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Culp's Corner

Sony Open in Hawaii Preview

by Josh Culp
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

The 2018 lid-lifter concluded with Dustin Johnson lapping the field at Kapalua. 

The ShotLink crew will now pack up their gear and island-hop over to Oahu for this week's Sony Open. 

The Course
Waialae Country Club is a classical course in Honolulu, Hawaii. It's in the family of Seth Raynor designed courses, opened way back in 1927. 

There have been small changes over the years. A fun one recently was moving a few palm trees around to form a giant "W" (for Waialae). Overall, the course very much remains a classical course that requires you to shape some shots and play strategically, unlike a lot of modern tracks on the TOUR rota. 

The putting surfaces are bermudagrass. Before golfers reach the green they will have to deal with tight fairways that only 52% of golfers have hit since 2010. That ranks inside the top-5 in terms of hardest courses on TOUR to hit fairways. 

Despite the tough fairways, the field still averages nearly 12 greens in regulation and scoring is still on the easy side of the spectrum. 

Just like last week at Kapalua, this is a coastal course so the wind forecast should not be ignored. 


Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play...
Jordan Spieth: "Michael [Greller] has told me for the last couple years, Waialae is one of the best courses on TOUR for you. It’s almost like your Hilton Head, your Colonial, you have to kind of strike it around both ways and play in the wind, and we feel like that kind of plays to our strength, kind of trickier reads on the greens. You can make putts from mid-range and off a bunch of ridges."
Jerry Kelly: "There’s not a lot of hit it high and land it. It’s scoot-it golf, and I’m pretty good at scooting it golf. My miss is usually a good clean miss, and I keep the golf ball in front of me and keep it bouncing towards the pin."
Marc Leishman: "I like how firm it is. You’ve got to judge how far the ball is going to run. It’s always windy, as well. I grew up in the wind and enjoy playing in the wind. Those things along with the course, as well, it’s not a course that you can really overpower. You have to think your way around."
Russell Henley: "I guess I like that it’s firm. I like that the greens are bermuda, just like I practice on at home. I like that it’s not a super long course, but you have to be precise where you hit it. I feel like that’s not really the trend these days in making these golf courses. You’ve got to be precise off the tees here and I think that’s just what makes it fun. It’s more placement golf, and I enjoy that."
Robert Streb: "This one all the holes kind of go right to left, which is good for me. Courses that have a lot of left to right I don’t generally prefer."
Justin Thomas: "I love this course. A few years ago, I played my rookie year, I said that I love it. It’s just a course that I like when it’s firm fairways. Fairways are a premium. You’ve got to shape it to kind of match the fairways. It’s a lot of grinding.
But it’s just the place I like off the tee. There aren’t very many shots that aren’t comfortable to my eye. And I played well. It all worked out well.
The biggest thing is just getting it in play, because I can just hit a lot of 2-irons out here and then I’m having short irons in, and I felt comfortable enough with those that I could hit my numbers."
Overview: Common themes this week include comfort on bermuda greens, firm conditions, placement off the tee, and shot shaping. The longer hitters will be forced to club down off the tee more frequently. 

Correlated Courses

Looking at past performance, golfer quotes, and course setup, the following events show up as potential pointers: 

Colonial Country Club
TPC Boston
Firestone Country Club
Harbour Town Golf Links
El Camaleon Golf Course.

The Weather

The current forecast calls for temperatures in the mid 70s. 
Situated right on the coast, any winds that pop up will play a large role. Winds will be whipping today for anyone that decides to take a Monday stroll around the course. However, the wind forecasts for the actual tournament look to be rather calm right now (Less than 10 MPH until Sunday when gusts may reach 15 MPH). Much, much calmer than last week's event. 
Using WindFinder, we can look at two stations this week, UPPER AINA HAINA and WAIALAE BEACH PARK. The course is located right in between these two weather stations. Bookmark those stations and return before lineup lock on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. 

Players to Watch

Jordan Spieth
If you missed it in the quotes section, Michael Grellar (his caddie) calls this one of the best courses on TOUR for Spieth. He missed the cut in his first attempt but figured it out last year en route to a solo third. Should see a similar showing this week. Likely the man to beat, entering the week. 

Justin Thomas
While Spieth is the man to beat in my eyes, we can't rule out the defending champion. One negative? His regular caddie is sidelined with an injury. Lucky for him, Jim "Bones" Mackay has agreed to carry the bag for him this week. I suspect Thomas may pick up a few pointers that may help in the long run but Thomas knows this course very well and shouldn't be relying too much on Bones. Thomas' scoring prowess makes him a bigger target in formats where birdies and eagles get heavily rewarded (like DFS). 
Marc Leishman 
The Aussie fired out of the gate last week but one poor round derailed his chances. Now he stays in Hawaii to take on a course where he's traditionally feasted. He's a perfect 8-for-8 here with all of them landing inside the top 40. 
Charles Howell III
Speaking of course success, long-time OAD gamers know that Waialae is one of the elite spots to use CH3 for the year. He's not quite sure why he plays so good here, but the results speak for themselves. He is 16-for-16 with 11 top 15s to his name. 

Luke Donald
In his prime, this would be a spot to lock-and-load with no questions. It's a great course fit for the Englishman who doesn't overpower courses. His history backs that up as he's 7-for-9 here including five top 25s in his first six visits. Still has top-25 potential here but he comes with a lot more question marks, these days. Was a late scratch in his last event, due to chest pains. 

Jamie Lovemark
Has finished T7 and T4 here in each of his last two visits. That was after missing the cut in his first two attempts. Those top 7s go in the books as two of his nine-best finishes on the PGA TOUR. The Florida resident has clearly taken a liking to Waialae and could be dangerous this week.  

Gary Woodland
Another name who won't enter the week with much hype. He's been rather quiet since posting a solo fourth at the RBC Canadian Open last July. Had a tough year, off the course, in 2017 but should bounce back in 2018. In the same mold as DJ and Brooks, he can catch fire rather quickly and rack up fantasy points in bunches. 
J.J. Spaun
It will be interesting to see if his torrid fall form can carry over after the holiday break. He ended the wraparound schedule with three straight top 15s. He was inside the top 15 on the leaderboard after eight of his last 12 rounds played. His long-term pedigree suggests there is nothing fluky about those results. However, it's hard to know how these golfers will come out swinging after a long break. If you're playing in formats like One-and-Done, it may be safer to go with someone that played at Kapalua last week. 
Keegan Bradley
If you are a believer in Nappy Factor, then Bradley has to be on your radar. Over the holidays he became a first-time father. With a young baby and long flight, he is likely flying solo this week. It could be his first week in a while where he gets a chance to have some normal sleep patterns. He's just 3-for-5 here at the Sony with a T13 in 2012 being his only finish inside the top 45. 

Ranking the Field

1. Jordan Spieth
2. Justin Thomas
3. Webb Simpson
4. Zach Johnson
5. Marc Leishman
6. Kevin Kisner
7. Daniel Berger
8. Gary Woodland
9. Charles Howell III
10. Jason Dufner
11. Brian Harman
12. Austin Cook
13. Russell Henley
14. Si Woo Kim
15. Xander Schauffele
16. Ollie Schniederjans
17. J.J. Spaun
18. Peter Uihlein
19. Bill Haas
20. Tony Finau
21. Chez Reavie
22. Keegan Bradley
23. Russell Knox
24. Emiliano Grillo
25. Jamie Lovemark
Keep your eye out for our Expert Picks which get posted on Tuesday night. The DFS Dish will provide some last minute tips on Wednesday. 

Josh Culp

Josh Culp joined NBC Sports Edge in 2014. The DFS enthusiast from Iowa State can be found on Twitter @futureoffantasy.