Ernie Els in 2003 was the last player to win both events on the Hawaii Swing at the start of the USPGA year and he is one of five multiple winners of this week’s Sony Open. No player has won the tournament three times and the five dual winners which include Els have also won major championships. Justin Thomas can win the event for the second time as the defending champion and match both of Els’s achievement.
The Sony Open was first played in 1965 and in the early days was called the Hawaiian Open. In 1999 the event was rebranded with the current title sponsor acquiring naming rights. Despite the name change the tournament has always been played at the Waialae Country Club in Hawaii. The season opening Tournament of Champions was also played in the state to create an early season swing.
The course puts a premium on accuracy over distance. However, finding the greens in the correct number of shots is more important than driving accuracy. In fact some wayward drivers have prevailed but hitting greens and converting birdie chances is more important than avoiding bogeys. Wind is often a factor but Thomas mastered the course with a 27 under total in 2017. It’s a par 70 track so his average score over four rounds was just over 63. Over the last 10 years the average winning mark is 18 under.
The scoring fluctuations are partly due to the wind. In still conditions the degree of difficulty falls and the event becomes more of a putting contest. The Bermuda greens are tricky so finding the correct areas with approach shots is paramount. The skills set required for good scoring is similar to the attributes that meet the demands of the links courses that stage the Open Championship.
At number two in the world rankings Jordan Spieth is the highest ranked player in the field. The Open champion can maintain his form if the weather is poor so he won’t be put off if the wind blows. Spieth is a brilliant putter who hits his fare share of greens so must be a leading contender this week. He has some course form and finished 9th last week despite opening with a 75 that put him out of contention. The highest ranked player won last week in Dustin Johnson but Thomas is preferred to Spieth.
The headline selection won five times last season and is currently the world number four. He demolished the field a year ago so has good vibes about the tournament and course. Els set the precedent by winning back-to-back in the first two tournaments of the year and Thomas can emulate the four-time major champion. He is not afraid of winning and is totally confident in the quality of his game. Thomas had an average tournament last week but a final round six under par is a massive positive.
He looks made for the course which he humbled last year so he can join the quintet of multiple champions. However, there could be some value in backing Zach Johnson to be placed on the basis of horses for courses. In his last four starts in the tournament he has finished in the top 10 three times and played well at the back end of last year. Johnson played three times in the Fall Series and never finished lower than 25th and had a top 10 on his last outing. The 2015 Open champion can make the frame. However, Thomas is the man to back in the tournament win only betting.