Good thing you have an appetite because we're treated to a luau at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
For starters, 23 of the 33 who competed at last week's Sentry Tournament of Champions made the short trip west to Oahu, including Gary Woodland (2nd), Justin Thomas (3rd), Marc Leishman (T4) and Bryson DeChambeau (7th). You're going about this game incorrectly if any doesn't get your call at some point this season.
Given the historical trend supporting golfers who opened the calendar year on Maui, I wouldn't talk you out of any at Waialae Country Club.
While we need to slow-play the season for positioning entering the FedExCup Playoffs when points are quadrupled, two considerations must be made. First, there are only three tournaments in this season's Playoffs, so you can shift one of your monsters usually saved to a spot sooner on the schedule. Second, the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club is the only event of the series that doesn't rotate host sites. Liberty National Golf Club last hosted THE NORTHERN TRUST in 2009 and 2013, while Medinah Country Club hasn't served as the backdrop for an individual competition since the 2006 PGA Championship.
This is why I'm advocating JT this week.
For loyal readers, that will come across as a stark departure from my general approach, but he firmly checks both of the boxes guiding all gamers this week. Among his multiple strong showings here, the 2017 Sony champ established the PGA TOUR record for 72 holes at 27-under 253. He also closed strong at Kapalua on Sunday. Furthermore, as strange as it sounds but explained above, we won't miss him during the Playoffs. And with the majors awarding only 100 more points for a victory than what's up for grabs at Waialae, his value in this field is even greater.
No doubt that part of my decision is reliant on the depth of PGA TOUR membership and worldwide talent to plug a gap later, but I'm vowing to be aggressive to defend my league title.
Aside from the other three aforementioned studs, others who opened 2019 at Kapalua and deserve a peek at Waialae include Charles Howell III (T14). He never lets anyone down here, so he's ideal for front-runners and contenders entering the 10th of 46 tournaments. Matt Kuchar (T19) was a cornerstone here for years and demands a long look. And Scott Piercy (T19) is a terrific play if you want to swing for the fence.
Like Piercy, Kevin Kisner is a relative just-off-the-radar option at Waialae who shouldn't be. That's what makes him dangerous for gamers who have started slow. Otherwise, you'll be settling for the stymie at Harbour Town or Colonial.
A year ago in this space, the advice was to sit on Jordan Spieth for what would be one opportunity after another, but he didn't qualify for the Sentry TOC. Now married and making his 2019 debut, you don't see him going another calendar year without a title, but the advice remains the same. Give him a start or two for him to show us what he has.
I know that the Sony Open in Hawaii slots third in Future Possibilities for Zach Johnson, but it's a distant show from his set-and-forget appearance at the John Deere Classic. But you do you.
Two-man gamers naturally get to belly up to the feast for a second helping for which the likes of Adam Hadwin, Danny Lee, Jerry Kelly and Shugo Imahira present intrigue.
RANK PANELIST PICK COMMENT 163rd
I’ve been impressed by how he uses that driver “stinger” to navigate shorter courses like Mayakoba and Sea Island. He’ll be able to use it this week at Waialae, as well. 178th
Justin Thomas Knee-jerk (or is it tongue-in-cheek?) reaction to Sean claiming the first victory among us (at Kapalua), so it's a good thing that JT is pretty good. 202nd
On the Mark
Gary Woodland I had Woodland penciled in for Waialae. And his play at Kapalua only galvanized my belief. Further, the sting of the runner-up finish in Maui may just be a catalyst for the talented star-in-waiting. 312th
Marc Leishman The Aussie had two bad holes last week in finishing T4 and has never missed in nine tries at Waialae CC. I'm expecting his hot "summer", three top-five paychecks in his last four, to continue in paradise again this week. 475th
Cameron Smith I wanted to hold off on this impressive youngster till later in the year but he’s coming off a recent win at the Australian PGA and wants to secure a Presidents Cup berth sooner rather than later.
Charles Howelll III
Howell has a phenomenal record at Wiailea: Nine top-10 finishes in 17 starts, including two seconds and two thirds. This could be the year he picks up a Sony victory.
NOTE: Select golfers committed to the tournament are listed alphabetically. Future tournaments are sorted chronologically and reflect previous success on the courses on which the tournaments will be held in 2018-19. The numerical values in parentheses represent the order of relative confidence of where to use each golfer if multiple sites are listed (e.g. 1 for strongest, 2 for next-strongest and so on). To present weighted confidence in real time, numerical values will not change all season no matter how many tournament remain listed for each golfer. All are pending golfer commitment.
Keegan Bradley … Farmers (2); Memorial (5); Travelers (4)
Paul Casey … WGC-Mexico (6); Honda (10); Valspar (7; defending); WGC-Match Play (8); Masters (2); Wells Fargo (9); Travelers (1); TOUR Championship (3)
Bryson DeChambeau … Waste Management (5); Arnold Palmer (3); Heritage (1); Memorial (2; defending); Travelers (4); John Deere (7)
Jason Dufner … Desert Classic (9); Honda (3); PLAYERS (7); Valspar (4); New Orleans (1); Charles Schwab (6); Memorial (5); U.S. Open (2); Wyndham (8); TOUR Championship (10)
Emiliano Grillo … Arnold Palmer (2); Charles Schwab (3)
Adam Hadwin … Desert Classic (1); Waste Management (4); Genesis (3); Valspar (2); John Deere (5)
Brian Harman … Sony (2); Desert Classic (3); Arnold Palmer (7); Charles Schwab (1); Travelers (5); John Deere (4)
Russell Henley … Sony (2); Honda (4); Masters (3)
Charles Howell III … Sony (3); Desert Classic (4); Farmers (1)
Zach Johnson … Sony (3); Waste Management (6); Arnold Palmer (7); Valero (4); Charles Schwab (5); John Deere (1); Open Championship (2); TOUR Championship (8)
Si Woo Kim … PLAYERS (3); Heritage (1)
Chris Kirk … Sony (4); Valero (3); PLAYERS (5); Charles Schwab (2)
Kevin Kisner … Sony (4); Heritage (3); New Orleans (5); Charles Schwab (2); Memorial (6)
Russell Knox … Sony (3); Heritage (2)
Matt Kuchar … Sony (3); Waste Management (4); PLAYERS (5); Valspar (9); Masters (6); Heritage (2); Charles Schwab (7); Memorial (1); Open Championship (8)
Marc Leishman … Farmers (2); Arnold Palmer (1); Byron Nelson (6); Memorial (4); Travelers (3); Open Championship (8)
Hideki Matsuyama … Waste Management (1); Genesis (10); Arnold Palmer (11); PLAYERS (9); Masters (4); PGA Championship (13); Memorial (8); U.S. Open (14); Wyndham (7); TOUR Championship (5)
Kevin Na … Genesis (2); Valspar (6); Charles Schwab (3); Wyndham (5)
Scott Piercy … Sony (3); New Orleans (1; co-defending); Canadian (7; last winner at Hamilton in 2012)
Patrick Reed … Pebble Beach (6); Valspar (1); Masters (5; defending); PGA Championship (4); U.S. Open (3); Travelers (7)
Adam Scott … Genesis (4); Honda (1); Arnold Palmer (10); PLAYERS (2); Masters (6); Byron Nelson (11); PGA Championship (8); U.S. Open (9); Open Championship (7); TOUR Championship (3)
Cameron Smith … Wyndham (3)
Jordan Spieth … Sony (12); Pebble Beach (3); Genesis (10); WGC-Mexico (11); Valspar (14); Masters (1); PGA Championship (7); Charles Schwab (5); Memorial (13); U.S. Open (4); Travelers (9); Open Championship (6); TOUR Championship (8)
Brandt Snedeker … Farmers (3); Waste Management (8); Pebble Beach (2); Masters (10); Heritage (6); Charles Schwab (7); U.S. Open (5); Travelers (9); Wyndham (1; defending)
Justin Thomas … Sony (4); WGC-Mexico (2); Honda (7; defending); PLAYERS (11); PGA Championship (9); Memorial (8); TOUR Championship (3)
Jimmy Walker … Sony (5); Farmers (4); Pebble Beach (1); Valero (2); Byron Nelson (6)
Bubba Watson … Waste Management (4); Genesis (1; defending); WGC-Match Play (6; defending); Masters (5); Memorial (7); Travelers (2; defending); TOUR Championship (8)
Gary Woodland … Sony (1); Farmers (2); Waste Management (3; defending); Memorial (4)