After the opening tournament of the New Year concluded with a Monday night play-off victory for Patrick Reed, the PGA tour makes the short trip from Kapalua to Waialae Country Club in Honolulu for the 2015 Sony Open this week. However, despite the small distance between the two courses, those who teed it up at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions will face a much different test at Waialae. Kapalua’s wide fairways and relatively moderate conditions are replaced by a tight, shorter, windier par 70 where the winner will need to employ great course management and world class accuracy.
The Sony Open is the first full-field event of the 2015 PGA season with a full complement of 144 players turning up to compete for the $5,600,000 prize fund and valuable FedEx Cup points (the winner receives 500). Among those taking part are six of the world’s top 25 players and a whole host of previous winners. It is the 50th year that the Waialae Country Club has hosted the PGA Tour and this year’s event promises to be as good as ever.
So, how to pick a potential winner from such a large, quality field? In the 15 years that the Tournament of Champions has been in Hawaii, 10 winners of the Sony Open played at Kapalua the week before. Even with the different challenges offered by the two courses, strong form in the first week indicates a good showing in the second. This looks good for defending champion Jimmy Walker. Walker, the man beaten by Patrick Reed on Monday, knows the course and has all the traits worthy of the 20/1 second-favourite price given to him by Ladbrokes. It was winning here in 2014 that lit the blue touch paper for Walker, as he went on to top the FedEx Cup points and make almost $6m. He’ll be looking for a similar boost this week.
Another man who has winning form at Waialae and the sort of patient, well-planned out game to come through a testing course on top is Zach Johnson. The 2007 Masters Champion finished a respectable 7th at the Hyundai and is worth at least an each-way shot. He is currently available at 25/1 with Ladbrokes. The third player worth siding with is Russell Henley. Henley picked up one of his two PGA Tour wins at Waialae in 2013, breaking the 72-hole tournament record in doing so. He is an accurate driver of the ball and has shown himself to be capable of dealing with the sort of wind that the bay-side course is likely to throw at him. He is also best-priced 25/1 with Ladbrokes and gets the nod over the likes of Luke Donald (33/1), Jason Day (16/1 favourite) and Matt Kuchar (22/1).
Whatever the result at Waialae, it is a tournament that really builds the excitement for the year ahead. After the winter break, a welcome to return to large fields, moving days and all the fun of the fair gives us all a great insight into who to look out for in the coming months.