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Fantasy Preview: 2018 Sony Open

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The short, Aloha swing continues this week with the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu. The first full event of 2018 is another tournament where you can expect very low scoring as players enjoy a generous beginning to the new year. Last year, Justin Thomas dominated the event. He opened the tournament with an 11-under 59, finishing 27-under to win by an impressive seven-shot margin.

Waialae offers up some of the most challenging fairways to hit on Tour, but with short rough it shouldn’t pose too many problems. Exceptional ball striking and low scores on par 4’s will prove very important this week. Five par 4’s fall in the range of 400-450 yards, while another five fall between 450-500 yards. Excellent iron play will be vital.

Selected Tournament Odds (vis Bet365)

  • Jordan Spieth 5/1
  • Justin Thomas 8/1
  • Mark Leishman 16/1
  • Brian Harman 16/1
  • Kevin Kisner 20/1
  • Russell Henley 30/1
  • Tony Finau 33/1

The favorite this week is once again Jordan Spieth. The Texan’s fine ball striking and accurate iron play continued last week as he finished solo ninth. It was only an uncharacteristically poor four days on the greens that stopped him from getting into the thick of things. Spieth tied for his second-worst putting performance of his entire career, dropping 3.8 strokes on the greens to the field. His tee-to-green he remained impressive, however, finishing only behind Dustin Johnson in Strokes Gained.

A return to his usual putting may well prove to be the deciding factor in whether or not Spieth can triumph this week, as his iron play is currently sharper than anyone else in the field. It’s understandable that the 5/1 quotes will interest many people, as it’s logical to assume Spieth won’t putt anywhere near as poorly as he did last week. I certainly won’t be making an argument against that, but I’m prepared to look deeper into the field for greater value.

My opening pick for the week is a man who failed to deliver a victory in 2017, but I would be shocked should he not pick up a W this year. Tony Finau (33/1) has begun his 2017/18 season in promising fashion. He was runner up at the Safeway Open before finishing 11th at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China. In his last event, he managed a 16th-place finish at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open despite the worst putting display of his career (he dropped almost seven strokes to the field on the greens). The fact that he was able to finish T16 that week highlights how well Finau has been hitting it.

In his last 12 rounds, Finau is No. 1 in the field for Strokes Gained Tee To Green and sixth in Ball Striking. Those are the statistics of a guy who is very close to putting it all together. The only thing holding him back at the moment is his putting. Yet despite his atrocious performance on the greens at the Shriners, he still has a marginally positive Strokes Gained Putting statistic combined over his last five tournaments. He recorded his best finish here last year out of three attempts with a T20. His trends suggest he has every chance to mightily improve on that once again this year.

My second pick is a man who oozes confidence on certain courses. Zach Johnson (35/1) has been very quiet since his last win almost three years ago, but recently his game has slowly been coming back. He had been suffering with his usually reliable iron play, but lately that has been improving. Johnson sits 15th in Strokes Gained Approaching The Green in this field over his last 12 rounds. He also sits fourth in the field over his last 24 rounds from the crucial 400-450 yard range for this week.

Not only does it look as if Johnson’s wedge game is strong at the moment, but his putting is deadly. He sits first in the field over his last 24 rounds for Strokes Gained Putting. Johnson is a man who seems to always play well on courses he loves. He has multiple wins at La Cantera Golf Club, multiple wins at Colonial Country Club, and he’s a serial contender at TPC Deere Run. It certainly seems that Waialae is another course that really suits his game. He won the event back in 2009 and he has finished in the top-10 in three of his last four outings.

Si-Woo Kim (60-1) is often a feast or famine type of player, but after last week’s performance the quotes of 60/1 seem quite high to me. The South Korean hit it beautifully last week. He was fourth in the field for Strokes Gained Approaching The Green, and only a poor performance on the greens prevented him from a likely top-5 finish. His below-average putting is not unusual, but when he has a half decent week on the greens he has the capability to dominate a field — just like we saw at The Players Championship last year. He has only ever played Waialae once before; he finished solo fourth in 2016. There is no doubt Si-Woo is a much more polished player now than he was then, and if he can strike the ball as he did last week then he should be able to get himself into the mix on Sunday.

The final pick I like this week is a consistent performer who often flies under the radar. Over his last 12 rounds, William McGirt (60/1) has been producing some fine golf. He is second only to Jordan Spieth in this field in Total Strokes Gained. He is 10th in ball striking, seventh off the tee and third in putting. He has only cracked the top-20 in four previous visits to Waialae, but he is 4/4 in cuts made, a statistic that may bode well for anyone thinking of adding him to their DraftKings lineup. His form was very solid in the fall with finishes of T25-T10-T8, and his stock may be a little undervalued currently.

Recommended Bets

  • Tony Finau 33/1
  • Zach Johnson 35/1
  • Si-Woo Kim 60/1
  • William McGirt 60-1
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Gianni is a freelance writer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Diploma in Sports Journalism. He can be contacted at gmagliocco@outlook.com. Follow him on Twitter @giancarlomag

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Martin

    Jan 10, 2018 at 12:53 am

    None of the golfers mentioned will win the tournament. It will be somebody nobody expects to win. Golf is a chaotic activity and selecting specific winners is like playing your ‘lucky’ numbers in the lotteries.

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Instruction

UYGP: Stop killing your score, here’s how to fully commit to every single shot

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Coach Will Robins explains the mindset you need to be able to commit to each and every shot during a round of golf, and avoid huge mistakes throughout the round. Learn how to make better decisions and become your own caddy. Some of the best pros and amateurs in the world use these tactics!

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

What makes Bryson DeChambeau so good? A deep dive into the numbers

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I can relate, in a way, to this mad scientist of golf. When I had the idea to create a better method of analyzing golf by comparing each shot to a computer model of “scratch” performance 29 years ago, I was considered quite strange. My idea is now what is known as strokes gained analysis and has become the accepted standard for golf analysis. If you are interested in my journey, read The History of Strokes Gained on my website, ShotByShot.com.

Given Bryson’s recent success, will we all soon be switching to 7-iron length irons and practicing Bryson’s one-plane swing? I doubt it, but it is clear that Bryson is here to stay, so I decided to see exactly how his recent winning performance compares to that of other winners on the PGA Tour. Accordingly, I ran my analysis of Bryson’s ShotLink data for his three wins (The Memorial, The Northern Trust and the most recent Dell Technologies Championship). I compared this analysis to a similar analysis of all of the PGA Tour winners in 2017. For added perspective, I ran the same analysis for the entire 2017 Tour and for all the players that missed cuts in 2017.

As Bryson’s data sample is only 12 rounds on three courses, one might question how the numbers might be skewed by the differences in relative course difficulty as well as the relative strength of the fields. I believe we can agree that Bryson has won on relatively difficult courses and against very strong fields. Accordingly, I will overlook these factors.

Tee Game: Driving

Bryson’s driver is normal length. It is his irons that are all 37.5 inches long, or about the length of a standard 7 iron – why do the TV commentators always say “6 iron”? Anyway, Bryson’s unique one-plane swing produces long, straight drives. He averaged over 300 yards, 15 yards longer than the field, and hit more fairways than the 2017 winners.  Further, Bryson (Blue arrows below) had 35% fewer driving errors than those made by the 2017 winners. So LONG and STRAIGHT! Perhaps we all should be working on our 1-plane swings?


Approach shots 

I put Bryson’s approach game as not quite as good as the 2017 winners. His strokes gained relative to the field’s is not as strong (perhaps this can be attributed to stronger fields?). Bryson did hit more greens-in-regulation (blue arrows below). BUT remember he hit more fairways and made fewer errors. Finally, Bryson’s proximity when he hits the greens* is closer to the 2017 Tour average than it is to the 2017 winners.


*I look at “Proximity” much differently than the PGA Tour. The Tour’s proximity to hole includes approach shots that miss the green within 30 yards of the green’s edge.  I believe a miss is a miss and should not be counted at all.  For more on why, read my 2/26/18 GolfWRX article:Is Tiger’s “No.1 Proximity to the Hole” a meaningless stat?

Short Game (shots from within 50 yards of the hole)

Again, Bryson’s wedges are 7-iron length, about two to three inches longer than a standard sand wedge. His short game data would indicate that the extra length does not present an issue from the sand. I chalk this up to the fact that for the most part greenside sand shots tend to be full swings. It is the shape of the swing that controls distance not the length.

Chipping and pitching, on the other hand, require a myriad of different swings and touch shots. The longer shafts seem to have a negative impact here which has been mentioned many times in the TV coverage. Below (Blue arrows) show that Bryson’s strokes gained around-the-green are about half the margin from the field’s as the 2017 winners. His chipping and pitching results are nowhere near the 2017 Winners. Perhaps Bryson should consider at least one normal length wedge for use around the greens? To support this, Bryson was ranked No. 118 in strokes gained around the green, with a negative .034 strokes gained thru the Well Fargo Championship (more than half way thru the season). He has improved since to No. 63 and a +.15 strokes gained in this category.


Putting

Bryson’s putter is 39 inches long, about three inches longer than standard, and he rests the grip against his left forearm. Personally, I believe his stance and stroke look very stiff and mechanical, which may account for what I discovered in his putting stats. Bottom line, he is outstanding from fairly close range (inside 20 feet), but very average from 30-plus feet. Bryson has almost TWICE as many three-putts as the 2017 winners from 30-plus feet (.5/round vs. .29/round for the 2017 winners). This makes sense to me as stiff and mechanical do not seem compatible with “feel” and optimal distance control.

That said, his success from close range might more than offset his apparent long-range weakness. Note below that Bryson’s one-putt success is noticeably better than the 2017 winners from every distance up to 20 feet. Incidentally, these ranges represent 68 percent of Bryson’s first putt opportunities. Very impressive! I may look more closely into Bryson’s short putting technique.


In conclusion, while Bryson DeChambeau is a maverick, he has found a unique method that works for him and has now made the entire golf world take notice. Will he change golf? Possibly. If he continues to have success, and I believe he will, I can see the aspiring, young players trying to adopt his methods just as many started to learn to putt while anchoring. As an aside, I firmly believe that the ultimate ban on anchoring had little to do with those of us that were struggling with the skill but everything to do with the fast-growing number of juniors that were having success using OUR crutch.

That is not to say that anything that Bryson is currently doing could be construed to be illegal. But he is clearly being watched. His side-saddle putting was thwarted by the USGA, and more recently, his use of a compass to help read his putts. Who knows what he will come up with next? I will be watching too!

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Podcasts

The Gear Dive: Accra Shafts — Finau’s proto, “What is the function of the shaft in a club head?”

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Accra Shafts’ Ken Thompson and Gawain Robertson chat with Johnny Wunder on the challenges of the shaft industry, what makes their shafts the best in the business, and Tony Finau’s custom set up.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

3:45 — What makes Accra so special
5:30 — The origin of Accra
8:45 — The importance of TOUR Validation
15:10 — What is the function of the shaft in a club
17:30 — The TOUR ZRPG
23:40 — Mock Fitting for a specific player profile
31:00 — Accra Iron shafts
36:55 — Ryan Palmer
39:45 — Tony Finau
43:10 — Matt Kuchar
53:20 — S3 BluePrint Technology

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