Written by Jesse Rice - PGA Manager on January 13, 2021

After a thrilling finish to start the year last week at the Sentry TOC – where Harris English outlasted Joaquin Niemann in a playoff for his first PGA Tour win in almost eight years – this week we stay in Hawaii and move to Honolulu for the annual Sony Open, held regularly for the past 56 years at Waialae Country Club.

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A classic Hawaiian oceanside course, this Par 70 layout comes in at a short 7,060 yards, and this Seth Raynor design features palm tree lines and plenty of ocean visuals on many holes. There are only two Par 5s, and while there is minimal rough, the fairways are narrow and only three holes feature a water hazard of some kind. In short it’s a course where people can go low, but that might not be the case this week.

The reason behind that is that the major defense of this course is when the ocean wind gets high, making the small Bermuda greens surrounded by sand traps a tough task to hit. The forecasts this week call for moderate winds, so it is going to be quite the ball strikers test this week. Those who can avoid issues off the tee and keep their approaches low enough to avoid the wind – and surely those who scramble well around the green – are sure to do well this week.

It’s a course where In 2017, Justin Thomas joined the 59 club, so folks can go low, but the wind might have something to say about that this week. Any rain may help to soften proceedings, depending on how much precipitation falls, but the wind will lash through the trees and make life incredibly difficult.

Players with a low ball flight should excel, and because of the long history of this tournament, course history should be looked at very closely for those who seem comfortable here. There is a certain type golfer who always seems to do well here, as a roll call of Webb Simpson, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Kevin Kisner being past champions all possess similar qualities to their games.

Must-Have #1: Zach Johnson 

This veteran and two-time major champion had a bit of an up and down 2020, but toward the end of the season last year saw his form starting to come back around. After a resurgent T8 at the US Open, this Sea Island resident made five more cuts to end the year, going 8-23-19-50-51-6.

He hasn’t played since the RSM Classic in November, but windy coastal tests should not matter to Johnson, as he trains and plays at one for his home course. In fact it’s evident that he likes the environment at the Sony open as he is a former champion here and in his last five starts at Waialae has finished 28-MC-14-6-9.

Knowing how to play in the wind and keeping a low ball flight will be helpful this week and at this course, distance isn’t a relative requirement, so those conditions seemed play in ZJs favor.

Before the break he was solid all-around, ranking 3rd in this field in Good Drives, 10th in Approach, and 12th in Par 4 Scoring, all of which would bode well to point him in the direction of another high finish this week in Hawaii.

Must-Have #2: Emiliano Grillo 

This young Argentinian seems to be featured often here at DFI, and this week we are turning to him once again in Hawaii at a course where he has made all five cuts in his attempts here.

He actually came in #1 ranked in our overall model over the last 24 rounds, ranking 4th in the field in Approach, 4th in Opportunities Gained, 4th in Ball Striking, 6th in Par 4 Scoring, and 13th in Good Drives.

Also encouraging is that he has made 7 out of 8 cuts on the season, including a T21 at PuntaCana, T34 at Bermuda, and a T8 at Mayakoba – all courses that possess similar qualities and environs as Waialae – so we are anticipating another good week for him here.

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