Hideki Matsuyama, but there really aren’t a lot of numbers to crunch on him since his only PGA TOUR event was the ZOZO Championship, where he finished T36 last fall.
He does bring a lot of potential upside, though, and is projected for under 1% ownership.
Brian Stuard $6,300
Stuard is a player priced near the minimum who could end up outperforming his salary and his ownership, which is projected to be under 1%. Stuard is in the top 10 of all golfers under $7K in SimLeverage, Perfect%, and points per $1,000 of salary.
He missed the cut after a brutal Round 1 at The RSM Classic last fall but showed solid form with three made cuts prior to that, including a T12 at the Fortinet Championship. While he also missed the cut last year at the Sony Open, he had made the cut in eight of his previous nine career appearances, including four top-10 finishes.
He’s a long shot, to be sure, but the veteran knows his way around the course and has enough going for him to be my favorite punt play from the super-cheap plays this week.
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