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Fantasy Golf Picks: 2017 Sony Open Sleepers, Starts & Preview

Patrick Mayo Staff Writer January 9, 2017 2:05PM EDT

Sony Open
Defending Champ: Fabian Gomez

FNTSY Sports Network’s Pat Mayo & Cam Stewart debate their Sony Open picks and the week in betting at this week’s PGA Tour stop at Waialae CC…

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Sony Open Field
144 Players | Top 70 & Ties Make the Cut

While the year officially kicked off last week at Kapalua, the Sony Open presents us with our first real glimpse of a PGA event for 2017. We’re back to a full field and 36-hole cut; no more of this 30-man, everyone-gets-a-trophy malarkey. Fortunately, some the participants at last week’s Tournament of Champions decided Hawaii was so nice they’d extend their vacation. And it’s led to the strongest Sony field in years. Jordan Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama will both tee it up at Waialae fresh off podium finishes over the weekend. They’re joined by fellow Top 25 players Justin Rose, Justin Thomas, Paul Casey, Branden Grace, Russell Knox, and two-time Sony champ Jimmy Walker.

The next wave of talent isn’t that pronounced of a drop off either. 2016 Runner-up Brandt Snedeker is back, as are Daniel Berger, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas, Jason Dufner, Scott Piercy, Kevin Kisner, and Kevin Na. Chuck in a slew of recent Web.com Tour grads, some international flavor, and a cavalcade of old guys, and the field runs very deep.

Sony Open Key Stats

Par 4 Birdies or Better
Strokes Gained: Approach-To-Green
Ball Striking
Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green
Par 3 Efficiency 175-200 Yards

Sony Open Course
Waialae Country Club | 7,044 Yards | Par 70

What a difference a week makes. We jet from the Kapalua, where the fairways are as wide as football fields are long, to Waialae, where trees cocoon around the desired landing areas, forcing players to concentrate far more on accuracy on the tee box than just giving it A RIP!!!! One the past 11 years, Waialae CC has been the toughest driving course on TOUR. Under 50% of tee shots end up in the fairway – 49.3% to be exact. The closing Par 5 really puts this into perspective. Since 2012, the 18th hole at Waialae CC has been the most difficult fairway to hit on TOUR, just over 30% of the field finds the short grass. Normally, on courses that feature so many drives venturing into the thick stuff, scrambling would be an essential stat to focus on. While important, the dangers residing off the fairway are not overly challenging. Waialae has generated the highest scrambling rate of any course in the regular rotation over the past half-decade. Still, while it may be easier to save par, it remains tough to score from the weeds.

When you gloss over past leaderboards, generally, a predominant skill set emerges and you can gravitate towards that mold of player. That hasn’t been the case in Honolulu. Sprayers like Jimmy Walker and Ryan Palmer have cashed novelty checks, as have light-hitting, accuracy mavens like Zach Johnson, KJ Choi, and Mark Wilson. It’s all over the spectrum. The only thing that connects them is they putted really well in that particular event. Something you can say about any player that wins on TOUR. And focusing too much on Strokes Gained: Putting will prove to be a futile effort. For one, the sample size hasn’t matured enough to really tell us anything this early in the season. Secondly, putting has the most variance week-to-week of any skill. Even good putters have bad rounds, and crappy ones can start making 15-footers at will. It’s not stable like driving, for example. Dustin Johnson is going to drive it 300+ every time. Mike Weir is not. There are no outlier rounds with distance.

Another skill that tends to be relatively consistent are approaches. So, that’s where the primary research will rest. Strokes Gained: Approach-The-Green is a component of SG: Tee-To-Green, but both will serve as a important totals this week. As will Par 4 scoring rate. Waialae is not a difficult course. Despite the narrow landing areas and small greens, it really only has wind to protect itself. This is why we’ve seen the winning score drop well past the -20 range three of the past four seasons. A gusty day can create havoc, but it’s uncommon, so banking on birdies makers is the correct path to follow. Waialae only plays as a Par 70, shrinking the importance of the Par 5s. Yes, there were 72 eagles posted in 2016, 62 of them coming on the Par 5s, but trying to project eagles is rather difficult. Just know that both are far and away the easiest holes on the layout and no one in the field will have trouble scoring. It’s the Par 4s, where the leaders will separate themselves.

Finally, there are four Par 3s on the course. Not ground-breaking news, I know, however they’re all around the same distance, which is pretty unusual. The shortest is 176 yards and the longest is a measly 204 yards. Normally, you see a much larger spread in these lengths. This allows us to pinpoint scoring efficiency from that range. I have this weighted the least of my key stats, as one bad hole and really throw the numbers off, but it’s been useful in the past to find a sleeper or two. Especially for Daily fantasy golf. I mean, there’s a reason OLD MAN Jerry Kelly four Top 10s the last six years.

Sony Open Picks (Yahoo Game)

Bill Haas & Branden Grace – It’s difficult throwing support behind Grace right now, but here we are. There are negatives. Like, how he just finished 32nd in a 32-man field. I hear that’s not optimal. However he just possess the sort of skills that should translate seamlessly to Waialae. The South African remains the world’s 18th ranked player, is coming off a season where he held Top 20 grades in Par 4 BoB (18th), P4 Scoring average (14th), and SG: APP (13th). Weirdly, most of his best performances have come on Par 70s too. I’m willing to give skills and pedigree the edge over recent form with Grace… Like Grace, Haas does his best work on shorter courses, and the Bermudagrass greens have always given his flat stick a positive bump. Never a great Par 5 player, that impact with be mitigated, allowing his dominance on Par 4s (16th scoring average) and Par 3s (25th scoring average) to do the work. Basically, at courses that limit his driver and focus on the rest of his game, Haas regularly contends.

Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, Brandt Snedeker & Jimmy Walker – There’s absolutely no need to be a hero this early in the fantasy golf season. The only outlier you’ll see from my B-List set is the absence of Matsuyama. You know, the guy who hasn’t finished worse than second in any of his past six events. In a weak field, I’d definitely roll him out, but with the bulk of quality alternatives, this is a way to create a roster slightly off the beaten path. Even with the fine form, it is worth noting, Hideki has never made the cut at Waialae in four tries.

Pat Perez & Scott Piercy – You can find bigger, and likely better, names stashed away in the Yahoo C-List, but I’ll side with a player riding great current form who was able to knock off the winter rust last week. After suffering through an injury plagued 2016, Perez has been spitting Dylan levels of HOT FIYA since returning to the links. He’s on a run of three straight Top 10s, including a win at Mayakoba, entering the Sony, a venue where he’s normally jump-started his season. He’s posted four Top 10s over the last ten years at Waialae, including three T20s in his past four starts… Piercy’s great on the tee box (8th SG: OTT), precise with approaches (10th SG: APP), and always one of the best Par 4 performers (22nd P4 BoB) on TOUR. It’s just his awful short game that can be killer. Sometimes it’s too terrible to overcome. Always a risky player, Piercy presents an incredible amount of upside, and is the perfect compliment for the far safer Perez.

The Pat Mayo Hour covers the entire scope of the Fantasy sports landscape from Football to Reality TV, daily and yearly leagues and everything in between. You can watch the Pat Mayo Hour every weekday at 3:00pm EST, 8:00pm EST and Midnight on the FNTSY Sports Network Television channel or on your Apple TV, Xbox, Roku or Amazon Fire Stick. If you have a Fantasy question, general inquiry or snarky comment, ship it to Mayo at PatMayoHour@gmail.com and the best will be addressed on the show. 

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