Niall Lyons shares his betting tips and preview for the Sony Open.
Sony Open - Winner
The trip to Waialae is always a welcome one for punters and writers alike as it's like slipping on your favourite jacket with the hope of finding a long lost tenner in the pocket. Course fit matters a lot around here with driving distance more or less meaningless across the four days. Instead, approach play is key as well as a sharp short game to minimise mistakes around the greens.
That was the case with Smith a few years ago, a short game expert who finished 1st on the greens for the week, and inside the top ten around the greens. Similar played out last year with Hideki topping the putting stats for the week and an improved short game helping lift him to victory. Indeed, 9 of the last 11 winners here have finished inside the top 50 in the putting stats for that season end.
A sharp putter here is necessary to win and although it is difficult to predict who will perform well in that department, surely those who are consistent year on year is a good place to start. 9 of the last 11 winners here have also played in the year opener at Kapalua so a recent run out is necessary either in December or at the Tournament of Champions.
Sony Open Tips
Somewhat surprising to my tissue, Tom Kim takes his place at the head of the market this week at 11/1. There is no doubting how special this kid is and he certainly looks at home here amongst the best golfers in the world. I can't quite have him that short this week and I'd rate Spieth a shade more likely to take home the spoils than Kim. So, on to my selections.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout at 55/1 (Eight Places)
Christiaan Bezuidenhout didn't get a run out last week but he did have a busy enough finish to last year ending with a top 30 effort in the Alfred Dunhill. Previous to that he was 3rd in Joburg and 5th at the Nedbank. The South African is often behind the 8 ball with the length of many courses as he ended the last season ranked 165th in driving distance.
Courses like Waialae on the pga tour are where Bezuidenhout can make his gains and he'll be keen to get off to a good start this year and capitalise on these types of tests. On his four starts on tour this season to date he gained on the field on approach in three of them whilst gaining all four times around the greens. Indeed that's where his strength lies, on and around the greens.
A win a few years back at Leopard Creek is a sign of the type of test he excels on and a plotting course such as this at Waialae should suit. He finished 17th here on debut last year whilst losing strokes around the green to the field ranking 53rd of 65 in that category. That is an ominous sign of just what he is capable of at this track should his long game perform in a similar fashion as to what it did last year.
1.75pts each-way C.Bezuidenhout 55/1 (1/5 8)
Jordan Spieth WIN at 16/1
Maverick McNealy looks one to watch this week given his pedigree on coastal tracks and his ability to putt so well. Around the 33/1 mark is fair enough and I toyed with whether to include him in the staking plan, but maybe he is best left to the West Coast swing. Numerous other obvious contenders will make many shortlists this week and it will be hard to choose between them.
For this reason I am going to side with the class act among that shortlist in the shape of Jordan Spieth. Spieth hits the ball consistently farther these days than what he ever has done before and the jury remains out on whether that has helped his game at all. Nevertheless, at Waialae this week he will be forced to hit more 3 woods and irons off the tee which should hopefully result in him being on the cut and prepared more often than what has been the case in recent months.
The shorter tracks certainly suit Spieth and this was proven once again with his win at Harbour Town last Spring. He won that week ranking 60th in the field in putting remarkably. Last week there were plenty of positives and I'd expect his long game to prove more fruitful here this week than last. His short game has never been in question, although we do know he is a streaky putter.
The last two times he started the year at Kapalua and went on to Waialae he has finished 18th and 3rd. He should ride momentum into this week and I expected him to be tournament favourite around the 12/1 mark. We know his record around Augusta but he sits a top price of 22/1 for the first major. Kim is 33/1 and I'm sure similar odds will play out for the other majors where Spieth is ahead of Kim, unless the Korean pulls put something special in the next few months.
Current form obviously skews current prices for the Sony but nevertheless given the test ahead this week I would argue Spieth is more suited to it than the couple ahead of him in the market.
3.5pts WIN J.Spieth 16/1
Billy Horschel at 30/1 (Eight Places)
The top of the market is heavily populated and I'm susprised at just how short the likes of Harman, Hoge, Henley and Conners are. One who did play last week and who I'd give an equal rating or better to those mentioned above is Billy Horschel.
Horschel's 30th placed finish last week doesn't look great on paper and a 1 over par total after two rounds last week certainly does look embarrassing. However, 64-69 over the weekend saw a 13 under par total for the final two rounds and any rust from the start of the week looked to have been shaken off.
For that 3rd round he was 1st on approach in the field and 1st in SG tee to green. His approach game and short game certainly improved a great deal over the weekend and that bodes well for a trip to Waialae where he posted his best finish to date two years ago with a tie for 7th place. He has the perfect game to excel around here and he should arrive confident after a turnaround in form the final two days at Kapalua.
1.75pts each-way B.Horschel 30/1 (1/5 8)
Adam Svensson at 75/1 (Eight Places)
Trends often steer you off to track but there is plenty to like about the fact 9 of the last 11 winners here started the year in Kapalua. From those who make Waialae their second outing of the year Adam Svensson is practically the only one who hasn't shortened in the market from last week. The Canadian has been a little too easily dismissed for me despite finishing second from last in the year opener.
Svensson was the last to qualify for that event courtesy of his maiden victory at the RSM Classic and another coastal win can not be ruled out here. Putting certainly looks to be key to winning here this week and Svensson ranked stone last in that department at Kapalua.
He topped the putting stats when winning in Sea Island and previously finished 1st in putting at the John Deere in July where he finished 24th. That's twice in his last 14 events that he has finished top of the pile on the greens and if he can turn around that form from last week then he has every chance of going well once again at Waialae where he finished 7th last year.
1pt each-way A.Svensson 75/1 (1/5 8)
Hayden Buckley at 80/1 (Six Places)
Finally I'll have a small bet on Hayden Buckley despite hoping for a bigger price. Buckley finished 2021 well with top tens at the Sanderson and Shriners then kicked off his 2022 with a 12th placed finish here on debut. Once again his form in the fall season looked to improve with top 20s at the Sanderson and Shriners this time around then a hugely impressive 5th place at the Zozo.
The Narashino track in Japan highlighted what his strengths are which is a solid ball striking game. His short game certainly needs to improve in the whole but signs have been good thus far this season putting well to date and you'd assume the Zozo which we don't have stats for was another good putting week.
His long game looks perfect for this venue and 12th last year is a fair indication he could go well once again. The effort in Japan is eye catching and he may just have upped his game to the level where he could win on tour.
1pt each-way H.Buckley 80/1 (1/5 6)