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Opinion & Analysis

2022 Sony Open: Best DraftKings plays from each price range

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The PGA Tour moves to Honolulu as we stay in Hawaii for another week to play the 2021 Sony Open at Waialae Country Club. Waialae is a 7,044-yard par 70 that was built in 1927 and has annually featured a Tour event since 1965. The Sony Open is the first full-field event of the calendar year.

The 2021 Sony Open field is comprised of 144 golfers. Some notable names in the field include Bryson DeChambeau, Hideki Matsuyama, Webb Simpson, Sungjae Im, Corey Conners, Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith.

The Sony Open typically produces a low scoring affair, and with soft conditions in Hawaii, this season could provide even more birdies. Wind is about all the course has in terms of defense, so it may prove wise to keep an eye on the forecast this week.

Let’s take a look at each DraftKings price range and identify the best plays for each in GPP’s.

10,000+

Cameron Smith $11,200

Two players have won the Sentry Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open in back-to-back weeks (Ernie Els and Justin Thomas), and I believe Cameron Smith has a real chance at being the third. As the favorite on the odds board to win the event, I wouldn’t advise making an outright bet for it to happen, but I love it as a DFS play.

Something about Hawaii helps Smith play his best golf, and Aussies have had success at both Kapalua and Waialae. Cam now has wins at both, and there is no reason to think he will slow down. When he won the Sony Open in 2020, he gained 8.2 strokes putting and showed that he loves these Hawaii bermudagrass greens once again last week by gaining 6.5 strokes on the field.

Webb Simpson will be the most popular player from this range on DraftKings so pivoting to Smith and eating the extra salary makes a lot of sense in GPP’s.

9,000+

Marc Leishman $10,000:

Leishman has two top-five finishes in his past three starts at Waialae and is coming off of a week where he played some pretty good golf. Seven of the past eight winners at Sony have played the previous week at Sentry TOC, so his appearance last week could prove important. The 38-year-old was solid statistically in his 2022 debut, gaining 2.1 strokes on approach. 

 Last season at this event, the Aussie gained 6.1 strokes on approach, which was good for third-best in the field, trailing only Collin Morikawa and Hideki Matsuyama for the week.

In addition to the fantastic course history at Waialae, Leishman has been excellent in Hawaii in his career, having two top-five finishes at Kapalua in his past five tries. After round two of the Sentry Tournament of Champions, Leishman spoke about how similar Hawaii golf was to playing golf in Australia, which may explain the incredible success Aussies have had both at Kapalua and Waialae. Ranking third in the field in birdies or better, he should have the firepower to keep up in a low scoring event. 

8,000+

Billy Horschel $8,700:

Billy Horschel is another golfer who teed it up last week at Kapalua, which could be important for his chances this week. While his statistics weren’t very good at the Tournament of Champions, history tells us that even golfers who hadn’t played all that well the prior week have still benefited greatly from being in the field.

“Bermuda Billy” showed us last season that Waialae is a comfortable spot for him as he finished in 7th place while gaining 8.0 strokes putting. That may be a concern for most players, but Horschel isn’t the type of player who wins with an immaculate tee to green performance. He wins by lighting it up with the putter on bermudagrass, and that has consistently been the recipe for winners at Waialae in the past. Cameron Smith took a similar approach in 2020, where he gained 8.2 strokes putting and lost to the field on Strokes Gained: Approach. It is plausible to envision getting it done on a shorter par 70 track this week in Honolulu.

7,000+

Matt Kuchar $7,500:

Matt Kuchar has been a disappointment for the better part of eighteen months, but if there is a course on Tour where he can put together a solid performance, it’s Waialae Country Club. In his past seven starts at the course, he has three top-ten finishes in addition to winning the Sony Open in 2019. Despite not playing his best golf of late, Kuchar tends to find some form on courses that he is comfortable at. In November, he finished 22nd at Mayakoba (a course that he has won in the past) despite being in poor form. A short Bermuda track where Kuchar doesn’t have to try to keep up with big hitters off of the tee is still the best possible situation for the 43-year-old.

6,000+

Sahith Theegala $6,500:

I wrote a story last month identifying Theegala as a breakout candidate for 2022. With intentions of betting him often this year at long odds, the Sony Open seems like a great place to start. Having just earned his Tour card by playing his way in via the Korn Ferry Tour Championship, Theegala should be kicking off his 2022 season with confidence.

The 24-year-old certainly has the talent to get his breakout win on the PGA Tour, and a weaker field event like we will see this week gives him a shot to get it done if he gets himself in the mix. The former Haskins award winner has had a bit of difficulty with driving accuracy, and that shouldn’t be as costly at Waialae as it is at a typical Tour stop.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Setting goals…and achieving them

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Well, here we are, diving right into the new year of 2022 and seeing where this crazy world is going to take us now. I think we will all admit that the past two years have been a bit crazy, with the arrival of COVID changing everything in ways we would never have imagined at this time two years ago. Regardless of your personal thoughts, ideals and emotions about how it has been handled, it’s been crazy, right?

But that’s not what this column is all about. Today I want to offer some thoughts on how to set your own goals for your own golf this year, and then some ideas on how to make those goals a reality.

If your golf – and getting better at it – is important to you, there is no time like right now to decide what you want to do to achieve that objective. Are you willing to spend the time and energy to work on major swing improvements? Or do you just want to try to score better with a minimal amount of time and energy you have for practice and work?

Are you living where you can still get out to the range or course frequently? Or are you stuck inside for another few months until Spring begins to show? Do you have the desire to invest in instructional assistance, or do you pretty much want to do it yourself?

All these are important questions to answer as you decide your goals for 2022. For today, I’m going to address three ways I believe any golfer can improve their scoring measurably in 2022, regardless of how you might answer these questions I’ve posed. You can decide which of these would have the most impact you your golf as you kick off 2022.

IMPROVE YOUR PUTTING

Regardless of your handicap, a great percentage of your shots are taken with that one club. So, if there is any one part of your game that should get the most attention and work, it should be your putting. Begin by analyzing your own putting performance. Do you three-putt too often? If so, is that because your lag putting distance control is off, or your make percentage of short putts is not as good as it could be? Or do you just not convert enough 5-15 footers?

Putter fitting has become much more advanced these days and is usually worth the investment. You might find that the putter itself is ill-suited to your personal tendencies in the stroke and alignment.
If your mechanics are not reliable, an investment in a good putting mat and a few hours a week will offer huge returns, both in short putts made and improving your conversion of more of those 5-15 footers.

HONE YOUR SHORT GAME

Next to putting, you are likely taking more shots inside 50 yards than anywhere else. Even if you are a GIR machine (and few golfers are), those missed greens are what run up your scores. I see so many recreational golfers who just do not have a sound and repeatable technique around the greens, and that costs them with chunks and skulls that run up scores quickly.

I cannot “teach” the short game here, but there are so many good YouTube videos and books/tapes on the subject, you have no excuse to have a poor technique around the greens. Spend some time studying and learning, and practicing in your basement, den or office. It’s a short swing that anyone can execute – but it takes work. And that work will pay huge dividends.

SHARPEN YOUR MENTAL GAME

Regardless of handicap, I believe many bad shots are ‘pre-ordained’ by a poor mental approach. Many golfers do not get their mind right about what exactly they want to do with any given shot. And very few have a set pre-shot routine that gets their mind right so their body can execute the shot. On the course, it is unproductive to try to process swing thoughts; or at least more than one simple one.

When you are facing a shot, you should have a clear picture of what you want the ball to do and a clear mind to get out of your body’s way of trying to execute that vision. The great book and movie “Golf’s Sacred Journey”, but Dr. David Cook, nails it – “See it. Feel it. Trust it.”

I feel certain that one of these three areas of attention can help nearly every one of you improve your golf in 2022. And I hope to be able to offer you more insight and guidance in that endeavor as I write each week. Let me know if you have subjects you would like me to address, OK?

Let’s do this together.

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Review of Fujikura’s Ventus Blue TR shaft and new Cobra LTDx drivers

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Fujikura has a new Ventus TR shaft out and it seems to fit right in between the Ventus Blue and Ventus Black. A Slightly stiffer profile and handle section seem to make a tighter and more stable shaft. Cobra has 3 new drivers out for 2022 and I think they are going to do very well. Great ball speed and stability on mishits keep the ball in play.

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Opinion & Analysis

2022 American Express: Best prop bets

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Alongside Matt Vincenzi’s chief betting article, here I breakdown this week’s best side bets for the American Express.

 2022 American Express best props

Lucas Glover Top-20 +400

The 2009 U.S open winner has certainly has had his trials and tribulations both on and off the course, but he looked in good shape when finishing in fifth place at the Sony last week and can put up a similar display this week.

When winning the John Deere last year, the 42-year-old broke a 10-year losing streak, and came via a closing best-of-the-day 64 and a tournament ranking of 3rd and 4th for strokes-gained-approach and tee-to-green.

Nothing much changes for Glover in that regard, and it was good to see him return to that standard of play at Waialae when leading the approach stats and ranking second in tee to the short stuff. That he was 30th off-the-tee gives a further boost to his iron game at present and he showed last year that he can keep the game going when finding form – T21/T0/T21/T23 – through the Charles Schwab, RBC Heritage, Travelers and Rocket Mortgage, at least two of those courses with a correlation to this week’s test.

A couple of top-six finishes at The Players show a further liking for Pete Dye designs, and whilst he will never win the prize for best putter, 2016 winner Jason Dufner showed that a solid tee-to-green game can keep you in contention, whilst they both have form at Colonial and at Sawgrass.

Glover’s first four starts here yielded two top-20 and one top-30 finish, whilst I’ll ignore the two recent missed-cuts given they were his first outing of the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

The vast majority of winners have played at least two recent competitive rounds before coming to the American Express (and its various guises) and Glover can take encouragement from the vast progress made when down the field at Maui.

Russell Knox Top 20/Top 40 +300 +130

The Scotsman is another that fits with the Dufner/Glover/Henley genre of player.

With an always impressive iron game, it is always encouraging to see players rank highly in approach and greens-in-regulation even if finishing lower than their overall game warranted.

Take, for example, 2021 finishes of 40th and 58th at the RSM and Fortinet. At both, he ranked top-10 for finding the short stuff and continued that form with the irons at last week’s Sony Open, where he ranked 4th for greens, 10th in approach and 8th for overall tee-to-green.

One swallow doth not make a Summer and all that, but he ranked 7th in putting average and inside the top-30 for strokes-gained-putting, a figure that will certainly help him gain his fourth consecutive top-40 here in as many starts.

Alongside finishes of 29th and 37th at this event Knox can also boast a couple of top-20 finishes, the latest 16th a figure that should have been better given a final round 73, he has a win at the Pete Dye River Highlands, and high finishes at Colonial, Harbour Town and Scottsdale.

After a 12-birdie weekend, he comes here in the form that makes me believe anything better than field average on the greens will land the bet.

Luke List Top 10/Top 20 +550/+250

It’s a trio of excellent tee-to-green players this week, and whilst here is another player that often lets himself down with the putter, the case for him to do well is strong enough to make him my play of the week.

Start with his current form, which reads 7th at the Zozo, 11th at Houston and 10th at the Sea Island course. We don’t have full stats for the first-named, but, at the other two, the 37-year-old has ranked top four off-the-tee, and 12th and 17th for approaches, figures that combine to give a ranking of top-four at both for tee-to-green. Also worth noting is that, at both, Luke was inside the top-10 going into Sunday.

That isn’t unusual for the former U.S Amateur runner-up, and once again, it has been the short stick that has let him down. However, rather like the two players above, List should only need to be field average in putting to put up a good show at a course at which he has a best finish of 6th in 2016 and a 21st last year, when a final round 72 saw him fall from an overnight 13th.

List also carries some of the most guarded Pete Dye form, his last win in 2020 being at TPC Sawgrass at Dye’s Valley Course, whilst in 2012 he won his first Korn Ferry event at the South Georgia Classic.

That event was held, until 2014, at Kinderlou Forest on a course designed by Davis Love III, a player that thrived on Dye courses, winning The Players on two occasions and at Harbour Town a total of five times.

Take a deeper dive into a few of the top two finishers at the Georgia track and Brian Stuard, Will Wilcox, Blayne Barber and runner-up Alex Prugh all have form at one or two of either The Heritage, Pheonix, Sawgrass, River Highlands and here at the Bob Hope, as it once was.

In an event that has seen many shocks, and that might be subject to the weather as they rotate around the three courses, I’m happy to be with a player with far more current positives than many at a shorter price.

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