The PGA Tour being off (for official events anyway) for the month of December, did not have much of a negative effect on scores, as those who witnessed the carnage at last week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua can attest. Three players in that limited field posted scores of 30-under or better, with the winning score being a record 34-under.
Now, the Tour stays in Hawaii for the finale of the two-stop Aloha Swing, going from Maui to Oahu, for the 57th edition of the Sony Open in Hawaii, a tradition dating back to Gay Brewer’s inaugural event victory in 1965.
Similar to the Sentry, scores have been low at Waialae Country Club – the host course of the Sony Open – and with 14 players ranked inside the top 40 in the OWGR, more fireworks are likely.
The field this week in Honolulu is wide open, but we like a few players better than others. Our top 15 is as follows:
15. Russell Henley
It did not take Henley long to get well-acquainted with Waialae, as he won his tournament debut in 2013 where he posted three rounds of 7-under 63.
The 32-year-old has been stuck on three career victories for nearly five years, but stands an excellent chance at this year’s Sony, when taking into consideration his course success, and the fact that he is coming off a season where he had two third-place finishes and contended at the U.S. Open, holding a share of the 54-hole lead.
At last year’s Sony, Henley was just three strokes off the lead going into the final round before shooting a 2-under 68 to finish T11. It does not hurt either that his iron game is one of the best on Tour and he currently boasts the 8th best scoring average.
World Rank: 56
Last 6 Starts: 22, 7, 56, 25, 21, 60
Best Finish at the Sony: 1st (2013)
14. Brendan Steele
Steele has been a standout at Waialae in the past two editions. He nearly won two years ago as the 54-hole leader before losing to Cameron Smith in a playoff, and then in 2019, he shot a third-round 61 on his way to a T4.
An October T2 at the ZOZO Championship shows that he may be in form enough to contend here for a third year in a row. Can he be consistent for four rounds, though? That has been his issue as of late.
World Rank: 102
Last 6 Starts: 51, 69, 2, MC, 17, 42
Best Finish at the Sony: 2nd (2020)
13. Corey Conners
Honolulu does not likely remind Conners much of his Canadian upbringing, but he has not looked out of place in the utopia of Hawaii, finishing T12 at Waialae in 2020 and T3 the year prior, where he closed with a pair of 64s.
The 30-year-old is making his 2022 calendar year debut this week, and is coming off a 2021 season where he posted eight top-10s, rarely missed a cut, and contended in several majors.
Conners is currently inside the top 15 on Tour in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation.
World Rank: 38
Last 6 Starts: 22, 40, 17, 17, 22, 8
Best Finish at the Sony: 3rd (2019)
12. Chris Kirk
The Knoxville native was a model of consistency here a year ago, finishing T2 by combining a Thursday 5-under 65 with a Friday 5-under 65, and then a Saturday 5-under 65, and a Sunday 5-under 65.
While he has been a little hit-or-miss in this event, Kirk has a number of top 10s and was also runner-up to Jimmy Walker in 2014. He didn’t go into the holiday break in the best form, but played mostly well in 2021, and obviously feels a tremendous level of comfort in Honolulu.
World Rank: 99
Last 6 Starts: MC, 64, 48, 14, 35, 48
Best Finish at the Sony: 2nd (2014)
11. Matt Jones
He may have the most ordinary name on Tour, but there was nothing ordinary about what he did last weekend at Kapalua, chasing a Saturday 62 with a Sunday 61: a record 23-under-par between those two rounds. He finished solo-third and possibly could have been even better had he not simply run out of holes.
That excellent recent form mixes nicely with his Sony course history as well, with the 41-year-old Aussie using a 63-64 weekend to finish T12. The winner of last year’s Honda Classic, where he opened with a 61, has posted top 20s at Waialae on three occasions.
World Rank: 66
Last 6 Starts: 3, MC, MC, 18, 38, 27
Best Finish at the Sony: 11th (2021)
10. Abraham Ancer
The 30-year-old Mexican is as solid as they come on Tour, and he finally got that monkey off his back when he won the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in August, one of ten top-20 performances he notched over his final 13 starts of the 2021 season.
As a whole, he had an impressive 18 top-25s in 27 starts a year ago, with nine of those resulting in a single-digit result. The Sony has not been his best event however: in four starts, each coming in the last four editions, he has missed two cuts and posted nothing better than a T29.
Considering he finished last season inside the top 30 in five of the six strokes gained categories, and had the Tour’s 12th best scoring average, it feels unlikely that his underwhelming play at Waialae will continue.
World Rank: 20
Last 6 Starts: 35, 14, 27, 7, 14, MC
Best Finish at the Sony: 29th (2019)
9. Talor Gooch
The FedExCup standings leader has been phenomenal in the new season, with six finishes of T15 or better in seven starts, including a victory at the RSM Classic, the last official event of the 2021 calendar year.
Back from break, the 30-year-old held his own at last week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions, closing with a weekend pair of 6-under 67s to finish T15.
Now Waialae becomes the next test for one of the Tour’s most unknown stars. He hasn’t been tremendous at the Sony, although he did open 64-66 in 2018 on his way to a T18, and he clearly isn’t the golfer he was when he missed the cut a year ago.
World Rank: 32
Last 6 Starts: 15, 1, 60, 11, 5, 11
Best Finish at the Sony: 18th (2018)
8. Kevin Na
The defending champion took his fifth career PGA Tour title when he came back from three down with six holes to play, finishing one ahead of Chris Kirk and Joaquin Niemann.
For the 2021 season, the 38-year-old notched five top 10s, four of which came in his last six starts, including two runner-ups.
His 21-under score at last week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions equaled the T21 he had in winning at Waialae last year. He also finished eighth here in 2014, and notched top-fives in 2008 and 2009.
Four players have won this event in back-to-back years, most recently Jimmy Walker in 2014 and 2015. Na should be considered a threat to add to that list.
World Rank: 29
Last 6 Starts: 13, 49, MC, 1, 17, 8
Best Finish at the Sony: 1st (2021)
7. Billy Horschel
The Florida product had a stellar 2021 season, highlighted by a win at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and a runner-up in another WGC event. For the year, he made 22 of 25 cuts and finished in the top 10 of the final FedExCup standings.
The Sony might not be a WGC, which is where the world No. 23 has been making his money as of late, but he did play well a year ago after having taken this event off since 2017, mixing two 66s with two 65s on his way to a T7.
Horschel is currently 5th on Tour in strokes gained: around-the-green, and 15th in strokes gained: putting.
World Rank: 23
Last 6 Starts: 23, 32, 33, 36, 1, 7
Best Finish at the Sony: 7th (2021)
6. Bryson DeChambeau
Update: Bryson DeChambeau has withdrawn from the tournament, citing a sore wrist.
The highest-ranked player at Waialae this week is the long-hitting eight-time Tour champion, who appropriately is at No. 8.
It was a very up-and-down 2021 season by DeChambeau’s standards. Since the new season started, he has gotten blasted by rival Brooks Koepka in the most recent incarnation of “The Match”, finished T14 out of 20 players in The Bahamas (Hero World Challenge), and placed T25 out of 38 players last week at Kapalua.
At the Sentry Tournament of Champions, DeChambeau’s final-round 1-under 72 was the second-worst round in the field, making the current state of his game a mystery. His most recent attempt at Waialae was a T10 two years ago, highlighted by a third-round 63, so he has shown that he can be successful here, even if it’s not a course where distance is king.
World Rank: 8
Last 6 Starts: 25, 14, 11, 2, 31, 8
Best Finish at the Sony: 7th (2019)
5. Marc Leishman
Among Leishman’s four top 10s in this event (and three other top 20s), his T4 a year ago might be the most impressive as he chased an opening 66 with three consecutive 65s. And sure, the 38-year-old can be very inconsistent week-to-week, but things set up well for him between his course history and his recent results, where he has three top-10s in five 2022 season starts.
Perhaps a little more motivation for him too: his T10 at last week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions was overshadowed by two of his fellow Aussie countrymen, Cameron Smith and Matt Jones, who post record performances at Kapalua. It would not be surprising if Leishman got some inspiration from the great weeks those two had.
World Rank: 33
Last 6 Starts: 10, 19, 38, 3, 4, 51
Best Finish at the Sony: 4th (2021)
4. Webb Simpson
Webb might not be coming off one of his best seasons on Tour, but the world No. 29 has six top-20s since The Open Championship in late July, and he was T4 in this event a year ago, posting three rounds of 65 or better, his third straight Sony start of either third or fourth place. And before going into THAT stretch, Webb finished T13 in three consecutive editions.
Combined with a stellar all-around game, particularly with his short game, which is important at Waialae, the 7-time Tour champion stands a good shot at No. 8 and his first since June of 2020.
World Rank: 29
Last 6 Starts: 17, 8, 14, MC, 30, 12
Best Finish at the Sony: 3rd (2020)
3. Sungjae Im
Just 23 years old, Im has taken another step forward in his impressive young career in the new season, winning the Shriners Children’s Open in October and notching two top 10s in three starts since, including a T8 at last week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Two of his three starts at Waialae have been results inside the top 25, and his precision and short game make the Sony more than a potential course for his third career victory.
World Rank: 24
Last 6 Starts: 8, 19, 9, 1, 31, 23
Best Finish at the Sony: 16th (2019)
2. Cameron Smith
The amiable Aussie was on a hot streak entering the 2022 New Year’s break. The break did nothing to cool him off. Smith only set the all-time PGA Tour scoring record (34-under) in winning last week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, outdueling world No. 1 Jon Rahm in the process.
It was the first victory of Smith’s career that was not in a playoff, and his second-career victory in a non-team event.
That other win? Two years ago at Waialae, when he knocked off a hot Brendan Steele on the first playoff hole. It is difficult to go back-to-back on the PGA Tour, but if his putter stays hot, everything would appear to be in position for Smith to win again.
World Rank: 10
Last 6 Starts: 1, 4, 15, 9, 17, 34
Best Finish at the Sony: 1st (2020)
1. Hideki Matsuyama
The Tour star from Japan had a career-low three top-10s last season, despite playing in a career-high 27 events. It would be an enormous understatement to say he made his best weeks count though: those three top-10s were a win at The Masters, and a pair of runner-ups, one coming in a WGC event.
Hideki also has a win in the young 2022 season, taking October’s ZOZO Championship by a whopping five strokes. His results at Waialae have not been especially impressive, but he does have experience with the course (8 starts), and his best two results were from the past two editions (T12 last year, T19 in 2020). He has shot 67 or better in eight of his last 12 Sony rounds.
World Rank: 19
Last 6 Starts: 13, 1, 59, 67, 6, 26
Best Finish at the Sony: 12th (2021)
Next Five: Harris English, Jason Kokrak, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Joel Dahmen, Emiliano Grillo