Sony Open 2021
A disappointing beginning to 2021, with the recommendations at the Tournament of Champions not performing as I would have hoped. Sergio Garcia did go into the final 18 hours tied at the top of the European leaderboard, but a poor front 9 ended his chances there. In truth it was the putter that did the damage, with the Spaniard being pretty atrocious on the greens over the 4 days. With anything resembling a decent putting display, we would have had a nice 6/1 winner. As for the rest, we never really looked like collecting after Thursday. Cameron Champ never got going, though while Pat Reed threatened at stages, he was very disappointing on the whole in my opinion. The news that Webb Simpson was basically stepping out of Covid isolation to tee it up came too late, as bets were already recommended and placed. Considering his lack of practise, I thought he played very well.
It was an exciting finish all the same, with Harris English ultimately prevailing in a playoff against Joaquin Niemann, who had shot a superb Sunday 64. Justin Thomas supporters will rue that untimely bogey on 17, when he was trying to force birdie. From an overall viewing perspective, the course itself continues to be a pretty boring spectacle. Beautiful views, but just enough to trouble the worlds best.
We stay on the island of Hawaii, with the next stop here being the Sony Open, which comes to us from Waialae Country Club in East Honolulu. A much shorter layout than last week, this Par 70 checks in at just over 7000 yards. The wide open spaces of the Plantation Course are replaced by a more stereotypical tree lined layout, and if the winds do get up as they did for much of last year’s edition, it can prove quite tricky. The forecast at the moment is for conditions to be relatively calm, with maybe Sunday providing the most breeze. I would expect the winner to need to be getting to 20 under par.
Prior to last week, recent evidence had been building to suggest that playing in the calendar opener was crucial to your chances of being successful here. I wouldn’t be dogmatic about it as plenty others have gone very close without the benefit of that outing the week previous, but on balance it does appear to be advantageous. As such I wouldn’t be rushing to back a shorter priced player who didn’t blow away the cobwebs last week. Previous course experience is also beneficial, more so than at many other courses on the PGA rota.
Players of Interest:
Having shunned the top 4 or 5 in the market last week, this week is somewhat different. There will be no reinventing the wheel, but I do feel all 3 are very much worth backing at current prices. I will deal first with those who didn’t make the team sheet.
Second favourite is Collin Morikawa at 14/1. The reigning PGA Champion threatened to kick off 2021 in the best possible manner, but a surprisingly stuttering Sunday display put paid to those pretensions. Clearly a top class talent, who in all probability will be notching another win during this season, his chances this week have to be taken seriously. His prowess from the fairways, and in general being a greens in regulation machine, he should be well suited to this week’s layout. The worry is how poor his putting was last week, though Kapalua greens are among the toughest on Tour, and he could easily bounce back here. Putting has a greater variance than any other aspect of a players game. I wouldn’t have much reason to put you off Collin here, but simply prefer a few others at the prices.
Having been so keen on Patrick Reed last week, I am much less so this time around. He just didn’t seem to be on his game at all there. He had mentioned that he needed to play better from tee to green to take pressure off his short game. His game from the tee wasn’t actually bad, but his approach play was shocking. Normally flawless around the greens, his short game also let him down, maybe the result of spending his time off trying to up standards in other areas. Given his record here is nothing like what is at Kapalua, I can gloss over him fairly easy this week. *Subsequently pulled out.
I feel WEBB SIMPSON is very much the most likely winner, and that he should be a clear favourite here. He was at a distinct disadvantage last week, having only arrived at Kapalua on Wednesday afternoon. Two weeks isolation preceded that, and it’s testament to him that he mounted a charge Friday evening which saw him move to the top of the leaderboard briefly. His game from the tee was found wanting, but given the circumstances that is more than forgivable. What really caught the eye was his approach work, and arriving here to a course that demands hitting a high percentage of Greens in Regulation, that is definitely a big plus. Clearly he is one of this week’s players who hold the advantage of having teed it up last week, and that is significant on another front also. When 3rd here last year, he was without the benefit of that outing at Kapalua. His previous visit in 2018, when finishing 4th, he also came here off the Christmas break. Not only does that show how compatible Webb is with this layout, but also that his displays in those two years can be slightly upgraded. Oddly enough the 3 previous years saw him finish 13th on each occasion, but I do feel he is now back at a level above what he was operating at in those years.
Previous course experience is most certainly an advantage here at Waialae, and Webb now has a fine bank of that. He has improved year on year since 2010, and he doesn’t have far to go now to reach the summit. Hitting fairways here is not too important, as the rough is far from formidable. What you need is accuracy with the scoring clubs and there aren’t many better from the fairways, or indeed the rough from 150 yards and in, than Webb. 6th in strokes gained on approach to the green last season, he was 5th in this department last week. Given his lack of practise time, this can also be marked up. This isn’t a very strong field depth wise, and Webb can rightfully approach the week feeling rather confident. What make him more attractive than some others towards the fore of the market is his high end consistency. Only once in his last 9 outings has he not finished in the Top 20. That was in a year ending RSM, the week after The Masters. It obviously includes that 10th at Augusta, the three season ending FedEx Cup events, the US Open and even last weeks out of the suitcase 17th. Top notch events all of them. Once upon a time, and not too long ago, I would have scoffed at taking a win price of 12-14/1 on Simpson given his conversion rate, but he seems a far stronger player in contention now, and I am more than happy to get involved here. *The current 12/1 still rates a bet.
As I mentioned at the beginning, my selections are far from adventurous this week, but as ever I do feel all are worthy bets at the prices.
Next up is a man who in my opinion simply can’t be left out, SUNGJAE IM. The Korean was sublime from tee to green last week, and if he can reproduce that here, he will take some beating. His performance was all the meritorious given he was making his debut on the Plantation Course, and history has proven that having a previous look around there is a big advantage. Indeed he was top of the debutants there by 4 clear shots, leaving players of the calibre of Scheffler and Hovland in his wake. All that with a putter that was about as obedient as a delinquent two year old. Of course that may be a problem again this week, but in both Sungjae’s appearances here to date, he has performed well on the greens. 16th on debut in 2019, and 20th last year, it was his approach play which cost him a shot at the title both years. Indeed he could have finished a lot closer to the podium 12 months ago, but for a triple bogey 7 on the 16th. Last week’s display in that department was more than a flash in the pan, he has been improving from the fairways for some time now, and I feel he is very well equipped to notch the low score which will be required here. His sole win on Tour came in last season’s Honda Classic which also boasted Bermuda Greens, and in the main his decent putting performances have come on this surface. His 11th place finish in the Tour Championship and runner up spot at The Masters show just what sort of talent we are dealing with here.
In 8 rounds here, his only over par efforts were his opening effort in 2019 on debut, and in tough windy conditions on Payday 12 months ago. With that maiden win in The Honda under his belt, he looks a more assured competitor in the heat of battle, and that Augusta effort will have been a further boost to his confidence. On his two previous visits here,
he was not only short of that all important Waialae experience, but also making his first start of the year. With that course knowledge now tucked away, and an eye catching run out last week, all seems in place for Im to mount a serious title assault here this week. I would have him joint second favourite, and view the 20/1 on offer as a few notches too big.
Last week’s winner Harris English is clearly entitled to respect here, but he has struggled here in recent years, and I can’t see any mileage in quotes of 12-14/1. Matt Kuchar would look a big price based on course form, but he had an indifferent 2020, and being a year older is likely to benefit from four rounds here.
Hideki Matsuyama was another to putt poorly last week, but unlike many others, he was struggling in other areas too. A gloss was put on it with a flurry of birdies on his Sunday back 9, but I would be wary of him at the moment. Last year was only the second time he has cracked the Top 20 in 7 attempts, and Waialae simply hasn’t proved a happy hunting ground for him.
Daniel Berger deserves respect here, but as was the case with Morikawa, I just prefer others at the prices. Cameron Smith showed flashes of his best last week, but will need to improve tee to green to be a factor here, and does have the extra pressure of being the defending champion.
I have debated long and hard about backing, and recommending, Ryan Palmer. I have come down on the side of no. I probably shouldn’t let it be a factor, but having backed him at 80/1 here a year ago, I do find it hard to make a valid case for him being a bet this time around at just 33/1. He obviously spent much of last week in contention, and hence alerted market makers to his chances for this, and a rallying finish probably ensured we didn’t get the 40/1 I was hoping for here. In truth I wouldn’t have him any longer than 33/1, but with that only available to limited places, I can let him run. *PP/BFSB now going 33/1 to 8 places on Palmer. If playing him, I would advise going there if you can.
To me Sergio Garcia is still the better player, and a more likely converter of a winning chance than Palmer. At 40/1 It was just as difficult to leave out the Spaniard. The only reason for him leaving him out is his lack of course experience. Aside from Russell Henley in 2013, this has been a prerequisite for all recent winners, and though Garcia showed an abundance of promise last week I have had to let him go here.
When I started looking at this week’s action, and even when I was compiling my likely bets, It appeared that I would have 5 outright selections. However with Patrick Reed coming out, I feel fixed odds firms have shaved too much off too many players, and as such the likes of Palmer and Garcia just aren’t the ‘reserve’ price I would have had down for them. If anyone prefers to have a couple more darts at the outright market, I would suggest playing these two.
As it is, my final selection is SEBASTIAN MUNOZ, and I am very keen on the Columbian. He for me was the main eye catcher from Kapalua, but thankfully his price has remained at above what I was hoping for here. An opening 75 for his first round of the year didn’t offer up much hope, but his 66-67-68 combination over the next 3 days certainly did. Granted an average first round, he would have been right on the heels of the title contenders, and setting up here as a max 33/1 shot. He once again displayed the all round game which helped him to success in last season’s Sanderson’s Farms. I do believe he is an even better player now than for that maiden success 16 months ago, with his accuracy off the tee improving all the time. With that aspect of his game now pretty much sorted out, there really are no weaknesses to the Munoz skill set, and he looks primed to notch his second PGA Tour win. 8th place finishes in both the BMW and Tour Championship at the end of the 2019-20 season signal just how far he has come in the game, and he will have eyes in cracking the OWGR Top 50 next. A good finish here will secure that.
He missed the cut here 12 months ago, but only on the number, and I prefer to look at his debut 10th in 2019 as evidence that he has the game to tame Waialae. A brace of 65s and another of 68s then offers much encouragement on that front. He made just the one bogey in his closing 59 holes last week, and his game seems tight. At 50/1 I view him as one of the more likely winners here, and he is a must bet for me.
Quite a few that would be very close to meeting the price criteria for a bet. Indeed if there wasn’t as many of similar ilk I may have recommended one in isolation. I do not however want to put up 3 borderline bets, which are all at pretty short odds. I will go through those first, and for those that can get on at top price with any one firm, I wouldn’t discourage a small trixie.
Sungjae Im really does look to have rock solid credentials this week, and given I am less than lukewarm on the chances of Hideki Matsuyama, the 5/2 on offer about him slaying his Asian counterparts does look a shade big.
Paddy Power and BFSB again go top price here on my fancy Sergio Garcia at 15/8. The drawback in backing him outright was his lack of course knowledge, but for one as experienced as Garcia, I don’t see it being a massive problem. His game seemed in excellent nick last week, and if he putts any way better here, I feel he will be very hard to beat in this weak section.
The reason I am not putting Nick Taylor up as an official bet is that the top price is only currently available with one firm, and is very much out of line with others. However, those that can avail of Bet 365’s 5/1 on him, should do so. Market leader here Makenzie Hughes was pretty woeful in the Tournament of Champions, indeed Taylor finished a full 9 shots ahead of him there, as Hughes propped up the foot of the field. Hughes has also missed his last 3 cuts here. I have no idea how 365 have priced Roger Sloan up shorter, and David Hearn at the same price as Taylor. Current exchange outright prices are Taylor 280, Sloan 600 and Hearn 800. This is a very uncompetitive section, especially if Hughes doesn’t show a marked improvement on last week, and 5/1 is certainly much too big on Taylor. If PP/BFSB price up this market, and put Taylor in at anything from 7/2 and above, for those able to get multiples on with these firms the Trixie would be an attractive small stakes proposition with the two above. *Bet 365 have now fallen into line at 10/3.
Now for those that I am officially recommending…
Again it is currently Bet 365 which are top price here, but there is back up available at just under their 9/2, and MARC LEISHMAN looks a very good bet at that. He never really threatened to get involved at Kapalua last week, but did very little wrong on his way to a 14 under par total. Only 3 bogeys for the week was the second best in the field, and it suggests his game is in decent nick. His putting like a couple of others mentioned above was pretty brutal, losing over 5 shots to the field on that front, but his approach play was close enough to its best. In his last 8 visits here he has 3 Top 10 finishes, with his biggest flirt with victory coming in 2019 when he finished 3rd. Over the years he has become one of those players who can consistently produce at venues where he has previous good form, and off the back of that rust eraser last week, I can once again see him going well here.
Due to the terrible run of form he displayed post lockdown last year, Leishman has gone from what would have been a 9/4 shot in this section to 9/2. Given his excellent display at Augusta, and the tidiness of his game last week, I feel he should be closer to that 9/4 than the 9/2 on offer. I would make him an 11/4 shot. I made hay in this particular market in the last couple of months of 2020, courtesy of Cameron Smith. He heads the market here, but he did look a way from his best last week. In finishing alongside Leishman there he was a bit more ragged in his approach play. That would be punished more here. He also has the extra distraction of being defending champion here, his first singles title that he will attempt to back up. More often than not this is a detriment to one’s chances.
I would hate to crab Adam Scott’s physique, such a specimen is he, but to my eye he looked a shade pudgy last week! Maybe he enjoyed the festive season a bit much, or maybe he just hadn’t been putting in too much work. He has been messing about with new putters again, and I just don’t feel he has any confidence in that aspect of his game at all at the minute. He can hardly hope to be any better this week on what was excellent approach play at Kapalua, yet he still had a ho hum week. With his current frame of mind on the greens, I just don’t see much up side to him.
I would have chalked up the head of this market as 11/4 each of three, and as such anything 7/2 and upwards on Leishman represents a value bet.
Top 20 Finish:
I make no apology for going to the window a second time on SEBASTIAN MUNOZ this week. This isn’t a field packed with much strength in depth, and is also missing the big names at the head of the market that would typically be near guaranteed to fill 5 or 6 of these positions. Munoz has notched a Top 20 in 5 of his last 7 outings, and 9/4 that he makes it 6 in 8 is too big here. I see very little downside to his chances, and will be surprised if he doesn’t collect for us in this market.
2.5pts ew Webb Simpson 12/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, WH/Betfred) *I had sent out 2pts ew at 14/1 yesterday evening, but will settle at the 12/1, as it wasn’t long after when Reed withdrew and prices cut. Hopefully a few got on. (4th)
1.6pts ew Sungjae Im 18/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, WH/Skybet/Betfred)
.7pt ew Sebastian Munoz 50/1 (Boyles/Skybet/Betfred) *40/1 and upwards acceptable to 8 places Top Australian:
4pts Marc Leishman 9/2 (Bet 365) *7/2 and upwards acceptable. Currently 4/1 with WH/Coral/Lads/888 (WON) Top 20 Finish:
6pts Sebastian Munoz 9/4 (WH/888/Unibet) *2/1 and upwards acceptable. Currently 21/10 with most other firms. Pre-Event Running Totals 2021:
Hopefully a better week than last, but again golf betting is very much a long game. We will have dry spells, and we will have good spells. It’s once again making the good better than the bad over the 35 events that is the important bit! Do have a read of the extra advice on the 3 Alternative Market bets not officially put up, especially those that can avail of the 5/1 on Taylor.