This week brings the first full-field PGA Tour event of 2021, the Sony Open. Host Waialae Country Club is effectively the opposite of last week’s stop at Kapalua’s Plantation Course. A par 70 measuring just over 7,000 yards, Waialae has relatively flat terrain, narrow and tree-lined fairways, and greens with breaks that are subtle compared to those at Kapalua. Overall, precision off the tee and into the greens will be more important this week than it was on Maui.
The particular key to success at Waialae will be short-iron approach shots. The majority of approaches, including on all four par 3s, will be from 140 to 180 yards. So players who keep the ball in play off the tee and hit laser-like short irons will get plenty of makeable birdie looks. Waialae’s greens are slightly slower than tour average and don’t have a ton of break, so there will be a lot of holed putts. Especially from the 10- to 20-foot range, lights-out putting will be critical this week.
For help with making your DraftKings and one-and-done picks, here are a few players who offer a combination of elite short-iron play and above-average putting:
Webb Simpson $11,100
Simpson is the betting favorite at 11/1, and that’s well deserved. He has finished in the top 20 in each of his past six appearances at the Sony Open and came in third last year. One of the most consistent players on the PGA Tour, Simpson has finished in the top 20 in 25 of his past 33 events. Plus, his game matches Waialae perfectly, as he can rely on his accuracy off the tee to set him up for his strengths, which are short irons and putting. I expect him to get another top 20 this week and maybe have a chance to win.
Marc Leishman $7,900
This is the perfect buy-low spot for Leishman. He played terribly for the most part after the restart in 2020, but he was solid with his irons last week at Kapalua, gaining 3.8 strokes on approach. The 30th-ranked golfer in the world, Leishman is less than a year removed from an impressive win at Torrey Pines and a runner-up at Bay Hill. Both of those events had deeper fields than the one he will face this week. Leishman has played well at Waialae in the past, making 11 cuts in a row and finishing 28th or better nine times. At $7,900, he has major upside.
This is the start of 2021 for most leagues, so you should be able to roster anyone you want. My advice is to look ahead and identify some spots where you can use certain players. That will give you a better understanding of what to do this week.
Morikawa has the most upside of anyone in this tournament. In 15 events since the restart in June, he has had two wins and a playoff loss. He now heads to an event that holds a special place in his heart, as he has family nearby. Waialae fits his game very well, as he is accurate off the tee and deadly with his irons. In fact, Morikawa is the best iron player in the field, ranking in the top 10 from 125 to 150 yards, 150 to 175 yards, and 175 to 200 yards. If he has any semblance of a putter this week, he will contend.
Charles Howell III
If you don’t want to burn Morikawa this early in the season, look no further than Charles Howell. He has finished in the top 10 in 10 of 19 appearances at Sony Open and has placed 13th or better in nine of the past 12 years. There’s no better place on the schedule to use Chucky Three Sticks.