We have Matt Kuchar at the top of the power rankings for the full-field Sony Open in Hawaii.
The ongoing Hyundai Tournament of Champions is the PGA Tour’s first official event following the six-week end-of-year break. However, with just 32 players in the field, it can hardly be called opening day for much of the circuit’s rank-and-file. That honor will instead fall to next week’s Sony Open in Hawaii, where 140 players will vie for the second trophy of 2016.
The event, held annually at the beginning of the schedule since 1971, has been contested at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu since its inception. On tour, the course’s signature quirk is the switching of the two nines: instead of finishing on 18, players must face the dogleg ninth hole before heading to the clubhouse.
Since 2014, this event has been dominated by one man in particular: Jimmy Walker. The Oklahoma native has taken the event in each of the past two years, last year by a ridiculous margin of nine strokes. It will be fascinating to see if he can three-peat–if he does, he’d become the first person to pull off the feat since Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic from 2009 through 2011. To be sure, Walker is just one man in a field of 140, but after last year’s rout, he definitely figures to be among the frontrunners.
Speaking of frontrunners, let’s go ten deep. Here are the best bets for success at this year’s Sony Open.
He’s not the flashiest selection for the No. 1 slot, but Kuchar seems to almost always work his way into contention at Waialae. The Georgia Tech product has found the top 10 in each of his last four appearances, tying for third last year and for fifth in 2013 and 2011. His form could be a better–a win at the low-wattage Fiji International and a tie for 25th at the RSM Classic were the highlights of his fall season–but I’ll give one of the PGA Tour’s most consistent players the benefit of the doubt.
His Sony Open record is outstanding: four-for-four with three top 10s. What’s more, English seems to be getting better with each year; he tied for ninth in 2013, notched a solo fourth in 2014 and got all the way up to a tie for third last year. A win this week would fall in line with that progression. While he hasn’t found the top 10 anywhere since last March, five of his last seven PGA Tour starts resulted in a top 25.
This Georgia product has yet to even sniff success at Waialae, but the truth is that Kisner is now a fundamentally different player than he was in any of his three previous appearances. He’s in the thick of contention at this week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions and enjoyed a spectacular fall with a solo second at the WGC-HSBC Champions and a win at the RSM Classic. Not many are playing as well as he is right now.
Made headlines in 2013 when he won this event in his first start as a PGA Tour member, setting the tournament record for lowest aggregate score in the process. Overall, Henley boasts a three-for-three record at Waialae with a win and another top 25 last year, so he should be plenty comfortable. Recent results have also been encouraging; he notched top 10s in both of his fall starts. It was the first time Henley has strung two together in his career.
Charles Howell III
We’re coming up on the nine-year anniversary of Howell’s last PGA Tour win. Some would label his career a disappointment, but he’s still done quite well for himself, and indeed, no player in this week’s field combines course history and current form like Howell does. He’s an impressive 14-for-14 at the Sony, with half of those going for a top five finish. With three straight top 25s (including a pair of top 10s), he’s started off the new season on the right foot too.
This Aussie had a strange, uneven 2015 that included highs (playoff loss at the Open Championship, victory at the Nedbank Golf Challenge) and lows (wife hospitalized, ten missed cuts). Fortunately, his Waialae record is rock-solid: two top 10s in the last three years, including a solo fifth in 2014. The fact that the Nedbank win came in his most recent start definitely helps his outlook.
Fantasy managers should still be a bit wary of Kirk in light of last summer’s wrist injury, but his tie for 18th at the RSM Classic has me convinced that he’s good to go. With two top 10s in the last three years, including a solo second in 2014, he’s had plenty of past success at Waialae. Currently riding a streak of back-to-back top 25s.
This young gun really started to hit his stride at the end of last year, putting an exclamation mark on an impressive Rookie of the Year campaign. He closed it out with five top 20s in six starts, including a solo second at the BMW Championship. Tied for 13th last year in his lone Waialae start. If he can get this season off to as good a start as he did last year’s, he’ll be well on his way to his first PGA Tour title.
He’s not in the best form right now–a tie for eighth at the Hero World Challenge is his only top 10 in the last six months–but I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a bit of credence to the two-time defending champ. For what it’s worth, he wasn’t playing all that great leading up to last year’s win. Waialae seems to rejuvenate his game. It’ll be interesting to see if he can turn a corner at Kapalua this weekend.
Trends are converging for this Scot. He enjoyed a dream finish to 2015 with a win at the WGC-HSBC Champions and a solo second at the OHL Classic just one week later, and at last year’s Sony Open, he tied for 13th. That kind of form earns him an endorsement over more established stars like Zach Johnson and Adam Scott, who have too many question marks surrounding their games this week.
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