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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Sony Open - Power Ranking and One-and-Done

There is nothing like the timeline of a short week between PGA TOUR events, but we've managed to put together a power ranking and one-and-done guide for the Sony Open. Feel free to refer to the Preview posted yesterday for additional information on Waialae Country Club and the history of this event.

Let’s jump right in.
  1. Jimmy Walker – This is incredibly chalky. The defending champion nearly produced the Hawaii slam in Kapalua yesterday, eventually falling to Patrick Reed in a playoff. It’s rare to see a title successfully defended, but not impossible. Ryan Moore did that in the CIMB Classic already this season.
  2. Chris Kirk – He is a much easier play this week following his final-round 62 in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Monday. Considering he began the final round in last place, he was about to be a form-versus-history debate. He’s solid in this event, never posting a round above par in any of his 16 rounds and finishing alone in second last season.
  3. Tim Clark – Twice a runner-up in the Sony Open, I wouldn't be surprised if his T25 in the Hyundai has him riding a bit under the radar this week. He’s been money at Waialae CC when healthy, and Kapalua is such a different course. Knowing that his health is in check, play him. He isn’t far removed from a runner-up in the WGC-HSBC Champions and a T7 in the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
  4. Russell Henley – The 2013 winner of this event is trending into this edition nicely with a T3 in the Sony Open. Consider his T51 last year to be a result of the pressured of defending his first TOUR title. He is now a much more seasoned and confident player. Still has seven of his eight rounds under par.
  5. Marc Leishman – He’s proving to be a horse for Waiala Country Club. Last two finishes went for a T9 and a 5th, and he finished 9th and T11 in his last two worldwide starts. Should be on everyone’s short list in most formats.
  6. Zach Johnson – Picked up a top 10 in his HTOC defense last week and turns his attention to a place where he is a past winner.
  7. Charles Howell III – Easily the player in the field with the strongest history without a win, CH3 is 13/13 with two runners-up, two thirds, two fourths and a fifth. He disappointed gamers with a T8 last year. By ranking him this low, I’m essentially going a bit against the grain and selling off a little of my CH3 stock.
  8. Webb Simpson – Looks like a great fit statistically, and may prove to be just that. Made each of his five cuts here, including one top 10.  As we’ve learned with him over time, course history trumps current form.
  9. Ryan Palmer – Overall, his history in this event is mixed, but the highlights are strong. He won here in 2010 and tied for eighth a year ago. The 2013-14 season was a big one by his standards, and he lightened his schedule late in 2014. Form is the real question here.
  10. Sang-moon Bae – Has developed into a very consistent player over the last few months. Had a real chance to win the HTOC last week, eventually settling for a sixth-place finish. Made three of four cuts in this event, but has yet to crack the top 25. That said, he’s a better overall player now than he was in those starts.
  11. Matt Kuchar – Middle-of-the-pack finish in the HTOC is worthy of an eyebrow raise. Went T5-T5-T8 in his last three Sony stops, but his regression at Kapalua last week makes it appear likely that he will take a step back here as well.
  12. Jason Day – Similar to Kirk, Day’s final-round 62 and subsequent T3 from out of nowhere changes his outlook for this week to the better. Played here three times, with a T20 in 2011 the best. While he is among the class of the field, he isn't necessarily the best option on paper.
  13. Hideki Matsuyama
  14. Robert Streb
  15. Kevin Na
  16. Harris English
  17. Luke Donald
  18. Rory Sabbatini
  19. Scott Piercy
  20. Jerry Kelly

One-and-done

This week is one of those where there are plenty of solid options that don’t bear “saving” for a future tournament. The standard has been to plug in Charles Howell III and trust a top 10, and probably a top five, is about to fall into your lap. As I mentioned above, I’m beginning to feel like it may be time to sell some CH3 stock. He had his window to close the deal and didn’t.  I hope I don’t eat those words.

I see the best options as Tim Clark, Russell Henley, Marc Leishman and Chris Kirk. I wouldn’t try to talk anyone out of any of those four. If things go the way the usually do, one of these guys will have an excellent week, one of them will bomb out and the other two will post top-10 or top-15 finishes. The trick is picking the right name out of the concentrated hat.

The weather looks perfect and the winds minimal. Leishman can really feast in windy conditions, so I’m tempted to keep him on the bench because there won’t be the wind needed to eliminate some of his competition. Henley enters with some expectations off his T3 last week and win in 2013, so I’ll hold off on him. That leaves Clark and Kirk.

It’s such a tough call between those two, but I’m going with Kirk. The biggest difference for me is that Kirk’s week at the HTOC was skewed badly thanks to two triple bogeys. If those two triples are pars, he finishes the week two off the lead. So, he was closer than he looked. That’s a factor that I like.

As always, check out Rotoworld.com for Playing the Tips to see my Yahoo! and Golf Channel picks, as well as those of the other staffers.


Best of luck this week!

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