Sony Open 2022 picks: Steer clear of Hideki Matsuyama

By Powers/Hennessey

With each passing year, it seems the scores are getting lower and lower on the PGA Tour. Birdie-fests don’t just happen in abundance, they are the new norm, especially when the wind is down and conditions are on the softer side, as Justin Thomas explained last week after setting the Kapalua course record on Saturday, which was matched by Jon Rahm later that day and by Matt Jones the following day.

Oh, right, none of those guys even won the Sentry Tournament of Champions, all three failing to chase down Cameron Smith, who shot a PGA Tour record of 34 under over 72 holes.

Unfortunately, for carnage-lovers/masochists, more of the same is expected at the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club this week, as the early forecast shows the wind will be down again, and the fairways will be soft. Birdies, birdies and more birdies.

Can Smith keep that ridiculous pace up and win for a second consecutive week, which would be his second Sony victory? At 17-2, our experts aren’t rushing to the window. Instead, we’re highlighting all the other guys who know how to fill up the cup, because if you don’t reach 20 under late on Sunday afternoon, you probably aren’t raising a trophy this week.

Scroll down to see who else we like at the 2022 Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Sony Open 2022 picks: Our experts' outright predictions

Anonymous Caddie Picker of the week: Abraham Ancer (32-1, FanDuel) — He knocked off the rust last week, and though he didn’t play great, Waialae is more of the right course fit. There’s some higher rough than usual this week, so that should play even more into his hands. Perhaps the International Presidents Cup team will make it 2-for-2 in ’22!

Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National, Mayo Media Network analyst: Seamus Power (40-1, DraftKings) — Power picked up a victory at the Barbasol alternate event in 2021 and just kept his momentum through the swing season, notching top-25 finishes in 11 of his past 15 starts. He was fine at Kapalua (T-15; -20), and though he’s never experienced much success at Waialae in the past, he seems to have jumped a level in talent at this point. He picked up a T-11 at Mayakoba in November and should continue to cruise at a course that fits his skill set.

Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire managing editor: Abraham Ancer (32-1, FanDuel) — Ancer struggled last week, and he’s dealing with new equipment. However, 16 of the past 23 winners here have played the week prior at the TOC, and he is set up well for success at a course that doesn’t demand driving distance. My model thinks he should be 26-1, not 32-1.

Rick Gehman, data scientist and founder: Sungjae Im (16-1, DraftKings) — Only 20 rounds into his 2022 season and Im is already in the midst of a career campaign. The advanced metrics show a career high in strokes-gained/off-the-tee, SG/approach and SG/around-the-green, via the golf database. He was stellar on Maui last week, finishing T-8, marking his fourth consecutive top-20 finish with three top 10s in that stretch.

Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest dep. managing editor: Corey Conners (26-1, FanDuel) — Ball-striking precision is the key to Waialae, and that’s Conners’ game. As Gehman pointed out in our DFS column this week, only Jon Rahm and Collin Morikawa have better ball-striking stats than Conners over the past 100 rounds. His putting can be … not so good. But his numbers at Waialae are much better than his baseline.

Christopher Powers, Golf Digest assistant editor: Maverick McNealy (50-1, BetMGM) — I’ve seen the “X number of Sony Open winners have played the week before at TOC” trend and I’m choosing to simply ignore it. I just can’t quit on McNealy, who has drifted back up to this juicy 50-1 number after creeping down to the 30s this past fall. He’s been a model of consistency of late, making 12 of his last 13 cuts and finishing inside the top 25 in eight of those starts. Also, his career-best results have come at Waialae comp courses like Harbour Town and Pebble Beach. It’s probably best to wait on Mav until the Cali swing, but I’ll happily take a shot here.

Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Webb Simpson (16-1, Caesars Sportsbook) — Simpson showed just enough form toward the end of last season. If he’s back close to his baseline of the past five years, he makes an excellent case to be this week’s winner. Simpson ranks first in the FanShare Sports’ course-suitability ranking this week, largely thanks to his excellent off-the-tee game. He also ranks second for SG/total in the field over the past two years, and he’s sixth for SG/total over the past three months.

Sony Open 2022 picks: Sleepers/Dark horses who could win

Caddie: Matt Jones (50-1, Bet365) — Jones really played well last week. He’s not a “birdie fest” type of player typically … succeeding mostly at tougher tracks. And still he shot 23-under over the past two days at Kapalua. I’d say 23-under in four days at Sony should get the win!

Mayo: Jason Kokrak (45-1, DraftKings) — Like Ancer, nothing from a Kapalua points to a good week from Kokrak. No big deal. When Na and Kuch won two of the last three years, they too were awful at the Tournament of Champions. Kokrak has been the king of the spike putting week the last 18 months, and when that happens he’s been great at closing the door, notching three wins over that span.

Gdula: Brendon Todd (75-1, FanDuel) — Todd is one of the longshots who is popping in my model for the week. My win simulations see him closer to 65-1 than 75-1, so there’s value on the short hitter with elite Bermuda putting.

Gehman: Chad Ramey (150-1, DraftKings) — Ramey was splendid on the Korn Ferry Tour last season, racking up a staggering 16 top 20s in 21 starts. That includes a victory at the Maine Open and now he turns his attention to the PGA Tour. In just a few starts this year, he’s already earned top 20s at the Bermuda Championship and Shriners Open. His trajectory is exciting as he continues to get comfortable on the tour.

Hennessey, Golf Digest: Maverick McNealy (50-1, BetMGM) — CP and I were on the same page in this week’s “Be Right” podcast, and it starts with Mav. Harbour Town and Napa are comp courses, and he contended at both events last year. This event can be a big type of breakout victory for young guys on tour (i.e. Marc Leishman, Russell Henley, Patton Kizzire, etc.), and I expect Mav to join that group.

Powers, Golf Digest: Denny McCarthy (80-1, DraftKings) — Arguably the best Bermuda putter on the planet in a potential putting contest and a guy that is trending very nicely with four top-17 finishes in his last six starts. McCarthy might never win a big-boy event, but against a weaker field like this one he has just as good a chance as anybody else.

Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Russell Henley (35-1, Caesars Sportsbook) — Henley comes into this event ranked fifth in the field for SG/total over the last two years and 10th for SG/total over the last three months. He also ranks 13th in the FanShareSports CSR so he will be approaching this week brimming with confidence.

Sony Open 2022 picks: Players we're fading

Caddie: Cameron Smith (17-2, FanDuel) — It’s so difficult to follow up a win with another solid week. He will make the cut but finish outside the top 25.

Mayo: Hideki Matsuyama (18-1, DraftKings) — You can make the case that the Masters champ is the best player in the field. The issue is, looking at his wins, this isn’t the type of tournament where Deki excels. Unless we get unexpected weather like in 2020, the winning score is going to be well into the -20s. He just doesn’t make enough putts to get there, especially on Bermudagrass. Looking back at his victories, the mid-teens under par, mainly on Bentgrass is the Hideki sweet spot. One hot putting week can change that, obviously, but we’ve seen no reason to believe this will be that week.

Gdula: Cameron Smith (17-2, FanDuel) — I’ll be fading Smith as a back-to-back win option this week at such short odds. He’d have to be at least 12-1 to want to back outright, based on his win odds in my model.

Gehman: Hideki Matsuyama (18-1, DraftKings) — It’s a little scary to fade the reigning Masters Champion and one of the best ball-strikers on the planet… but here we go! There’s something about Waialae that doesn’t seem to suit Matusyama’s game. He’s played this event eight times and has never finished inside the top 10. It’s actually the event that he’s played the most in his career without a top-10 finish.

Hennessey, Golf Digest: Cameron Smith (17-2, FanDuel) — If you are betting this, I want to shake your hand. I’m as big of a Cam Smith stan as there is, but he’s being treated like Dustin Johnson … in a full-field event.

Powers, Golf Digest: Cameron Smith (17-2, FanDuel) — Winning in consecutive weeks would be an absurd feat, one that I’m not willing to bet on at single-digit odds.

Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Hideki Matsuyama (18-1, DraftKings) — Matsuyama is historically too bad of a putter to be such a low price this week. He ranks second-to-last in this field for SG/putting on Bermuda over the last two years, losing 1.4 shots to the putter per round statistically.


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