Full-field PGA Tour events are officially back with this week's Sony Open at Waialae Country Club. It has been almost two months since golf fans could enjoy a normal-size PGA Tour event. No longer—as we'll be back with some primetime golf at this old Seth Raynor-designed, Tom Doak-renovated layout in Hawaii.
Our group of experts, which includes a PGA Tour caddie providing insight from the front lines every week—this week reporting from Waialae Country Club, thanks to our partnership with The Caddie Network—plus golf handicappers, correctly predicted three of the six champions in the fall wraparound season. So we're excited to keep the momentum moving with winning picks in 2019.
Here's who our panel of experts likes this week at the Sony Open:
2019 Sony Open Picks To Win (odds from FanDuel sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie Guest Picker of the Week: Patton Kizzire (36-1) — Patton is the tournament’s defending champion, he finished T-9 last week in Maui (his first top-10 since the Sony win last January in an official PGA Tour event) and, teamed with Brian Harman, Kizzire was half of the winning team at the QBE Shootout in December. Simply put: he’s trending in the right direction and back at a course where he'll have even more positive vibes.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings analyst: Marc Leishman (18-1) — Coming off a T-4 last week, the Aussie has now posted three top-five finishes in his past four starts: T4/T2/T18/Win. Though Leishman has made the cut each of the past six years, he has only managed one top-five in those appearances at Waialae Country Club. But Leishman enters hot, he's familiar with the layout, and he did most of his damage last week at the Sentry TOC though his approaches (gaining 4.6 strokes through his approaches), and is historically an excellent par-4 performer. I also like Paul Casey (35-1).
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Bryson DeChambeau (11-1) -- With Justin Thomas’ odds so short, he can be a little hard to justify backing. DeChambeau is one of two golfers to rank top-15 in strokes gained: approach and strokes gained: off the tee over the past 36 rounds, via FantasyNational.com, and he can thrive on the par 4s at Waialae Country Club, too.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Jordan Spieth (15-1) — Sure, we were all surprised Spieth didn't win in 2018. But I bet one thing: we'd be really surprised if Spieth doesn't win in 2019. My optimization model gives the three-time major champion the best chance of winning, even though oddsmakers give him the fourth-best chance of winning. You know he'll break through eventually: Strike while the irons are hot, which could be this week.
Golf Digest editors picks: Justin Thomas (6-1) — Waialae Country Club will always be a special place for JT to play, with the former PGA champ shooting 59 here in 2017. Thomas and DeChambeau are clearly a level above the rest of the field, and with Bryson struggling with his approaches last week, we like Thomas' chances of winning his second Sony title.
(Results this season: Three correct winners (Kevin Tway/Safeway Open; Bryson DeChambeau/Shriners Hospital for Children Open; Matt Kuchar/Mayakoba Golf Classic)
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win (odds from FanDuel sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Jordan Spieth (15-1) — Are you ready for this? Jordan Spieth! Spieth is a dark horse because he hasn’t produced a victory since the 2017 Open Championship, and he will be hungry out of the gate!
Mayo: Ian Poulter (60-1) — Making his first appearance at Waialae since 2005, the Brit played sneaky good at Kapalua, despite a very MEH 18th place finish. He was tied for seventh in the field in birdies gained, actually gained on the field in all three facets of tee-to-green ... the guy just couldn’t putt. Super strange for Poulter, especially on Bermuda. I guess ultra-slow greens aren’t his thing. The greens at Sony are slower than PGA Tour average, but they haven’t been soaked in molasses, either. Oh, Poulter’s been the best player in the field on par 4s from 400-450 yards too. There are five of those this week at Waialae.
Gdula: Danny Lee (90-1) — Lee’s been dominating par 4s lately and is trending up with his irons. He hasn’t excelled here but has played here enough to be in play at long odds.
Riccio: Keith Mitchell (160-1) — Keith Mitchell excels on par-4 scoring, and we've seen him play well on coastal courses before. Mitchell is a long-shot who could catch fire a la Russell Henley here at Waialae.
Golf Digest Editors: Andrew Putnam (55-1)
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
PGA Tour Caddie: Bubba Watson is a player to stay away from this entire season. He’s too streaky—and with a poor start last week (31st, next-to-last) on a course that suits bombers—I don’t see him having much of an impact on the leaderboard here at Sony Open, or elsewhere in 2019.
Mayo: Kevin Kisner (34-1)
Gdula: Cam Smith (28-1) — Smith’s ball-striking has been pretty rough in recent weeks. His approach play has been a little better over the past three events, yet his win odds are too short for his overall form.
Riccio: Luke Donald (250-1)
Editors: Kevin Na (90-1) — With the late, unexpected WD last week, we don't think that bodes well to a Kevin Na week. Na does tend to excel early in the season in California and Florida, but we want to see a little form from him before backing him.
(NOTE: Kevin Na has since WDed from the Sony Open with a fractured pinky. We are replacing our fade pick with Patrick Rodgers (90-1).
PGA Tour Caddie: Zach Johnson (-110) over Bubba Watson. I've noticed a new energy with Zach Johnson before the start of 2019. (Johnson and long-time caddie Damon Green split ways before the start of 2019.) Bubba struggled last week and he is trending down, in my opinion. Go with ZJ, on a course he led early last year.
Mayo: Charles Howell III (-110) over Cam Smith
Gdula: Sam Ryder (-120) over Sam Burns — Ryder’s not a good putter on Bermuda but has the advantage in recent approach play (10th in the field; Burns is 50th) and off-the-tee play (18th to 63rd). Ryder also ranks second in performance on 400- to 450-yard par 4s, a key area this week.
Riccio: Sungjae Im (-115) over Patrick Rodgers
Golf Digest editors picks: Marc Leishman (-125) over Paul Casey — This is as much of a play against Casey as it is being very confident in Leishman with his recent form. We're confident in this one.
(Matchup results last week: PGA Tour Caddie: 1 for 1; Riccio and GD Editors: 0 for 1)
Top 10 (odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Justin Thomas (-135). Thomas has a good flow on the islands, which tells me he likes putting on the Bermuda grass out here. I can see him having a shot come Sunday—on a course where he fired an opening-round 59 on his way to victory in 2017 a week after winning in Maui.
Mayo: Matt Kuchar (+380)
Gdula: Matt Kuchar (+380) — Kuchar played last week, generally a good sign for golfers at Waialae, and he recently won the OHL Classic. He can score on the par 4s and ranks 24th in strokes gained: approach over the past 36 rounds.
Riccio: Gary Woodland (+165)
Golf Digest editors picks: Charles Howell III (+250) — Fun fact: CH3 is 17 of 17 all-time in cuts made at the Sony Open. The guy is a Sony Open savant—finishing in the top 10 twice and top 26 four times in his past five starts here. And now there's undoubtedly a pressure off Howell III's shoulders with his win at the RSM Classic, and a spot at the Masters secured.
(Top-10 results last week: PGA Tour Caddie: 1 for 1; Riccio: 1 for 1; GD Editors: 0 for 1; Gdula: 0 for 2)
Mayo: My DraftKings lineups will revolve around this core this week:
Justin Thomas ($11,400); Paul Casey ($9,100); Matt Kuchar ($8,500); Danny Lee ($7,400)
Riccio: Justin Thomas ($11,400); Jordan Spieth ($10,300); Hideki Matsuyama ($9,300); Kevin Mitchell ($6,900); Jonas Blixt ($6,000); Mackenzie Hughes ($6,000)
Golf Digest editors: Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau are going to be super-chalky this week. Odds are, one of them will win—so if you're building multiple lineups, you're likely making a mistake not including Thomas or DeChambeau in the majority of your lineups. It's important to have the winner to win a DFS tournament. But you can build a really strong, value-heavy lineup if you skip the top half. I also had Spieth in this lineup at first—but I ended up not liking any of the bottom 20 or so players who were rounding out my lineup, so I diversified with this group:
Cameron Champ ($9,900); Charles Howell III ($8,900); Matt Kuchar ($8,500); Ian Poulter ($7,800); Kevin Tway ($7,500); Danny Lee ($7,400)
Gdula: Justin Thomas ($12,300) should be the building block for most lineups this week, but you can still differentiate even if you play him. Either a balanced build or a “stars and scrubs” approach is viable this week. These golfers fit either build and have the right combination of current form and salary to consider:
Matt Kuchar ($10,500), Ian Poulter ($10,000), Abraham Ancer ($9,300), Patton Kizzire ($8,800).
Riccio: Justin Thomas ($12,300); Jordan Spieth ($11,400); Hideki Matsuyama ($11,300); Keith Mitchell ($8,900); Brian Gay ($8,800); Seamus Power ($7,300)
Golf Digest editors: Justin Thomas $12,300; Cameron Champ $11,600; Kevin Kisner $9,600; Scott Piercy $9,500; Ollie Schniederjans $8,100; Patton Kizzire $8,800
About our experts
Dr. Lou Riccio, a PhD senior lecturer, teaches rational decision making at Columbia's Graduate School of Business and has served on the USGA's handicap research team for three decades. His predictive analysis and modeling helps him make expert picks for our column.
Pat Mayo is known as one of the pre-eminent experts in daily-fantasy sports and golf handicapping specifically. Mayo is a 14-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist, and he's on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com.
Brandon Gdula is a senior editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company. He also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.