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Opinion & Analysis

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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Opinion & Analysis

High School reunion golf: When 58 feels like 18 again

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golf buddies reunion

Eric and David were winning our match as we approached the halfway point of the back nine at Falls Road Golf Club in Potomac, Md. But when my partner, Chip, yes, chipped in for eagle, their 15-footer for eagle suddenly seemed doubly long. David’s exuberant fist pump after draining his putt to match us said it all – the juices were flowing, and the match wasn’t going to be lost due to lackluster play or attitude. That we were paired together in a reunion tournament 40 years after the Class of 1978 graduated from Winston Churchill High School mattered not. We were athletes then – all four of us played on a Maryland state championship football team together – and, by gosh, our competitiveness was on full throttle now.

The years melted away as we traded stories about yesteryear and we learned about each other’s lives in the four-decade interim. Family and golf are shared passions, and our match showed it. While we were happily catching up in laughs and nostalgia, both teams clearly wanted to win. For bragging rights, of course. Once competitors, always competitors.

Cut to the past: David and Chip went on to play college baseball, while I stayed briefly with football, and Eric went forward playing basketball. Eric was such a gifted athlete that he not only quarterbacked our high school team to a senior year state championship (we also won it our junior year), he led the basketball team to a state title as well. A hoops scholarship to Georgetown followed, where he captained Coach John Thompson’s team his senior year. His teammates included Patrick Ewing, now Georgetown’s coach, among others. If you want to see Eric in action, Google “Michael Jordan game-winning jump shot in national championship.” You’ll find video clips of Eric (pictured below) running at Jordan a hair too late to stop His Airness from elevating and nailing the game-winning jump shot for North Carolina.

georgetown university north carolina national basketball championship 1982

Eric gets there too late to stop MJ’s game-winner in the national championship.

All to say that competition and living the athletic physical life contributed to our formation as people, and while we’re well removed from our peak years, we continue to pursue the pleasure that such activities afford. I’m still playing competitive baseball, and I’m trying to get David to join my team for the coming season, and a few other guys who I ran into at the reunion party the next night – Jimmy Flaikas, Mitch Orcutt, and Brian Hacker. How great it would be for us five former high school baseball teammates to be back on the diamond together. Priceless!

Jimmy and David have concerns about the physical demands, among other things, and whether their bodies are up to it. They’re both in great shape, so I’m confident they would do well. But they’re wise to weigh this carefully; discretion is the better part of valor when aging, after all. And that’s why golf is ideally suited to our current places in the circle of life. No torn meniscus or sprained ankles to be suffered, no concussions or broken bones forthcoming. Instead, we carelessly joked and competed with joyful appreciation of reconnecting through the game during our reunion weekend.

That golf is a lifelong game is one of its most appealing aspects. Perhaps it’s even an after-life game, as two elderly gentlemen illuminated. Lifelong friends now in their 80s, one of them fell deathly ill. His friend visited one last time and they reminisced about the good times shared through the game. As they parted, the friend said to his dying companion, “Do me a favor – let me know if there’s golf in heaven when you get there.” His friend promised he would and then he passed on peacefully that night. The next night, his friend was sleeping when he heard a voice. “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is, there’s golf in heaven; the bad news is, you have a tee time tomorrow morning.”

Fore! Now and forever.

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Courses

Hidden Gem of the Day: Bear Slide Golf Club in Cicero, Indiana

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!

Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member AUTIGER07, who takes us to Bear Slide Golf Club in Cicero, Indiana. From the horse’s mouth, Bear Slide Golf Club offers a “Scottish links-style front nine and a traditional style back nine”, and in AUTIGER07’s description of the course, he highlights the tracks excellent variety of different holes on offer.

“Played this quite a bit when I lived in Indianapolis. Was always in really solid shape and the course provides a good mix of short-to-long holes. Pace of play used to be very enjoyable, and you never felt “rushed” during the round.”

According to Bear Slide Golf Club’s website, 18 holes around the course during the week will set you back $39, while the rate rises to $55 if you want to play on the weekend.

@joel63763660

@thelgcsaa

Check out the full forum thread here, and submit your Hidden Gem.

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole (Ep 63): Valentino Dixon talks Golf Channel documentary; Marvin Bush remembers his father

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Valentino Dixon shares his amazing story in an exclusive interview with Michael Williams. Also in this episode: a tribute to George H.W. Bush, featuring a conversation with his youngest son, Marvin.

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

featured image c/o Golf Channel

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19th Hole

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