The Sony Open in Hawaii is the first full-field event on the PGA TOUR in eight weeks, so membership is champing on the pineapple to resume the 2018-19 season. However, for those seeing Waialae Country Club for the first time, tempered expectations may be wise.
Since Gay Brewer prevailed in the inaugural edition of the tournament in 1965, Russell Henley is the only first-time participant to win (2013). And since Kapalua Resort's Plantation Course first hosted the Sentry Tournament of Champions in 1999, 14 of the 20 champions of the Sony Open in Hawaii had competed on Maui the week prior. Of the 144 in this week's field, 23 opened 2019 at Kapalua.
Scroll beneath the ranking for more on Waialae and other information pertaining to the back half of the fortnight better known as the Aloha Swing.
Paul Casey, Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Reed and two-time Sony Open in Hawaii champion Jimmy Walker will appear in Tuesday's Fantasy Insider along with other notables.
Once upon a time, only ball-strikers of a certain age were pegged to prevail at Waialae. After all, it's a stock par 70 that tips at just 7,044 yards. What's more, because it's flush against the coastline on the southeastern shore of Oahu, experience in wind usually contributed to the profile of the champion.
Not that tee-to-green specialists suddenly are neutralized at Waialae – that skill set plays everywhere, of course – it's that the tournament has evolved into a putting contest. Since Henley's 24-under 256 six years ago, which broke the old tournament record by four strokes, Justin Thomas lowered the bar by another three in 2017 with what remains as the PGA TOUR record for the lowest aggregate for 72 holes at (27-under) 253.
Patton Kizzire's 17-under 263 last year matched the highest winning score of the last six editions, but it's still lower than each of the previous six. Indeed, the winds are a-changin' in Hawaii.
En route to his victory that required six playoff holes to extinguish James Hahn, Kizzire ranked third in strokes gained: putting and fourth in conversion percentage inside 10 feet. He went 61-for-65 overall and 20-for-24 outside three feet in that range. Meanwhile, despite finishing T56 in fairways hit and T23 in greens in regulation, he slotted fourth in proximity to the hole and T6 in birdies-or-better percentage with the putter.
Contradictory to what conventional wisdom suggests is a requirement in every shootout, Kizzire ranked just T58 in par-5 scoring at 4.50. Yes, there are only two par 5s at Waialae – Nos. 9 and 18 – but the par-5 scoring average for the tournament was 4.30. Since records were first maintained in earnest in 1983, that's the lowest average on any course in any tournament, and it broke the previous record (of 4.31) that was established at Waialae in 2017.
The new putting surface on the closing hole is 33-percent larger this year, so there likely will be a new hole location or three this week, and the greenside bunker right on approach has been eliminated. How scoring is affected on the 18th hole remains to be seen, but its overall length of 555 yards remains unchanged. Also, the fairway bunker right on the par-4 10th was removed as it's no longer in play – the hole measures just 351 yards – and its new green is nearly double in size.
Because wind influences playability as much as it does, the greens at Waialae run no faster than 11 feet on the Stimpmeter, so with light winds forecast throughout the tournament, we're set for another race to the finish line. Typical conditions otherwise are expected with spotty showers and daytimes highs in the low 80s.
ROB BOLTON’S SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM’s Fantasy Insider Rob Bolton recaps and previews every tournament from numerous angles. Look for his following contributions as scheduled.
MONDAY: Rookie Ranking, Qualifiers, Reshuffle, Medical Extensions, Power Rankings
TUESDAY*: Sleepers, Fantasy Insider
WEDNESDAY: One & Done
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf presented by SERVPRO, which also publishes on Tuesdays.