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Sony Open DFS picks 2024: Can you trust Tyrrell Hatton at Waialae?

January 08, 2024
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 14: Tyrrell Hatton of England looks on during the Pro-Am prior to the DP World Tour Championship on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates on November 14, 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Oisin Keniry/Getty Images)

After a thrilling week in Maui, the PGA Tour hops one island over to Honolulu for the Sony Open, the first full-field event of the season. A tournament rich with history and tradition, the Sony Open remains one of the longest running tournaments on the schedule. It has been contested at the historic Waialae Country Club every year since the tournament’s inception in 1959.

While a touch outdated to modern technology, the Seth Raynor track is still full of charm. In stark contrast to the massive elevation changes that we saw last week at Kapalua, Waialae sits on a flat, understated piece of property with much smaller fairways and putting surfaces. Similar to Kapalua, wind will largely dictate scoring. It’s not always an all-out birdie bonanza like we saw last week at Kapalua, but Waialae still historically ranks as one of the 12 to 15 easiest courses on the PGA Tour, and with the island experiencing a fair amount of rain over the past three months, I would expect similarly benign conditions.

Waialae Country Club
Private
Waialae Country Club
Honolulu, HI
4.3
27 Panelists
Now with The Greenbrier’s Old White course out of the rotation, Waialae Country Club is the only Seth Raynor design on the PGA Tour schedule. In the 1960s, much of the front nine had to be rerouted due the construction of a nearby hotel, but many Raynor elements can still be found, particularly after Tom Doak and his Renaissance Design team’s work over the past decade-plus. Though the now iconic ‘W’s in the trees on the 16th hole (the club’s seventh) are the most recognizable feature of the course, true architectural buffs will appreciate the par-3 17th hole and its Redan green, plus the Biarritz on the fourth.
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Si Woo Kim will return to defend his title, and he will be joined by an impressive trio of European Ryder Cup stars in Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick and Ludvig Aberg, who are all making their Sony Open debuts. Former champions such as Hideki Matsuyama, Matt Kuchar and Russell Henley will all look to build upon their impressive track record at Waialae. Reigning Champion Golfer of the Year, Brian Harman, as well as last week’s winner, Chris Kirk, will also be making the short trip over from Maui.

There’s plenty of intriguing golfers to break down this week in our first full field event of the season. Let’s dive into the slate.

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$10,000 range

Play: Tyrrell Hatton, $10,300:

While Waialae is typically a track that rewards course experience, three out of the four players in the $10K range will be making their first appearance at the Raynor gem. Sahith Theegala, the one player who has seen the course, lost a whopping 8.5 strokes ball-striking in his lone appearance. That brings us to Tyrrell Hatton, the most promising of the new-comers. Compared to Aberg, Fitzpatrick and Theegala, Hatton is the far superior iron player, and he has been the strongest Bermuda putter of the bunch. I trust his skill-set the most to keep pace in a low scoring affair, as the Englishman also ranks top-three in this field in birdies or better gained.

Fade: Sahith Theegala, $10,000:

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Michael Reaves

Just like we discussed in this column with Viktor Hovland and Ludvig Aberg, golf daily fantasy is synonymous with the stock market, and it’s important to recognize when it’s time to sell high. While Sahith put on an impressive show last week at Kapalua, he is now priced with Ryder Cup stars and the reigning Open Champion, despite traveling to a venue that is a far worse fit for his game. Sahith really excels on wide open golf courses that allow leniency off the tee and enhance creativity, which explains his success at tracks like Augusta and Kapalua. Waialae is a more technical, precision-based test, where I expect the third-year player to experience some more ball-striking challenges.

$9,000 range

Play: Corey Conners, $9,800:

The two main keys to success at Waialae are short to middle iron play and course experience. Conners checks both of those boxes with flying colors. In five appearances at Waialae, Conners has made every single cut, with four consecutive top-12 finishes in a row. He’s also gained over 7.5 strokes ball-striking in three of his last four starts here. The two-time PGA Tour winner also ranks ninth in overall approach and 17th in the key range of 150-175 yards, where nearly 30 percent of all approach shots come from. Even more encouraging, Conners ranked top-10 in both strokes gained off the tee and strokes approach last week at Kapalua. Now he travels to a golf course that fits his style of play. We should expect him to continue his momentum this week in Honolulu.

Fade: Will Zalatoris, $9,300:

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David Cannon

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as bullish on the Will Zalatoris 2024 comeback as any, but I’m also comfortable taking a wait and see approach. Zalatoris looked a tad rusty in his return to competitive golf last month at the Hero World Challenge. Now, after another month off, the former FedEx St. Jude Classic winner will be taking on a golf course that will put a tremendous amount of pressure on his flat-stick, which has not proven to be an advantageous formula for the rising star. Don’t worry Zalatoris fans, we will have our opportunities to pounce on him soon at long iron tests such as Riviera, Torrey Pines and Bay Hill. This is not the week.

$8,000 range

Play: Justin Rose, $8,200:

There’s never a dull moment in the Justin Rose experience. After an eventful three days at Kapalua that involved a two-stroke penalty and some of the worst ball-striking in the entire field, Rose came out of nowhere to shoot the best round on the course on Sunday. Even more encouraging is the fact that he lapped the field in approach play. I love identifying players that improve their ball-striking as the tournament progresses, yet will still be priced fairly due to their final result. Rose fits that bill to a tee, and he now returns to a golf course where he has recorded four top-20 finishes in five appearances. Let’s hope the former U.S. Open champion can built off his Sunday momentum and get started this week on the right foot.

Fade: Stephan Jaeger, $8,100:

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Orlando Ramirez

I am often a Stephan Jaeger fan, but I’ve been partial to identify those who played last week at Kapalua and were able to shake the rust off. Jaeger is one of only two players above $8K that did not compete at the Sentry, and we have not seen him play competitive golf since the RSM Classic in early November. Add in the fact that his iron play was middling at best last fall, and I’m fully comfortable letting the German beat me.

$7,000 range

Play: Matt Kuchar, $7,800:

Outside of Augusta National, Waialae features the most highly correlated course history on the PGA Tour. Being forced to take some chances on a few debutants at the top, I wanted to identify a player we know we can count on to deliver based on years of evidence. In 18 appearances at Waialae, Kuchar has recorded nine top-15 finishes, eight top-10s and a win in 2019. He’s finished in the top-seven each of the last two years and is actually coming off a rather impressive fall series. While Kuchar’s ability to compete in major championships might be behind him, there are certain tracks where he remains a plug and play. Waialae is at the top of that list.

Fade: Akshay Bhatia, $7,800:

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Ben Jared

I feel similarly about Akshay Bhatia as I do about Sahith Theegala this week. Both players are getting over a $1,500 price increase, and I am simply willing to sell high. Bhatia certainly impressed me last week, but his 14th-place finish was largely buoyed by a hot flat-stick, not something we should expect to count on with regularity going forward. As previously alluded to, Waialae rewards experience, and Bhatia will also be making his first appearance at this track.

Flier: Ben Kohles, $7,000:

Ben Kohles is one of my rookies to watch this year, even though he is not technically a rookie. Kohles has his fair share of PGA Tour experience, which includes two appearances at the Sony Open, where he made the cut and gained over a stroke ball-striking in both occurrences. After experiencing a banner year on the Korn Ferry Tour, Kohles put a bow on his 2023 season with a fifth-place finish at the RSM Classic, where he gained over four strokes on approach, a course not all that dissimilar from Waialae. Let’s take an advantage of an opportunity to be early on one of my biggest breakout candidates of 2024.

$6,000 range

Play: Michael Kim, $6,900:

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Yoshimasa Nakano

While Michael Kim’s social media activity has put him on the map, I expect his play in 2024 to make headlines, too. Kim made a lot of substantial statistical improvements in 2023, particularly on approach. Waialae places a strong over-emphasis on short to middle iron play, an area that Kim continues to excel at. While this will be his debut start of the season, that is the case for all $6K golfers this week. Give me the players with the best opportunity to capitalize on their second shot.

Andy Lack is a PGA Tour writer and podcaster from New York City who now resides in Los Angeles. He hosts Inside Golf, a twice weekly podcast focused on the PGA Tour, betting, daily fantasy, golf course architecture, and interviews, as part of the BlueWire podcast network. As well as contributing to Golf Digest, Andy is also a data analyst and writer for Run Pure Sports, where he covers PGA Tour betting and daily fantasy. He came to Golf Digest’s betting panel after previously writing for RickRunGood.com, the Score and GolfWRX. In his free time, Andy can likely be found on a golf course. Follow him on Twitter: @adplacksports