PGA Angle of Attack: Sony Open

Last week brought us an awfully difficult to project contest in the SBS Tournament of Champions. Typically I don’t mind a no-cut event, and I’ll be happy to elaborate on those reasons when we get to those tourneys down the road. However, the course at Kapalua presented a very strange distribution of shots, making it problematic to identify a particular skill set that was likely to suit a particular playing style. Additionally, it happened to fall during the DraftKings free roll week, so an inordinate amount of fantasy players got to enjoy the chaos that can be golf DFS. Personally I reduced volume quite a bit as I was not able to get comfortable with how to attack lineups, which turned out to be the right move. For the record, on the lineups I did roll with, I played a lot of Branden “Last Place” Grace.

This week looks to be a different story, although there are still a couple of potential angles one could take. Waialae Country Club is a 7,044 yard par 70 that I am hesitant to call short as there are some lengthy par 4s. The fairways are very narrow, and the greens play slow. Currently, there does not appear to be much weather coming, but that is something to keep an eye on as lock time approaches since this Tour stop is on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Let’s address these characteristics one at a time.

Length: One thing you will get to know about me is that it is going to take a special course for me to throw distance out the window. Each shot is determined by the one before it, and it all starts off the tee. Whether or not you need to hit 310 to get to a green in two doesn’t change the fact that a 130 yard approach shot is easier than a 160-yarder. I see a number of drivable holes here and those aforementioned long 4s will be what determines this tournament. The two par 5s are very short and should be relatively easy shots at birdie for everyone. For example, the par 4 1st hole and par 5 9th play about 1/20 of a stroke apart. I’m not necessarily tossing out every single player who doesn’t hit 290, but I will weight distance as heavily (very) as I usually do.

Fairways: This is the big conundrum here.

Exhibit A: These fairways are brutally thin, and are going to be very tough to hit.

Exhibit B: Notorious act-like-the-golf-course-is-their-toilet-after-a-couple-beers sprayers like Jimmy Walker and Charles Howell have eviscerated this place in years past. We aren’t talking anecdotal one offs either, I count two wins and another six top 5s in 19 tries between those two over the last 10 years.

I really want to stick to my guns and fade the sprayers but there is just too much evidence here that one can be successful without being accurate. The rough does not appear overly punishing, and without any rain in the last month I see no reason that won’t be the case again this year. I’d still rather have guys hitting from the fairway so I will still be giving weight to my accuracy metric, but not like I normally would on a course with these kinds of fairways. In GPPs I think it makes sense to do some stacks of cleaner hitters just in case conditions are not what we expect.

Greens: I like to start my analysis at the tee and work in, so let’s talk about what slow, soft greens mean for the approach first. The bottom line is they are going to allow these guys to be more aggressive. The golfers will be looking at a lot of slightly long (150-200 yard) second shots, and really should be able to get after the pin without a ton of fear about running way past it. As a result, I will heavily weight longer iron play than I would on a course with firm/fast greens. As for putting on these greens, there is more margin-for-error on a misread, but moving slowly is going to cause more bumps on the way to the cup. I don’t think we’ll see many three putts, but we also aren’t likely to see the 30 foot prayers run true either. More than ever the most important thing will be getting it near the pin and creating short birdie opportunities. My usual approach is to give very little credence to putting statistics since it has so much variance, however, I will be even more extreme for this course and I won’t be looking at putting at all this week.

Weather: No rain on the forecast right now. The wind can traditionally be bad here, though we are still a little too far out to have a good read right now. One of the best strategies in DFS golf is to try and stack tee times when there are big shifts in the wind forecasted. I much prefer this to targeting “good” wind players, because ultimately heavy winds are a massive disadvantage to everyone.

On to the golfers:

Pricey (9.0k+)

Hideki Matsuyama – $11,000: Let’s go. Fairly long, very straight, unbelievable iron game. I fired him up over and over last year as his toolkit is right up there with the other top five golfers. My argument was that if he hit every 4th 15-footer one of these weeks he’d win a tournament. He sure has. The price has caught up but there are a number of nice values this week and he’s the class of the field. Not worried about the poor course history.

Justin Rose – $9,300: My favorite GPP play. He might be hurt, but if he’s not that price is silly in this field. I’m generally going to be willing to take on the risk and try to be a week early rather than a week late in a sport with so few sure things. I did the same thing with Jason Day last week. Let’s not talk about last week.

Jordan Spieth – $11,500: I came onto the scene as a Jordan Spieth hater but I really can’t deny his how he is playing. Hitting longer and truer, and the guy has an undeniably ridiculous short game. NINE birdies in the second round last week. More of a GPP than cash play as he is very mistake prone, but he is always a threat to win by seven strokes.

Jimmy Walker – $9,900: Would like to touch on this even though I will likely be very underweight… Ball don’t lie!   Unfortunately, I can’t say his game is exactly what I’m looking for here and the price/likely ownership are not offering much profit potential (I’d rather bet at 22:1). This comes down to your risk tolerance but I do think a fade here is worth a shot.

Mid-range (7.5k-8.9k)

Jason Dufner – $7,700: ‘Deki lite. Slightly above average distance, nice accuracy, great iron play. If the putts are just okay (historically they have not been but that was the case with ‘Deki too) he’s in line for a nice finish.

Branden Grace – $7,500: Sigh. I am buying. He is too good. Monster at long distance approaches, even from the rough. The price tag isn’t right for a guy who is likely a top 20 or so golfer. Willing to chalk his last outing up as a bad week and try to capitalize on the ownership discount we’re going to get.

Ryan Palmer/Russell Knox/Billy Horschel – Low $8k range: All of these guys bring enough of what we’re looking for without breaking the bank. Knox is the shortest and straightest, Palmer the longest and wildest. They all do very well from 150-200. I’ll be carrying significant exposure to all three.

Charles Howell III – $7,800: Hard to tell as I’m writing this on Monday night without much feedback from the industry echo chamber, but I have a feeling CHIII could be the highest owned player this week. More likely to get on board some as the price is right, but he’s not a must play and there is merit to a fade.

Kevin Na $7,700: I generally don’t dig on Na because he hits like a shortstop, but he might be the best here at mid to long iron shots. Not sure he’s going to be able to stick it close enough to get up top on these greens, but he’s generally a decent bet to stick around and shouldn’t kill you at 6.8k. Fine cash play.

Also consider: Daniel Berger, Scott Piercy, Bill Haas, Harold Varner, Harris English

Cheapies (7.4k and below)

Vaugh Taylor/Webb Simpson – Upper $6k range: Fine drivers, excellent approach players, horrid putters. I’m more comfortable with that when the long putts are less likely to go down for everyone, and they won’t be able to get themselves into as much trouble with misreads here.

James Hahn – $6,800: A solid all round golfer who plays well out of the rough. His skills should get him the chances, and if the putts fall he’s a bargain.

Also consider: Kevin Kisner, Robert Streb, Jim Herman, Hudson Swafford

Note: Forgoing accuracy makes guys like Howell and Walker top 25ish values for me. It also really makes Tony Finau stand out. I understand he has a rep for not being able to putt on Bermuda grass and he wasn’t great on it again last week, but if you are YOLOing some spray stacks he fits the bill.