Sony Open picks 2023: Why our undercover caddie loves Sungjae Im at Waialae
For a little over 67 holes at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, our expert panel looked poised to get off to an extremely strong start to 2023. Pat Mayo, who cashed on three outrights in this column last year, was on Collin Morikawa at 20-1 pre-tournament, which was essentially a lock heading into the back nine on Sunday. Until it wasn’t.
Unfortunately, sportsbooks don’t pay out on “almost” tickets, meaning Morikawa’s epic collapse on the final few holes at Kapalua meant that we came up empty. The good news is we’re on the right track. We can feel our first winner of the year coming this week at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
More good news: The panel went 4-2-1 on matchup bets last week, and five of our seven-member panel cashed on our top-10 plays—going up 9.2 units collectively. Not bad, if we do say so ourselves. Let’s keep it rolling on the Hawaii swing.
Scroll down to see who we like this week at the 2023 Sony Open.
Sony Open picks 2023: Our Experts’ Outright Predictions
Anonymous Caddie Picker of the week: Sungjae Im (12-1, DraftKings) — This is a course perfectly suited for Sungjae—letting his world-class ball-striking separate himself from the field. He’s plenty long and one of the best iron players in the world, and both are key factors with the rough juicier than normal this year. He had a bulky putter last week at Kapalua, but these greens are much flatter, so I expect him to get hot. Without a ton of wind scheduled for the week, watch for his iron play to earn him another W.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National, Mayo Media Network analyst: Brian Harman (16-1, DraftKings) — Harman ended the fall swing on fire, and though he had a middling performance last week, I don’t care. I only care that he played last week … Hideki and Kevin Na won the past two years despite not impressing the week before at Kapalua … the advantage of playing the week before has proven itself over the past 10 years.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire managing editor: Tom Kim (11-1, FanDuel) — Tom Kim is an elite iron player who is also accurate, and that’s the prototype of what matters at Waialae. His name would fit in seamlessly into the list of winners at this course. In his two spike weeks with the putter, he has converted wins—because his ball-striking is so consistent week to week.
Rick Gehman, data scientist and RickRunGood.com founder: Taylor Montgomery (40-1, Caesars Sportsbook) — Tom Kim has taken the golf world by storm, winning twice in his last handful of starts and gaining 1.59 strokes per round over his last 36 rounds, per the RickRunGood.com golf database. However, it’s Montgomery and not Kim, who has gained the most strokes of anyone in this field during that stretch. Montgomery has earned 1.69 strokes per round thanks to a fall that featured seven starts and six top-15 finishes. Now he’s ready to break through and add a trophy to his mantle.
Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest dep. managing editor: Keith Mitchell (45-1, PointsBet) — We caught up with Mitchell on this week’s episode of the Golf Digest “Be Right” podcast, so call it recency bias, but the 2019 Honda Classic winner explained why Waialae Country Club sets up well for him. He hits driver on 12 or 13 of the 14 non-par 3s, and given his proficiency off the tee (only Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Cameron Young were better than him in SG/off the tee last season), he should have plenty of chances to convert. Though his approach stats are lacking, he said his focus in the offseason was making gains in the 125-200-yard proximity range. That happens to be where two-thirds of approaches will come from this week—so give me the Georgia Bulldog to keep up his solid past performance at Waialae.
Christopher Powers, Golf Digest staff writer: Corey Conners (22-1, DraftKings) — Waialae seems like the ideal course fit for Corey Conners and his skill set, and his past results there bare that out. In four career starts at the Sony, he’s made all four cuts, including a third-place finish and a pair of top 12s. I’ve never been one to rush to the window to bet Conners outright, but this is a nice number in a beatable field for the uber-consistent Canadian. One of these weeks his putter is going to run hot and it’ll be curtains.
Andy Lack, RickRunGood.com and Inside Golf podcast: Cameron Davis (35-1, PointsBet) — There’s a notable setup change to Waialae this week that I don’t believe is being discussed enough. In effort to protect par and keep Waialae up to date with the advances in modern technology, the rough has been lengthened almost a full inch, placing a much greater emphasis on accurate and powerful driving than in year’s past. Cameron Davis has an argument for the best driver of the ball in the field, and he actually raises his driving baseline on shorter courses, ranking third in strokes gained off-the-tee on courses under 7,200 yards. I’m expecting big things from the Australian this week in Honolulu.
Past results: Golf Digest's betting panel caught fire at the end of the summer, correctly predicting the winner in five of the final six events of the season. We cooled off a bit during the Fall Swing, though we were able to still pick off one winner at the Houston Open, with Stephen Hennessey and Brandon Gdula each hitting on Tony Finau at 16-1. Here’s to many more winners in 2023.
Listen to Golf Digest's weekly betting podcast, "The Loop," (above) where we interview the industry's leading experts (and sometimes tour pros) to help you make your bets and pick your fantasy lineups. And be sure to subscribe to "The Loop" wherever you get your podcasts!
Sony Open picks 2023: Sleepers/Dark Horses Who Could Win
Caddie: Ryan Palmer (130-1, DraftKings) — The Texan has made his career by finding fairways and hitting greens on the PGA Tour. He’s had success here in the past—and I liked what I saw from his game at the QBE Shootout.
Mayo: Mackenzie Hughes (50-1, DraftKings) — The Canadian was a true travesty off the tee last week, but that shouldn’t matter this week: He can put his stellar short irons and putting stroke to use. Already a winner in the fall, we know that five of the past eight winners here had also earned a victory in the fall. It’s worth rolling the dice on Hughes at longshot odds with how hot his putter can get.
Gdula: Andrew Putnam (55-1, FanDuel) — A short-but-accurate hitter, Putnam is one of the most obvious candidates to see a course-fit boost at Waialae. He’s accurate and does have a runner-up finish here already.
Gehman: Will Gordon (100-1, DraftKings) — Gordon broke out of a slump in August of last year and hasn’t looked back since. He’s gained strokes to the field in 12 straight events including all seven PGA Tour starts this fall. He finished T-3 at Mayakoba and T-15 at the RSM Classic to finish strong in 2022. He’s driving the ball better than his peers and is capable of making plenty of noise.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Justin Suh (150-1, Bet365) — We’ve seen rookies have success at Waialae (ala Russell Henley, 2013), and I think Suh’s game could do just that. He’s 10th in this field in adjusted course fit, per RickRunGood.com, due to his weighted distance plus accuracy stats, and his putter can get stupid hot … just like Henley in 2013.
Powers, Golf Digest: Gary Woodland (60-1, PointsBet) — After an extremely ugly stretch in the late summer and early fall, G-Dubs showed some life at the Houston Open, tying for ninth and gaining over five strokes on approach and over seven strokes tee-to-green. Those are encouraging enough signs for me to back the former U.S. Open champ at Waialae, where he has four top-13 finishes since 2015.
Lack: Alex Smalley (60-1, PointsBet) — The former Duke standout ended the fall swing with three top-12 finishes, including back-to-back top fives at the Houston Open and RSM Classic. The 26-year-old now travels to Hawaii filled with confidence, and his resume at both Bermuda and coastal courses is remarkably strong, with a runner-up at the Corales Punta Cana, a sixth at the Mexico Open, and the aforementioned fifth at the RSM Classic. I expect Smalley to continue his momentum and find himself firmly in the mix come Sunday afternoon.
Sony Open picks 2023: Players We’re Fading
Caddie: Billy Horschel (22-1, BetRivers) — He had an OK weekend after a terrible start at Kapalua, but word is that he’s struggling a little bit with his foot. That’s never a good thing with the golf swing—especially playing back-to-back weeks.
Mayo: Hideki Matsuyama (18-1, DraftKings) — It took a career-best putting performance last year to catch Henley, so that’s very unlikely to repeat itself.
Gdula: Hideki Matsuyama (16-1, FanDuel) — Matsuyama’s odds are a bit short because he won here a year ago—and because he’s done well here recently. But the recent ball-striking for Hideki is not what we have grown to know from him over the long term.
Gehman: Brian Harman (16-1, DraftKings) — Harman has a bizarre history with Waialae where he’s really struggled in each of the last four years. His best finish during that stretch is a T-32 alongside a T-48, T-56 and MC. There’s clearly something that hasn’t fit his eye as of late. It’s been six years since his last PGA Tour victory and now he has the same odds as defending champion Hideki Matsuyama – which is a tough pill to swallow.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Jordan Spieth (14-1, Bet365) — Spieth has gotten longer off the tee, but I don’t think that’s enough to fully ignore the lack of fairways he hits (122nd in this field, per Fantasy National, over the past 36 rounds). His putting splits on Bermuda are bad, too (ranks 126th) … I think we can target playing against Spieth in matchups this week.
Powers, Golf Digest: Tom Kim (11-1, DraftKings) — Am I going to be that guy? Yeah, I guess so. Can’t stomach it at this number yet, though I would not discourage going to Tom Kim in matchups and placement bets. He’s too hot to completely fade.
Lack: Billy Horschel (22-1, BetRivers) — It’s clear that Billy Horschel was fighting his swing last week at Kapalua, losing a whopping 6.6 strokes off-the-tee. As previously alluded, the rough will be thicker this year and I have my concerns about the 36-year-old’s ability to keep the ball in the short grass this week. I understand that he tends to raise his baseline on shorter Bermuda courses, but he’s failed to really pop at Waialae, with just one top-20 finish in four appearances at the Raynor track.
Sony Open picks 2023: Matchups
Caddie: Russell Henley (-110) over Tom Hoge (DraftKings) — Henley should be on a mission to avenge last year’s disappointment—at a course where he’s really thrived. Though Hoge’s game should translate well here, I don’t like the fact he missed practice time by traveling to LA for the football game. This ain’t the week for TCU.
Mayo: Russell Henley (-110) over Tom Hoge (DraftKings) — Henley has been lights out at this event in his career, and even won at the highly correlated Mayakoba in November. Hoge is coming off a career-best approach week, so a downturn is inevitable.
Gdula: Taylor Montgomery (-110) over Adam Scott (FanDuel) — I struggle with Montgomery because he’s been really good but also a lot of his success is tied to putting. That being said, he’s got a huge gap over Scott recently, and that puts value on his side in this head-to-head.
Gehman: Cameron Davis (-110) over Keith Mitchell (Bet365) — The raw talent of Cameron Davis has been polished over the last year and now he’s really finding his stride on tour. Davis shined at the Presidents Cup, finished T-13 at the CJ Cup and then finished T-7 at the Australian PGA Championship – all this fall. His ability to bomb it off-the-tee, hit his wedges well and catch fire with the putter is the recipe for victory here at Waialae.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Brian Harman (-120) over Jordan Spieth (DraftKings) — Spieth’s only real edge here is course history, as Harman surprisingly hasn’t been consistent in the past. In every important metric, the Georgia Bulldog has the edge—which is why Harman’s third in my FantasyNational.com model this week … and Spieth’s 105th.
Powers, Golf Digest: Keegan Bradley (-110) over Maverick McNealy (DraftKings) — I actually wanted to bet Mav this week, but it’s probably too early for him (we’ll strike at Pebble). Plus, Keegan is already on Hawaii time having played at Sentry last week. That combined with his strong history at Waialae has me leaning with him over Mav, who rode a scorching hot putter all fall and failed to gain strokes on approach in any of his last five measured starts.
Lack: Keith Mitchell (-110) over Billy Horschel (DraftKings) — If you’re starting to notice a theme, I’m all in on course history and excellent drivers of the ball, and Mitchell checks both boxes. While known as a bomber, Mitchell thrives even more off-the-tee on shorter, positional tracks, ranking third in SG/off-the-tee on courses measuring under 7,200 yards. His four top 25s at Waialae, including a seventh last year, speak for itself, and the gap in driving ability between Mitchell and Horschel is too egregious for me not to pounce on.
Matchup Results from the Sentry TOC: Mayo: 1 for 1 (Harman (-105) over Power); Gdula: 1 for 1 (Hoge (+102) over K.H. Lee); Hennessey: 1 for 1 (Scott (+100) over Horschel); Powers: 1 for 1 (Morikawa (-120) over T. Kim); Gehman: PUSH (Wise (-120) over Conners); Caddie: 0 for 1; Lack: 0 for 1
Matchup Results from this season (Wins-Losses-Pushes): Hennessey: 7-3-0 (up 3.71 units); Gehman: 6-3-1 (up 2.39 units); Powers: 5-5-0 (down 0.28 units); Lack: 0-1-0 (down 1 unit); Mayo: 3-6-0 (down 3.38 units); Caddie: 3-7-0 (down 4.1 units); Gdula: 1-8-1 (down 6.98 units)
Sony Open picks 2023: Celeb shot of the week
This week’s celeb shot comes from Clint Ward, AKA @BTR331 on Twitter. He has a Bruce Springsteen picture as his avi so you know he’s good people. Clint is playing the “guys who played Sentry” vs. “guys who didn’t play Sentry” with this tasty three-pick matchup parlay that has juicy odds of +568:
If you'd like to get in on the celeb-shot action, just tweet or DM myself (@CPowers14) or Steve (@S_HennesseyGD) on Monday or Tuesday each week of the PGA Tour season for consideration (Bonus shoutout to our guy from Oddschecker Tom Jacobs, who likes David Lingmerth as Top European this week at +800).
Sony Open picks 2023: Top 10s
Caddie: Tom Kim (+150, BetRivers) — Course history is key at Waialae, but the young star is used to playing courses he hasn’t played before—and winning there, too.
Mayo: Ben Griffin (+900, DraftKings) — The ball-striking was on point the entire swing season, and he has one of my favorite skills to target for upside: the hot and cold putter. He’s flashed zero consistency with the flat stick, but there’s no middle ground. It’s ice cold or flaming hot. One of the hot weeks will have him in contention, like the Bermuda.
Gdula: Matt Kuchar (+500, FanDuel) — Kuchar has great course history here and still has the potential when the setup is right. He’s still gaining strokes in the three areas outside the tee box, and that’s the right vibe for the Sony Open.
Gehman: Billy Horschel (+300, DraftKings) — Horschel’s opening 76 last week dropped him off the radar early but he bounced back with an excellent weekend of 64-69. He gained 4.6 strokes to the field in those two rounds, the second most (Hoge) of anyone in this field who played last week. It’s easy to see that Horschel knocked off the rust and now he’s ready to roll.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Andrew Putnam (+400, DraftKings) — I like Gdula’s call of Putnam here. Putnam ranks in the top 10 using the adjusted course fit tool on RickRunGood.com, and it makes sense. He’s not long, but he’s accurate, can get hot with his short approaches—and the putter gets scorching hot.
Powers, Golf Digest: Brendan Steele (+750, DraftKings) — Much like Silverado in Napa, Waialae requires plenty of strategy off the tee and into the greens, hence why Steele has done so well at both spots. It’s easy to forget that just three years ago, he lost here in a playoff to some dude named Cameron Smith. All he did the following year was come back and finish fourth. Last year’s missed cut came during a sour stretch and no doubt left a sour taste in his mouth. I see him starting off 2023 strong this week in Hawaii.
Lack: Ben Griffin (+900, DraftKings) — Ben Griffin first announced himself on the scene with a third-place finish at the Bermuda Championship, where he was in prime position to win that tournament until a late collapse on the final few holes. Adversity is part of golf, and I actually love the fact that he’s already been exposed to Sunday pressure at such an early stage in his career. The Bermuda let-down rolled off his skin quickly, as he ended the fall swing with back-to-back top-30 finishes, where he gained in both ball-striking categories. Now he travels to another short, coastal Bermuda track where he will be primed for another solid week.
Top-10 results from the Sentry TOC: Powers: 1 for 1 (Tom Hoge +400); Gdula: 1 for 1 (Max Homa +230); Gehman: 1 for 1 (Tom Kim +180); Caddie: 1 for 1 (Collin Morikawa +155); Hennessey: 1 for 1 (Collin Morikawa +155); Mayo: 0 for 1; Lack: 0 for 1
Top-10 results from this season: Gdula: 3 for 10 (up 4.3 units); Gehman: 3 for 10 (up 4.05 units); Hennessey: 2 for 10 (up 0.55 units); Lack: 0 for 1 (down 1 unit); Mayo: 1 for 9 (down 4 units); Caddie: 2 for 10 (down 1.95 units); Powers: 1 for 10 (down 5 units)
Sony Open picks 2023: One and Done
Gehman: Hideki Matsuyama — Matsuyama has gained strokes putting in six straight starts, a massive accomplishment and proves that he has been really improving on the putting surfaces as of late. He’ll need to rekindle that ball-striking magic but he should be able to do that in Honolulu. In his last five trips, he’s gained strokes off-the-tee and on approach in each start.
Previous weeks: Fortinet Championship: Emiliano Grillo. Sanderson Farms Championship: Sam Burns. Shriners: Taylor Montgomery. Zozo: Sungjae Im. CJ Cup: Matt Fitzpatrick. Bermuda: Denny McCarthy. Mayakoba: Viktor Hovland. Houston Open: Aaron Wise. RSM Classic: Brian Harman. Sentry TOC: Cameron Young.
Hennessey: Matt Kuchar — This is digging a little deep, but if you want to take a risk and be different, Matt Kuchar might be a safe play. He’s first in the field in SG/total at Waialae over the past 36 rounds, per FantasyNational.com. And a little birdie tells me Kuch has been playing a lottt of golf over the winter, trying to keep up with his son. Kuch absolutely loves him some Hawaii golf.
Previous weeks: Fortinet Championship: Cam Davis. Sanderson Farms Championship: Denny McCarthy. Shriners: Emiliano Grillo. Zozo: Hideki Matsuyama. CJ Cup: Sungjae Im. Bermuda: Mark Hubbard. Mayakoba: Viktor Hovland. Houston Open: Jason Day. RSM Classic: Brendon Todd. Sentry TOC: Patrick Cantlay.
Powers: Gary Woodland — It was awhile ago now, but Woodland’s T-9 in Houston back in the fall had to be a nice piece of momentum for the former U.S. Open winner to take into the winter break. I’m banking on a nice little bounce-back season from the 38-year-old, and it’ll start at Waialae.
Previous weeks: Fortinet Championship: Sahith Theegala. Sanderson Farms Championship: J.T. Poston. Shriners: Sungjae Im. Zozo: Hideki Matsuyama. CJ Cup: Tyrrell Hatton. Bermuda: Russell Knox. Mayakoba: Thomas Detry. Houston Open: Sepp Straka. RSM Classic: Davis Riley. Sentry TOC: Xander Schauffele.
About our experts
About our experts
Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long- and short-form content, owner of the Mayo Media Network and host of The Pat Mayo Experience. (Subscribe for video or audio.) Mayo (@ThePME) was named 2021 Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writing Association, while also being a finalist for Podcast of the Year and Golf Writer of the Year. Mayo won the 2020 FSWA Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Golf Writer of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Sports Betting Analyst award in 2020. He was finalist for four FSWA Awards in 2020 (Best Podcast, Best Video, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com.
Brandon Gdula, managing editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 FSWA Golf Writer of the Year. Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @gdula13
Rick Gehman is the founder of RickRunGood.com and the RickRunGood YouTube Channel, is one of the industry’s leading experts on golf DFS and gambling. Gehman is co-host of the First Cut Podcast and appears regularly on the Pat Mayo Experience golf podcasts. Follow him on Twitter: @RickRunGood.
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 RickRunGood.com, where he covers PGA Tour betting and daily fantasy. He came to Golf Digest’s betting panel after previously writing for Golf.com, the Score and GolfWRX. In his free time, Andy can likely be found on a golf course. Follow him on Twitter: @adplacksports