Golf picks: Sony Open in Hawaii predictions & best bets from Diane Knox Balas
I had a major case of vacation-envy last week while watching the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii; what a gorgeous part of the world! The good vibes were lost on Collin Morikawa, however, who threw away a 6-shot lead and collapsed on Sunday. He left the door wide open for a rampant Jon Rahm, whose final-round 63 secured him the trophy.
I had picked Morikawa for a top-10 finish at +130, so at least that paid out!
We have another tournament in Hawaii this week for the first full-field event of 2023: the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu. I love this PGA Tour stop for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s Hawaii and the course is beautiful. Secondly, we get to see everyone back in the field raring to go after the festive break And thirdly, it’s a tournament that opens the door to a wide range of players.
Last it year gave us one of the greatest playoff moments ever seen. Hideki Matsuyama had a phenomenal weekend to claw back a 5-shot deficit on Sunday’s back nine to force a playoff with Russell Henley at -23. Matsuyama then hit maybe the shot of the season, smoking a 3-wood to leave just 2 feet for eagle…and the trophy. He is back in the field this week alongside another 18 golfers who played last week at Kapalua. Since 1999, 17 of the 24 winners of the Sony Open have played in the Tournament of Champions the week prior.
Waialae Country Club: What you need to know
Waialae Country Club is a par 70 and measures 7,044 yards. It’s very different from what we saw last week, with narrow, tree-lined fairways and an abundance of bunkers. It’s a tight, positional course that will reward precise hitters. In fact, this year the rough has been grown up — meaning accuracy off the tee will be even more important.
The course typically plays firm and fast, with a lot of run-out areas. However, the doglegs mitigate any real advantage that the long hitters have. Plus, the 2 par-5s will be reachable in two for almost all of the field and score as the easiest on the PGA Tour schedule.
Once again in Hawaii wind can be a factor, but the forecast looks relatively calm for the week. Expect low scoring (not as low as last week!) unless that wind really blows, like in 2020 when Cam Smith won at -11.
This week I’m looking at accurate hitters with excellent short games and solid putting, especially on Bermuda greens.
Knox’s Knockout Sony Open in Hawaii picks
Tom Kim (+1200 at BetMGM)
I might pick Tom Kim every week going forward — at least for a top 10. This kid is on fire, and with an iron game like his he is a definite pick for the Sony Open. He is also the tournament favorite at +1200, but cannot be ignored. Kim is the rising star of the PGA Tour, has formed at great partnership with his caddy, Joe Skovron, and finished T5 last week. He is 3rd tee-to-green this season, 6th in driving accuracy and 6th greens in regulation. Enough said!
Brian Harman (+2500 at Bet365)
Harman has been quietly creeping around top 10s for a while now. After ending 2022 with back-to-back runner-up finishes at Mayakoba and the RSM Classic, he started hot in Hawaii last week before a final round 70 pushed him down the leaderboard a little. This is his 11th year on tour and Harman seems to be playing the best golf of his career. He is 5th in driving accuracy, 8th in birdie average and — while he hasn’t played great here the past few years — in ’18 finished in a tie for 4th alongside 3 other top-20 finishes. It feels like the win is coming for this Georgia Bulldog.
Keith Mitchell (+4000 at PointsBet)
When looking at accurate strikers of the ball, Keith Mitchell is one to consider for lifting the trophy this week. He sits at 4th on the tour this season in driving accuracy, and in four of his 5 appearances in this tournament has finished within the top 25. In fact, last year he placed T7 after a final round 63. If the gusts pick up, Mitchell can perform as his only win came at a very windy Honda Classic. He has gained strokes in driving accuracy in 4 of his last 5 starts, and is one of my favorites for this week.
David Lingmerth (+25000 at DraftKings Sportsbook)
Here’s my Waialae wild card! David Lingmerth is experiencing a career revitalization, after gaining his card back via the Korn Ferry Tour finals in the summer and clearly making the most of it. The Swede has finished in the top 11 3 times already this season, with the highlight being a T8 at Mayakoba in November. He is a short, accurate hitter who has been working hard on his putting — and it shows as he’s currently 1st in putting average for the season. Lingmerth is also +1200 for a top 10.
Sony Open in Hawaii prop bets
Billy Horschel top 10 (+333 at Bet365)
I always consider Billy Horschel when it comes to Bermuda greens, as it seems to be his speciality. Horschel has played 6 times since September (in the US and UK) and has finished in the top 13 on 4 occasions. He also finished T7 at the Sony Open in 2021 and sits 3rd in approach on the Tour.
Russell Knox top 20 (+350 at DraftKings Sportsbook)
I’m not going to pick my brother every week this year, don’t worry. However, I will pick him for this week. He loves this style of course, it fits his game really well and he finished T7 here last year for his second top-10 since 2018. Plus, I know what he’s been working on over the offseason and the results will hopefully show in a place he feels comfortable. He is +850 for a top 10 if you are feeling super optimistic.
Emiliano Grillo top-10 (+500 at Bet365)
Grillo hasn’t had a huge amount of success in the Sony Open, but he started the 2022/23 season strong with 2 top-5 finishes and has been steadily gaining strokes in driving accuracy. Plus, Grillo has always had a strong greens in reg stat with great iron play. One to watch this week.