Since the PGA TOUR first connected events in Hawaii in 1999, three golfers have won both the SBS Tournament of Champions and Sony Open in Hawaii, but only Ernie Els has won both in the same season. That was in 2003. It was the first of consecutive playoff victories for The Big Easy at Waialae Country Club.
Twelve of the winners at Kapalua Resort’s Plantation Course went on to compete at the Sony the following week. In addition to Els’ first title at Waialae, two others recorded top 10s and another a top 15 after claiming their victories at the SBS. All of the others finished outside the top 30 on the shorter, flatter test in Honolulu. However, 12 of the 18 champions at Waialae competed in the winners-only stop on Maui the week prior.
While the host courses on the Aloha Swing essentially are on opposite sides of the spectrum in design, the warm-up of a no-cut soft opening of the calendar year has been lucrative to those extending their stay in the Hawaiian Islands. This is on what 21 of the 32 who pegged it at Kapalua last week are counting as they take aim on Oahu, eight of whom are featured below.
POWER RANKINGS: SONY OPEN IN HAWAII
RANK PLAYER COMMENT 1 Jordan Spieth 2 Justin Thomas 3 Jimmy Walker 4 Hideki Matsuyama 5 Paul Casey 6 Pat Perez 7 Charles Howell III 8 Scott Piercy 9 Brandt Snedeker 10 Gary Woodland 11 Ryan Palmer 12 Harold Varner III 13 William McGirt 14 Russell Knox 15 Cameron Smith
Waialae’s beauty has remained intact for as long as anyone can remember, but there are new sightlines to behold. The greens at the par-4 first and 13th holes, as well as at the par-3 11th, have undergone needed renovations since Fabian Gomez lifted the trophy after outlasting Brandt Snedeker in a playoff a year ago. There will be a learning curve at No. 11, especially, since the entire green complex was redone. All 18 greens will be prepped to measure 11 on the Stimpmeter.
As a gettable par 70 tipping at just 7,044 yards, wind is the only bona fide defense given its position along the Pacific Ocean. In terrific scoring conditions last year, the field averaged a tournament-low 68.499 since Waialae was converted from a par 72 entering the 1999 edition. The par-5 ninth and 18th holes have rolled over as the easiest set of par 5s on TOUR in each of the last two seasons.
While splitting fairways often has been a narrative to predict success here, it takes a back seat to setting up scoring opportunities, just as you’d expect in a shootout. This is supported by rough measuring just two-and-a-quarter inches. Reviewing last year’s result, eight of the 12 golfers who finished inside the top 10 on the final leaderboard ranked outside the top 25 in driving accuracy, but six cracked the top 10 in greens in regulation. Gomez found only half of his fairways (ranking T60) and still averaged 14 GIR per round (T7).
While wind direction will vary for the first three rounds this week, its velocity will not be a factor, so scoring by draw shouldn’t be affected. Come Sunday, trade winds will freshen, thus adding to the challenge in identifying the champion. Rain can almost never be ruled out, of course, but its threat to delay play is virtually zero. Seasonable highs in the low 80s are forecast.
ROB BOLTON'S WRITING SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM’s Fantasy Columnist Rob Bolton will be filing his usual staples leading up to this week’s event. Look for the following columns this week.
MONDAY: Power Rankings
TUESDAY*: Sleepers, Comfort Zone, Fantasy Insider
WEDNESDAY: One & Done
THURSDAY: Ownership Percentages in PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf and One & Done presented by SERVPRO
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks, which also publishes on Tuesdays.